Most of the people know him as “El Pichon.” He is a strong man, dark skinned, well dressed. He looks like an old Roma respectful man, but he is in his 40´s. In a world where most of the youngsters are facing a fight for their identity, he is a last man standing.
My cousin Miguel told me about him first. He is a reference for a lot of Roma youngsters in Valencia in the matter of identity, but moreover he is a living legend; he even speaks Hebrew, some people say! No, he speaks Greek, another preacher affirms, is a technologist, a child finally assumes. But the reality is that he came from a family of blacksmiths of la Alpujarra from Granada, a family named the “Tontos” in reference to his pacific background. They never changed his surname for any conflicts over 300 years and he is very proud of it; he is a real Cortes.
The eldest of 7 children, El Pichon has 3 brothers and 4 sisters. When they were forced to move due to the end of their traditional job, they became bricklayers, a hard work in hard times that has been the first victim of the current economical crisis.
He arrived to our meeting with a ton of books, essays and handwritings, ready for a battle, for an interview no matter the topic. If it is related with Roma, he is the man.
He ordered a coffee, as a serious man, while I broke the protocol by ordering a hot chocolate. Suddenly, he started to talk:
“We have a heart that make us different from everybody else, but not just make us different but make us feel good. Because difference is not bad, difference many times brings richness. I believe Roma people, with our differences, we bring richness to this world. My Father is a righful man, a serious man. Nobody smokes in my family, one brother of mine smokes sometimes after the lunch but never in front of my father, he take his cigarette secretly and he goes for a walk. My father told him don’t smoke, and my brother respect him over any thing. Love and respect are the key values we received form our ancestors.
“I was studing till I was 14, but because I was the older brother I was forced to work. My dream was to be archaeologist. I didn’t have the opportunity to study but in my free time I read as much as I could. When I was 19 I was forced by law to stay one year in the army. Once in the army they didn’t allow me to go to the church, the only way was to become a Sergeant. Even without studies I was approved, with the best notes, so they then allow me to assist to the church, because as sargeant I had free time for myself.
“Most of my life I was a bricklayer. But after the army, some years ago, there was a vacancy as an archaeologist’s assistant. I entered with 30 other people, and without studies, in one month I was the boss of the investigation. One day the architect of the excavation made me a question, I answered him and one professional archaeologist gave him another answer. The architect and the people made a bet, lets see who is right, if it’s the archaeologist or the Gitano. He took the phone with internet and announced, The Gitano was Right!”
El Pichon talked proudly of his family, his values, and his passion as an archaeologist, but his face changed when I ask about the current situation of Roma.
“Now life is difficult. I don’t have a Job practically, but I learned some years ago to work stone as sculpture, and thats how I survive. But most of my time I fully invest it in teach History and Scriptures to the young Roma who want to became Preachers in Valencia, 5 classes per week, 2 hours each one. That I do for my principles, as a total volunteer, but sometimes some youngsters pay me the fuel for the car and I’m happy with it.”
In the life of Pichon, racism has been a constant. After all, he cannot hide that he is Roma: his appareance fulfils all of the physical stereotypes regarding Roma and he can testify at length about how he faced discrimination and antigypsyism.
“I spent many years searching for a Job in any way possible. One day the woman who attended me in the office of employment told me very sad, look they will never give you job because your Roma. There are many vacancies but you look too Roma. Also I remember, when I was a child, they didn’t allow me to play with the other children in the football team of Lliria. These things mark you for all your life. By now I have felt a positive change, so imagine how it was some years ago! I remember being a total outsider, walking in the streets while the children ran to hide. Some parents used to tell to the kids: if a Roma passes throught the streets, run to hide! That happened to me in a town where my family was living for 100 years, so imagine how must be the life of other Roma.
“Non-Roma people are very similar to us in most things, but something we will never understand is the way they treat old people. These people give their lives for them and when they get old they put them in institutions, far from family and honest care.
“The love between family, the unity — we are capable of doing anything for a brother, but in many non Roma families for any reason they stop talking to one of their own brothers or relatives.
“Some people talk about a reject against the unclean. But to be honest, this reject is not against the unclean but against what we consideer non-Roma things. That’s what we feel, some gadjo believe this is racism. But it is nothing against the gadjo themselves, but again the gadjo things.”
The hour passed running. Pichon is a very nice man but unfortunately Bekah and I needed to run, as always in our Long Way to Justice. Before we left, he got up from his chair and spoke loud, looking to us:
“I would like to say something before you go. We Roma were strangers for centuries for many people, but never for God. We always were the people of God. We did not have the Bible or a written code, but in our hearts is written the law of God. That’s what I can say, that we can be happy for what we are, not for the external values, but for the inner ones.”