Raquel Fernandez Manzano, aka “la Rake,” was born and raised in “la Plata.” La Plata is a famous neighborhood of Valencia, where a high percentage of the population is Roma. A child and grandchild of evangelical pastors, she was raised between the ghetto and the church, wandering with her brother all over the streets of Valencia, remaining honest and direct, with a black look that cuts through you like a sword. She walks easily, almost dancing, in her own “vacilon” against the whole world.
She received good advice throughout her life, but didn’t always take it. She went through a lot, her family went through a lot. During last years they faced court cases, the loss of their home and many personal tragedies; but she is a survivor, an ultimate survivor from a real jungle of concrete.
I meet her many years ago. I was just 15 and she was 10; that was in another world, in another life, when the future seemed bright and it was not so obvious that we were Roma — because in Ghettos Roma children also play and laugh and dream, but just for a sort time, until they realize they were born to run.
Today she lives in Madrid, attending her father’s shoe shop. They moved here after many problems in Valencia, they kind of problems people have for belonging to a community that suffered a historical process of discrimination and isolation.
If you look at her young and beautiful face you would never know, but when you have a look at her hands everything makes sense: they look red, old, stronger than any man’s hands, and in the middle finger, the heart finger she had a tattoo, it says;
That’s the kind of tattoo you find in prisons, the kind of tattoo that is telling you a history. The kind of history that people who live out of the Ghetto will never understand.
‘Cause in ghettos everything moves differently. Sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but everything has its own rhythm. Today they are set to a mix between Flamenco and Hip-Hop, a melodic bomb that arrived some years ago as a tsunami to our Roma communities.
El Nino sings:
“Show the bottle, let’s get drunk, with hands up, The Roma just arrived”
“La Rake” loves hip-hop, as she loves Flamenco. Her voice, a bit broken after a life full of sad episodes, sounds better in song; but today, Bekah and I accompany her to the court where she still has to solve some issues. If you were born in a ghetto, no matter where you try to escape, the ghetto is following you.
“Where I grow up we were mostly Roma, but it was a very conflictive place. We suffered discrimination, outside and inside, in many situations, and it was very difficult to pass all this being so young. It was hard to see how your goals and your dream just are impossible, but truly we survived, we became a bit bad, we changed our aesthetic, we were forced to. We change our way to behave and to move in order to survive”
“Every time something happened, Roma we were the blamed for it. We were blamed for every little thing, and that created Mafia, that created violence. That’s why we are violent, nobody give us the possibility to talk to respond. It is natural, it is a cycle, as much we suffer the hate of mainstream society more and more we get isolated and we become violent. But is not as bad a people think. It is true that there are a lot of conflicts, but that’s a way to defend against Gadjos. We are not evil, we survive. For me, to be Roma is beautiful, I’m proud to be Roma. I had many problems for it, but I don’t repent of nothing, there is nothing better for me that to be Roma.”
“In the ghetto Roma help each other. It is a hard situation there, you know? But our heart, our intestines are different, the depth of our being will always respond to another Roma. We share 100 per cent. Boyfriend and girlfriend doesn’t exist for us, we have husbands and wives, but compromise in every moment of your life is essential and full.”
“One of the things I will never understand or agree with Gadjos is the sense of cleanliness. I would prefer not to eat, not to sleep, but to stay in a clean place. Once I traveled to Ukraine with Vicente for a training. The room, which for everybody was ok was not for me. I guess that’s something that really makes the different between us, Roma clean their houses 3 or 4 times per day even in the worst moments.”
Rake stops briefly to take in some air. I choose this moment to ask her about her court problems, is she suffering discrimination?
“They put me on prison directly, somebody looked at me because I was Roma, the police attend me as an animal, and they humiliated me. I was with some friends having some drinks and they blamed me directly. I told them I had no time for stupid stuff and they put me in prison. They know all the tricks, all the tricks about how to cheat you and humiliate you, and for women is even worse — we face huge stereotypes and discrimination.”
“Everything started in school, everything. They used to accuse me to be Roma, to be inferior. They changed my class 10 times in a single course when I was 11 because the parent of the other children complained about having a Roma in their children’s class. I was always guilty, that was why I left my studies, and now I wish to have studies. I do believe a better life is possible, but society is trying to kill your illusions.”