On Poverty and Fear


Mire este articulo en Español abajo.

5 years ago or so, my father called me into the small room where we had placed the computer we just bought a few days earlier. A cacaphony was suddenly surrounding me: it was his laughter, which could be heard throughout the house, and the laughter of the rest of my family .

My father used spend hours on the internet watching videos of horses and the preachings of Antonio Almoradi, all on youtube. One day, while he was following this habit, he accidentally discovered a character that people know as Faliyo.

My father called me that day, loudly. I did not listen to his summon, but soon my mother, my brother and many of my cousins ​​started using sentences, jokes and habits that were beyond me. One of the phrases that caught my attention was the celebrated slogan:

It scares me Loco

Today that phrase, and many others, are part of the linguistic and cultural heritage of hundreds of thousands of Romanies in my country. But the author of this legacy resides in the not at all touristic district of Sant Roc, Badalona.

The legend is Rafael Fernandez, better known as Faliyo, whose videos have hundreds of thousands of views — for those who don’t believe me, just search for him on Google or YouTube.

Some weeks after the Faliyomania shook the foundations of my house, I could not resist taking a look at some of the videos that were swarming the net. But what I saw, I did not like. I saw a poor man who suffered a terrible mental illness being the target of ridicule from his neighbours. That was my initial impression of Faliyo. But I could not have been more wrong.

Time passed, and one day the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, landed in my hands. The film is a brilliant and raw portrait of the genius of Daniel Johnston, a multidisciplinary artist, songwriter and painter. His works are now exposed through the whole world, and as a songwriter he was revered by the likes of Kurt Cobain, who popularized him in the ’90s. And yet he experiences life in lapses between serenity and self-destructive obsession. His is the life of a genius who suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and dementia.

After I had seen the documentary,  my father called me to show me another video of Faliyo. This time he was not recounting bizarre stories or singing songs from TV spots of the 80s to a Flamenco rhythm; no, this time Faliyo was silent as ever, looking at a sheet of paper while bringing to life an impossible landscape, a hellish creature. The clip was set to Orobroy of Dorantes. While I was looking at the video, looking at his picture taking form, my mouth was paralyzed and my eyes were amazed. Faliyo was not a man who suffered ridicule from a bunch of misfits. He was a genius, a beautiful mind, an artist with a raw sensitivity who had suffered a terrible, terrible life.

In the same video , Faliyo finished his drawing and went to the door when a woman interrupted him: “to whom will you dedicate this drawing, Faliyo?” Faliyo responded,

To poverty.

From this video I learned to be humble as an artist, but also I learned about the greatness in Faliyo, the man who seems to have come from another world, who dedicated his art to poverty.

I learned later that the story of Rafael Fernandez is full of fear and poverty itself. Originally from a Roma Andalusian family, he lives in one of the poorest places in Spain, the district of Sant Roc. Only one of his sisters has retained her sanity until today. His brothers walk like him, their lives swaddled in misfortune. They walk today on the brink of madness, wandering the streets asking for cigarettes or begging for a Euro, immersed in their own worlds.

Faliyo was once a bright young man. Until the age of 16 or 17, people tell me, he was one of the smartest and most talented men that populated Sant Roc. As one of his former teachers said, “Faliyo was one of the few people who had the capacity to carry the neighbourhood towards something better.”

Today Faliyo is a legend, a cruel portrait with which people can often connect on many different levels. But still, between fear and poverty Faliyo wanders, ignoring the world around him, in a neighbourhood where corruption abounds in all sectors, from the police to the City Hall, and across all levels. “In this neighbourhood there is no future,” I deciphered from the graffiti painted on one of the green blocks in which Franco put the Roma.

We started this project in San Fernando, bringing  flowers for the Uncle Camaron, a symbolic gesture for how much he represents for many Roma in Spain. And when I thought of the final place to write about, one last personality came to mind: I thought about Faliyo.

I Reached Sant Roc willing to steal a few seconds of the great genius of Rafael. “We have seen him at the bridge,”  some people guided us. But the fact is that Faliyo appears from nowhere, wandering the neighbourhood like a ghost. I walked with Alfonso for a long time while we spoke of the terrible situation in the neighbourhood, of cancer, contamination, and silence from everyone.

Amid the worst of Sant Roc, the children play on a park that is falling apart in front of a new police station in the center of the square. The show is horrible. The worst, most raw place I’ve seen in my life, I reflected internally. This is hell.

Alfonso my comrade asked his cousins where Faliyo was supposed to be. “There you have it ” said one of them, pointing to the center of the square. The legend was completely dressed in faded pink. His clothes looked old and dirty; he had a beard, and long hair with blonde highlights, and he was watching us. At about 10 meters of distance from where we walked, his silent figure reigned over the place. Today “he’s deranged,” some people advised me, because Rafael Fernandez suffers from an unusual mental illness. But though his eyes are lost in another universe, his gait, his gestures, his forms are filled with a unique charisma. The presence of Faliyo fills all in a moment. We decided to approach him. Faliyo didn’t even look at me. He passed very close as if I did not exist. This will not be a time when I’ll have the opportunity to enjoy his genius; but I’m thinking about what I have seen in Faliyo, in Daniel Johnston, in Sant Roc, in Roma and the genius of the poor.

The poor, the Roma, we have identified with Faliyo. His jokes, his gestures and his stories are purely Roma, full of an extraordinary purity and nobility. He is able to draft like a modern Picasso, improvise singing, play any instrument in a unique way or wander Sant Roc in his daily performance, wearing his own style , oblivious to modern trends. Faliyo walks across with a giant paper airplane, sings with a horn sometimes, practices martial arts and dazzles us with his exceptional narrative talent.

Daniel Johnston? No. Kurt Cobain? Nothing further. Rafael Fernandez is my artist of choice. His stories, his theories, his gestures and phrases, his invented words, all in him is exceptional; and yet he is also a representative story of many young Roma, born and raised in terrible places, victims of all kinds of violence, structural poverty, historical discrimination. Couldn’t he be a family father ? A renowned artist? How many Roma have been lost in this terrible war fuelled by antigypsysm? Many Rafaeles, lost to the fringes of the big cities, living in this ill country that is Hispania, surrounded by hatred of difference and hurtful ignorance.

Drugs and vices that we did not invent, automatic weapons carrying terror to our families, corrupt NGOs captained by monsters… these are our problems? We complain about hurtful gestures and  divisions among us, but who has brought these evils and amputated our hopes? Roma brothers and sisters, these are not our problems. Our problems are based on the work of terrible governments, deniers of our reality, selling a nonexistent equality to a generation of Roma prepared for anything but to be free finally, free of the non-Roma.

Free from people and things that are alien to us, free of the system, free of the dependency system in which we are immersed in this country and elsewhere where governments are created for non-Roma by non-Roma. We need to have freedom from non-Roma like Garcia Albiol, or Lepen, or Hollande, freedom from their money, their paternalism, their institutional power. Sant Roc Roma carry hope today, just like many young people in the 3000 homes, they seek and expect many changes. And yet, in our neighbourhoods (ours by force, ours because we were detained by force in these ghettos), we continue depending on Gadjos, we live to the non-Roma and for non-Roma and any illusion of independence is quickly crushed.

Coexistence or independence ? Coexistence and independence. But if I have to choose, independence, autonomy and revolution.

Maybe “The Peluos,” the  Roma family where  Faliyo came from, know what I am speaking of. These people in Sant Roc take care of him, and while some laugh many others admire him, knowing that what Faliyo does is exceptional, inimitable, and that this story is the tragic result of structural discrimination. Because while Daniel Johnston is recognized by the world, Rafael continues as many “Gypsies”, wandering Sant Roc without work or occupation, sharing weal and woe with brothers, shining as a supernova through poverty and fear.

One thought on “On Poverty and Fear

  1. I’ve been filled with this post and haven’t known quite how to respond to let you know what important work you are doing and how it echoes. Continue please.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s