I remember the day strangely. It was very windy, cold in the afternoon. The skies, brilliant during the early morning, turned grey later on: a storm was making her way to Callosa de Segura, the homeland of my Mother’s family.
The house of my family, in La Calle Pio XI, will be soon be the property of the Bank. The crisis changed the pacific life of the seasonal farmers that make up my family. Most of them live in France now, like many Spanish Roma, forced to leave behind My Granparents in their 80s, just when they need more attention. But there’s no way in wich they can be taken care of, their children need to sustain their own families. Fortunately my Uncle Manolo remains in Callosa to take care of them, following the Roma tradition in wich no elder will ever be left alone.
In the lower part of the house there was the family of my uncle Antonio, his wife Ramona and their 3 children, Antonio, Rosamaria and Jose; they were in Callosa to arrange some papers. In the upper part of the house there was my grandpa, in silence as always, watching some football match, eating carefully and almost completely absorbed by the TV. So we decided to escape to the terrace to make an interview with my grandma, with the help of my uncle Antonio, where the voices of the children and the football could not disturb us.
My grandma Rosario Rodriguez speaks slow and walks slow, but her mind is working perfectly, as perfect as always I would say.“When I was a child we were always starving. It was after the Spanish Civil War, we were travelling from town to town to gain our lives, with our carts and our horses, and of course, when we stopped in some places, women use to prepare the food, using stones for making the fire where they put the saucepan.”
She stopped to talk, and asked me: can I say it?
The old Aunt Rosario, as everybody calls her, is still afraid of the Gadjos, from the depth of her heart.
“The civil guard always came to us, making questions; what are you doing here? So we answered, we came to this town and we stopped here for prepare some food. And they always screamed at us: No! No food for you, you will leave this place now, and they evicted us. So we were forced to go back to the roads. We went to another town but it was always the same, we were persecuted, nobody gave us a job. So we stole some small animals to survive, or ate dead animals that nobody else could eat, and if the Gadjo took some of our people they put them in prison and they gave them a bashing, beating him till they almoust killed them as an example for all of us.”
“My father was very good man. He had 12 children, and he was always moving all over Spain. He gained his life selling and buying Horses, he made his life with this business, taking small percentages from every sale. Also, we use to take the food other people didn’t want, like bread from the last week or the vegetables of the fields that remained after the harvest. Sometimes our whole food for a day was one watermelon or a lettuce, we never wanted even to take the food the rest of the people doesn’t want to eat, because even for this food they could accuse us of theft and beat us hard for it. I rememeber my Father and the Uncle Vicente, the father of your grandfather — he was very evil, he had a lot of money and he was very scabby. My father Miguel and Uncle Vicente were always fighting, but the wife of Uncle Vicente, the Aunt Bienvenida, she was a very good person.”
“During the winter we rented houses and lived in towns. We use to take the keys with us always unintentionally, so we made the owner destroy the door from down to up. We did this a lot of times without bad intention, but when we relaized that we had the key it was too late, so for these little things we were forced to escape again and again. I remember sometimes the children wanted water and we didn’t have nothing, so we drank from the same rain pools as the horses. We used to also work in the fields.
“One day my Father was drunk because his Boss, a rich gadjo, gave him a pot of wine. He get so drunk that he started to cut the field canes and throw them to the river! He started a little boycott on the field because the boss was humilliating him, and many people joined. Another time he cheat some gadjo in a deal and he was forced to escape again. And these kinds of little things are the reason why Roma and Gadjo have conflicts. Roma are cowards, not like Gadjos. One gadjo can suddenly attack a bank, and he can take a lot of money. Roma are cowards, so maybe we take some chicken or some small rabbit, nothing more.
“We have a good heart, a good, good heart, more than the Gadjos, but Gadjos have courage. But Roma, no, we are cowardly, very cowardly, but we are goodhearted. But they beat us so many times that we don’t want nothing with them. We were always running from them. We were a good family, all of us except Uncle Vicente, your greatgrandfather, he was a very deranged, dangerous man.”
The Uncle Vicente, as she called him, was my direct ancestor, the reason my name is Vicente, along with more than 40 people in my closest family. We already have an army of Miguels and Vicentes, due to the Kalo tradition of giving the name of your father to your children, which has created a never-ending cycle of Vicentes since over 100 years ago.
“There were some bad Roma in the town where we were, they forced other Roma to give them their money and their Horses. They menaced our family, so the women were so scared that we put the bread we had in a bag for them every day since we didn’t have money. One day these men came to the Uncle Vicente saying; Vicente we heard that you have some money. And he told them; later on come to my house and I will give you your part, and when they went to his house he was there with a shotgun pointed at them, asking them; how much you want? And they never more come back to ask for nothing. But my father was not like him, he was a very good person like the Aunt Bienvenida, she took care of us. We were just children.”
“We use to spend less than a month in every place. Ususally there was a point when somebody jumped: hey, why we don’t go this other place? And we always moved. We used to celebrate Saint John and Christmast a lot, all together as brothers. All Roma helped each other, like giving advice; don’t go to this place theres many evil Gadjos! We use to advise each other about the places where Gadjos use to murder Roma, because they didn’t love us, they hated us with their whole heart. There was also a terrible time, it was after war… But we had health, and the Lord was always with us. We did not have shoes, no clothes, but with a piece of blanket we created nice skirts. Imagine, to have nothing with 12 children!”
“My Father use to create homemade potions and medicaments for animals, with pepper powder and bicarbonate. I don’t know if it really worked but people used it a lot and he never took money for it. He offerd this thing for some pattatoes or some bread. Sometimes we put some matches into the Pig food of the Gadjos, and then we went later asking if some animal had died recently. It was the only way to eat sometimes. If they discovered that we poisoned the pigs they could kill us but we did had no choice. We left the carts and horses life when I was 7 or 8, so imagine how long ago it was if now I am 76…”
It was very windy; the football goals sounded loudly from downstairs. My Grandma asked Bekah to take care of me, and told us to be careful… it is a Long way to Justice.