I guess this is the kind of respect; the kind of relation we Roma build on a basis of total trust. It is something hard to explain. It’s like having the feeling, the sensation that there is something very deep we share, something we can not express but that makes us very confident and comfortable with our own kind.
So, externally we may look different, we may act different, but internally there is a place, a common space we share. This is identity.
José María, Clemente and I have met regularly over the last 3 years to talk about identity, about change and about revolution. Most often we meet in Burger King, the cheapest fast food chain in Spain, or in El Carmen for some party. But one beautiful moment we shared was José María’s wedding. Clemente and I drove 300 km from Valencia to Murcia: nice clothes, young handsome guys, ready for anything. We felt so cool, man!
Today Clemente is a young Roma man, close to 28. He is industrial engineer, Bachata dancer and one of my best friends.And here we are again. It is already late; we drove from Madrid last night, escaping the mist of the city to pass some time in Valencia’s El Cabañal market in the morning. Back in the car this afternoon to get to our evening meeting, we lost almost 2 hours trying to park near Maritim Serrereria.
Shy Clemente, though he spoke perfect English, preferred to tell us his story in Spanish.
“When I was 7 or 8 years old the teacher was talking about the topic of race and she started talking about Roma, so she ask me in front of all my schoolmates, what was my opinion? She knew that I was Roma. So I went to my house and I asked my mother if we were Roma, because until that moment I didn’t understand that there were many races and cultures; I grew up with Roma, so I though that our weddings were like everybody’s.
“During my education I did not have any serious problems. Maybe I suffered the typical comments about my racial identity, comments about Roma, but nothing especially traumatic. I finished school and high school and I started university. But maybe the fact that I don’t look like Roma affects me; I don’t tell this to people for free if they are not close to me, because I don’t have a reason to tell anybody, it is not written on my face, but when I tell people that I am an industrial engineer and also Roma many non-Roma still don’t believe that I’m Roma. Because of the fact that I studied a career, because I am an engineer they think that I am on their side, that I am one of them. But it is not like this. It has no relation, to study and to be Roma. At the end you understand their perception, because for them is strange to see Roma who studied, because stereotypes and media are against us, giving us a profile of criminal people. I believe this is a huge mistake.
“The famous newspaper El Pais made an interview with me some years ago. They asked me a lot of questions, just like now. One of them was an off-the-record question. They asked if my people, Roma people, ever rejected me for the fact that I have studied. I told them Roma congratulate me always, but that there was one time a guy told me that to study was not for Roma. Later on, in the article they wrote about the interview, the title became that I had betrayed my family to study! In the same interview, one of my friends who was Homosexual was included, and they used his words to make it sound like he was making declarations blaming Roma for rejecting him. Also, there was a Roma woman who was a lawyer; she talked a lot during the interview, but because she did not say anything against Roma they did not include more than a line of her words in the whole article. That’s how they use our voices in mass media.
“Of course, when I saw the article I sent and email to the redactor; it was the digital edition, so even today if you put my name into Google, Clemente Carbonell Amador, the first option after Facebook is that article, that horrible fake news. I don’t want to look at it because I don’t want to be angry. They told me that it was free expression so they could not erase it from the archives on the Internet, and Google is impossible to fight against.
“The worst was that my family read the article and they called me; they didn’t understand at all. I explained the details of what happened to everybody that I know, but for some people my image is now destroyed forever. I guess the journalist themselves are racist; I guess a different image doesn’t sell newspapers, it is not interesting enough for mainstream society. And they even don’t realize because they grow up with these stereotypes against Roma, they don’t realize how racist they are.”
By the end of Clemente’s interview we shared a bit about our current situation, and then he started to talk about how it feels to be a young Roma with a degree as an industrial engineer but to be unemployed.
“Many people told me during my life that studies are essential, but today I have studies and I don’t have a job, just like many other Spaniards. So maybe the iron picker option was better! [Jose Maria interrupt him — why not both engineer and Iron Picker, imagine the possibilities!]”
Everybody is laughing, and I join to joke. But before we cut the interview for getting lost in absurd jokes and never-ending monologues on Roma identity, I ask Clemente for a final declaration to close the interview, a statement for gadjos.
“I don’t know all gadjos all over the world, I guess we are very similar in many things. There must even be gadjos who are very close to me in almost everything, I just have a different culture. We survived for hundred of years and we will keep like this. No matter how much you try to assimilate us, how much you try to force us to forget our heritage, it will not work. Because up until today we know were we came from, and who we are. I speak from my own experience. Regarding the fact that some of us studied and some did not; even if I make the same that you make in my daily life I will always know that I am Roma, and that will make me one point different from you.”