He is dressed entirely in Black, reminding me of a pastor, a politician, a gangster, but he is nothing but an angry man. His way to talk and to walk, it is familiar to me; in fact, it reminds me of the black muslim style of the 60s. He is Ricardo, but he could be Ricardo X, in the way of the brother Malcolm X AKA El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Ricardo’s speech during our meeting was brilliant, more than brilliant. He was able to perfectly articulate the reality many Roma people experience during their lives.
“Nowadays, people have a clear conscience about what is right or wrong, but even knowing that it is wrong they don’t accept you. Of course, they cannot do it openly due to their public image, but they attend you with indifference. In any distribution, in any case, the Roma group receives the last, the minus, and at the end there is always somebody who comes to tell you: there’s nothing left. And of course there’s nothing, there’s nothing for the Roma!”
He didn’t want to eat anything during the interview; he was possessed by the indignation. I told him, look, you have an opportunity to make a statement to the whole world. And he started like a machine gun, one truth after another until he’d knocked us out.
“They attack you by asking you, what’s the logic under Roma tradition, why do Roma make this or that? And I say, what the hell is the logic of football, of beating a ball all over a field? I tell them, it is not logic, neither good, nor bad — I do it because I want to and that’s all, nobody has the right to tell me if it is logical or not. Or another example, is it logical to start to run in front of a Bull? It is not logic, it is not good but it is local celebration, it is culture, and for a lot of people it is a matter of identity.
“But you know what happens? It happens that if you ask to make all kind of stupid things the administration tells you ok, that’s logic: a football match, a bullfighter show, they pay these without asking questions. But now, if there is the 8 of April, if there is any event related with Roma they can’t support it, they tell you there’s no money. And they even lie to themselves, they cheat themselves by saying that they are not racist, and if you call them racist they get offended. But they are, they are because of their acts. And I don’t talk about random people, no, I talk about the people who are there in the power to help us, who are supossed to serve PEOPLE. But this is difficoult for them to understand, that we are both Roma and people.”
Right now, Ricardo works in the administration of the municipality of Alicante. We ask him about structural discrimination.
“There’s no way in which administration will offer us nothing, not even a simple thought: Let’s make something for Roma, let’s celebrate the 8th of April, let’s invite them to some activity. There is nothing for us, and that’s racism. Why have we been hundreds of years in this country and nobody knows us? That’s not racism?
“Every person receives an education on his identity. School, university, they tell people where they came from. But about us there’s not a single comment, not more, not less, no comment at all. Why? I’m not like the rest of the people? And you know the irony, if you go out of Spain people will ask you what about Flamenco? And if you don’t know nothing of Flamenco as a Spaniard that’s a shame, but you know something? Flamenco was created by 4 or 5 Roma Families in the south of Andalucia! Why does nobody tell this? It is not convenient for Spain; and, of course, that’s racism.
“From the very beginning, all programs, all projects… and I talk about all kinds of organizations, public institutions, NGO etc. In no place do they say, we need to attend these people. Because that’s the problem, they don’t see us as people. And I’m serious, they put on one side humans and on the other side Roma. I will not stop to be human and I will not stop to be Roma, so every attempt you make to cut me down based on either of these attributes will offend me. Because I’m a Roma Person, and that’s very serious, people don’t understand.
“I’m working in the public administration. And every time I sit in a car with somebody I need to explain why I’m Roma! I’m Roma because I want, I want and I was born Roma.
“So, everybody is ignorant but everybody ignores different things. Look, I’m Roma because I like to be, I don’t need to justify myself. People are waiting for justification, for explanations. They start the conversation like this: what you think about the aberration Roma make….?
“So, what can I respond if they start like this? And what if you answer them by saying, what about the aberration Gadjo makes…? If you enter in the debate, they tell you ‘of course you’d say that, you are Roma,’ as if you’d started the discussion.
“So there’s a point in your life when you realize that if you want to help Roma you need to disguise it as if you were helping Gadjos. If you are honest, if you say openly that you want to help Roma, there is no subvention, no team of volunteers, you are totally alone.
“But if instead you say let’s help society, let’s help your personal interest, let’s make something for anybody who is not Roma… If, for example, you say let’s make this for women, they will only ask you: how much?
“These people in university believe they are advanced, but 80% of the things I learned in university will never help me in anything. The only sense was to have a paper to show, and to learn an easy job. But people in university, they believe they are the elite. These people know what they know, but you know what you know, and if they don’t listen to you they will never understand anything about Roma. For the simple fact that I am Roma, even though I have studies they will never listen to me.
“I can present myself as the advisor of the mayor, but they will still not listen me — they are thinking: he is Roma, and that’s always over any document I put on the table, any argument, any result, over and above anything else on the table is the fact that I’m Roma.
“When they introduce people there is a detail that seems small, but it is not. They might say, for example, this is Vicente, he is a filmmaker, writer and many things more, he has title and studies, etc. If they introduce Rebekah, they might say this is Rebekah, she is a sociologist from Canada, or… I don’t know. But when they introduce me, they always say, this is The Roma.
“So, I don’t have studies? I don’t have a charge? Am I just the Roma?
“And people automatically close the door on me, humiliate me. Who has the fault? The fault is on you, my friend, who introduced me as the Roma. Am I introducing people like this? Hello, this is Michael the Gay? Hi, this is John the Jew? No, I don’t do this. But I will always be The Roma.
“And of course if you complain they will accuse you, if you denounce any form of discrimination or racism they will tell you it is your fault. That is such a huge barbarity. It is like to take a victim and accuse him for being a victim! Imagine a woman suffered domestic violence, and I told her: you deserve it, yes, you deserve it, it’s your fault. It is like taking a prisoner of war and accusing him: you deserve to be in prison, who the hell sent you to the war? They beat you? Normal. They humiliated you? Of course. It is all your fault.
“As Roma, people tell you this every day. You deserve to be poor, and they tell you this easily, without thinking too much, with total tranquillity.
“And then there is the other side. Every time there is a problem related with Roma, for example scholarly abandon, for everybody else the responsibility is on the child, the parents and the school, so somebody must go and mediate between the three of them, right? But in case of Roma, who does society blame? Only the family and the child. Most of the time 90% the family, and 10% the child. But what about the teacher? The teacher is innocent; the teacher is not responsible if you don’t learn anything.
“I’m talking about the children who go to school for years without learning anything, not about the ones who don’t go school. I’m talking about the one we bring to school for years with the hope of a future and the ones you don’t teach anything, teacher. They abandon school and the biggest percentage of the fault is yours, teacher, it was your responsibility. But this nobody thinks about, there’s not a single research looking into this.
“And regarding the family and the child, we don’t talk, we don’t ‘mediate’, we send a police dressed in uniform with a gun to the house of the child saying: either you go school, or you go jail. Oh God, have you ever thought about why they abandon school? No, you directly send police and accuse the family and the child. You’re Roma so you’re guilty, they say; and if the child tries to excuse himself the police tells him NO, YOU ARE A LIAR! Before you even talk, you are deemed a liar.
“But if there is a problem for Roma, a serious issue to solve, this is the lack of self-esteem. Wherever I go people tell me you’re not worthy. In any place, any situation, no worth, no worth, no worth. And my father has suffered the same since his childhood! He has this in his mind. Imagine. One day your father, the person you respect the most, even loving you, he tells you, because he suffered the same all his life: listen to me my son, you’re not worthy. You’re not worthy because all the gadjos told me this already.
“My father was persecuted during Francoism, not hundreds of years ago but just a few years ago. With all of this, what are my real option to rise? Very few.”
We talked largely about administration and institutions, about approaches and failed initiatives. But why has all of this been happening for the last 40 years? What about activism?
“I’m talking about the people who work to ‘help Roma’. They call for professionals, psychologists, educators, mediators, social workers, every single career, by saying they are the professionals. But professionals about what? Has somebody explained to them what being Roma is about? They’re not professional, none of them. People tell you, we cannot give this job to someone who doesn’t know how to perform. But in fact they are doing so anyways, they are giving jobs to people who don’t know anything, and denying the expertise of some of the ones who do know the topic, because they are Roma.
“Do you know the strongest requirement for working with Roma in any organization? To never have lived as Roma, not having children, not being married, but having many careers. There are few Roma who have had a position defending their people who actually know what is happening at grassroots. Because they never lived with Roma. And in fact, if they live with Roma as Roma, they will never get a job.
“If you find a Roma with a better quality of life, with studies, with social acceptance, etc., as Roma I will say something smells strange. Because in fact either you are super, super lucky and smart, or you are basically a gadjo claiming to be Roma because your grandfather was Roma, doing this to have a salary.
“So, unfortunately, I will say something very polemic. I’m not more Roma that anyone, but I’m not less either. But we don’t have Roma in any powerful place, in any position. We have ROMANOIDS [Gitanoides in the original].
“They look like us, they try to copy our way to talk, to dress, to behave, but they are not Roma. Probably you will find many Romanoids and few Roma during your trip, if you search in institutions and official positions.”
Ricardo rested for a minute. His thoughts are crystal clear, coming from his personal experience. During the whole time we sat with him he almost didn’t drink anything. There were no pauses during his claim. His denouncement hit directly to the heart of those who were able to listen. But now, for a minute, he took some air and decided to share his personal history.
He never lacked talent, but opportunities. He started to work when he was 13 years old, as a seasonal farmer. His family had lost their house by that time. He did not have any water or light. Gadjos didn’t allow him to enter to their world, according their own rules.
“I will talk about my testimony. I went to ‘La Fundacion Secretariado Gitano.’ There, I talked clearly, without fear. And I say the name without fear — I went to that place, and many others who are supposed to help Roma, and I told them: Look, I have 5 children, and I need help. Do you know the first thing they told me?
“They accused me in a few seconds, asking me: why do you have 5 children? Why did you buy a car? Why did you try to buy a home? They humiliated me. Very fast they started they’re speech. But I have studies, and I have a job. So I started my own speech to strike back, because my two grandmothers died and nobody will defend me.
“I’m not stupid, I told them. In fact I am much more intelligent than you, and the career you spent 4 years learning I can have it in one year, because I’m Roma and my brain is more developed than yours. So test me, let me try. If I fail you can blame me and call me stupid, but let me try.
“Today I have 2 degrees, one in Psychology and the other in Human Resources. And I completed everything with 9 or 10 on a scale of 10. That’s with 5 children. There’s no gadjo who could make the same. And I didn’t study because I wanted to work as a psychologist, I did it just to make people understand that I’m not stupid.”
Ricardo paused to call the waiter over, asking for a beer. The woman brought the drink to our table, and Ricardo followed his account.
“The first time I asked for help from FSG, they told me they could not help my family because I didn’t finish my studies. So I proposed them to study. I asked them for advice and guidance, and they prepared for me the following plan:
-First, one year for basic grammatical rules and basic education; you will not gain a title, it is just for you to learn.
-Second, a year for GES 1.
-Third, another year for GES 2.
-Fourth, another year to prepare to access a higher degree.
-Fifth, another year to make a medium degree.
-Sixth, another year to make the high degree you accessed before.
-Seventh, 4 years more to make one single university career.
-Eighth, we give you a job somewhere, where you can gain 300 € per month.
“After listening to them I told them, so you want me to study 10 years to gain 300 € per month? Thank you very much, but no. Do you know what I will do? I will present myself to university access directly, and then I will chose one career, and that’s all. You cannot help me like this. This is no solution for me, because I have 5 children, and according to your plan, by the time I will gain 300€ per month my children will be married. And the reason why I want to study is because I want to bring food for them, because right now I have no job.
“And they told me, that’s impossible, how do you pretend to access university? Have a look at yourself! Do you believe it is so easy? Many people are not able, and you are one of them.
“So I presented myself, without any help or guidance. Because every time I told somebody, hello I’m Roma and I want to go to university, they told me: you are crazy, just accept that you are Roma, finish a first degree. And do you know why they do this? Because they want to laugh at you. So their goal is to make Roma a clown, a guy with first degree in a world of people with 2 or 3 careers, because they don’t want you to be normalized. They would prefer to offer you a course on scrubbing stairs or folding clothes! But then, what will I teach my children to gain their lives? To fold clothes?
“That’s how you want to normalize me? To integrate me? There are Roma who are 15 years studying, participating in thousands of activities, but with no title, no money, no dignity. It is a shame, a real shame to have spent 5 years studying, only to have a job where you spend 3 month folding clothes per 300 €.
“What makes me stupid? Why do you believe you are smarter? What is in me that make me unable to progress in life? There is just one truth. I’m ignorant because nobody ever helped me or taught me anything, nothing but fold clothes and scrubbing stairs.
“Do you know what happens with Roma? We are happy people. We love to laugh, and to make people laugh. We like to be happy, lo live our lives, to have 5 children and go with them to the beach. Gadjos leave their children to other people, who raise them while they go to work or to study. In the end they will have 3 careers and we will have 3 children, but we will know that raised them, we took care of them. They were never alone. Every day we eat together, we enjoy our families. And that’s why people hate us. At one point in a gadjo’s life, at one point they realize they are old and they have 5 cats while you have 5 children. So then they start to ask themselves, what did I do with my life?
“And do you know the most amazing thing? There is always a gadjo trying to explain to me what it is to be Roma. I know exactly what is to be Roma because I am Roma, my father is Roma, my mother is Roma. But I seriously question whether anybody ever listens to me, precisely because I’m a simple Roma. That’s the biggest irony.
“But you know, that’s the whole question. They will never understand us because they don’t want to listen. The day gadjos take a moment to listen, that is the day racism will be over. In the meantime, we will keep suffering the same situations.
“I’m proud to be Roma. I don’t have stress, no panic or anxiety attacks. I hope, someday, the world will recognize that.”