The micro-histories you can find in many Roma familes are stunning. Roma people are extraordinary storytellers; the oral tradition plays a key role in order to enable youth and children to recognize their own origin and background, the name of their family, their relatives, and also the histories of other Roma in the place. The tales, the legends, all these things get mixed and as the centuries passed they have remained the guide for young Roma in their life experience.
I would like to share with you some of these histories, the saga I belong to, The Coverteras…
Every Roma family in Spain has a name related with their traditional occupation, or with certain familial traits. These can range from the physical atributtes to the intelectual or social.The entire history of the Coverteras is long and passionate, but on the occasion of our visit to France, I will talk about a shorter narrative: the history of the Vicentes of my family.
I explained some time ago about the tradition to put the same names to people over and over again in my family due to this particular phenomenon and to the marriages between small Roma Spanish families for centuries. We all have the same names and surnames: I’m Vicente Rodriguez, but Im not the first one, not the last, and not even the most controversial.
Physically, we also look pretty much the same: short people, olive coloured skin, clear eyes. We are born blond and get dark hair over time, and even if you wouldn’t believe it, many other Roma have told me the same! The Vicentes don’t have so much neck, as we always joke, and wherever we came from we behave, talk and walk in a particular way.
We, the Vicentes, are generally good people. Some might say that we are not the most stable people in the world, though. This, you will understand when you take a look at my recents ancestors.
Anyway, one thing is true: in my family both Christmas and weddings are very confusing —
Vicente! Vicente! Vicente! Come here!
You will hear this many times… they are always talking to a different Vicente, then another, and another… but despite this mess of trying to distinguish between Vicentes, it is beautiful how we follow the tradition to put our names to a new generation of Coverteras, perpetuating our narrative.
In my closest family there must be at least a dozen Vicentes. If I take the first cousins of both of my parents, the number would probably rise to 40 or 50, and if I open the list to all the descendants of the original Vicente Rodriguez we are easily close to 100 Vicentes among the 1000 relatives, and growing still.
Here for you to enjoy, for first time offered to an international audience, a brief introduction to the history of the Vicente Rodriguez saga.
Vicente Rodriguez Santiago: The Dangerous
He was probably not the very first, but he was the one who gave us all our name. Uncle Vicente was a terrible man, a “brave man” Roma called him; brave men, during the end of the IXX and the early XX century, went place to place fighting other Roma till death. Also known as “the Valientes,” most of the time they fought to survive and to prove their right to a territory or a belonging. They were forced to kill. It was so usual and daily that the historical result is terrible. This all happened before the civil war, in a Middle Ages world that sounds like a resemblance of Conan the Barbarian adventures mixed with a John Wayne American Western. In my family, however, as terrible as the legends are, we tell them to make children laugh when they are small! Definitely, our politically incorrect sense of humour doesn’t fit within mainstream society!
Uncle Vicente, the first of us all, had blue eyes, psychopath attitudes and probably killed a dozen men. He had huge scissors which were his favourite weapon, plus his shotgun; he use to ride a very ugly mule, travel with a raven who was cursing and swearing at everyone, and dress all in black. As crazy and deranged as he was, we all grow up with the legendary sentece he purportedly uttered before attack: I’m the small Vicente from the Coverteras and I spit on your deads!
Vicente Rodriguez Gonzalez: The Genius
My grandpa, the father of my father, son of the first Vicente, took on the nickname Uncle Fat for his big size. He was an extraordinarily intelligent man. He knew how to write and to read well since a very young age, and he was also a true heartbreaker — at 15 he had lots of Gadji fans! He wanted to study, but finally he enlisted in the army during the civil war against all Roma standards in order to save the life of his small brother Miguel. He ended fighting on the 2 sides of the battle and saving the life of his whole family by making a deal with the General Pons, an old Fascist leader. My family survived through the war and the era of Franco thanks to him, arriving to Alfafar by the end of the 50s.
During the 60s and the 70s, Vicente the Genius mostly dedicated his time to making business in his own way. He had a legendary mouth, able to make cry to the same ones who wanted to lynch him. He was a natural seller, and even in his very old age he use to cheat people just to not lose practice. Sometimes he would buy dogs and paint them, in order to sell them later on to the same guy he bought them from before! For us these beautifully cunning stories are a reason to be proud — not for the fact of cheating, but for his intelligence and his ability to survive in very hard times. As he was a real genius, he was legendary, and well known as a very dangerous man. He changed his name to Miguel and his surname after the war to escape. He loved to talk and to deal, but he hated to steal and strongly advised us against this. He told me one million histories during my childhood before he passed away when I was 12. I was the last Vicente he baptized. He was my grandpa, and my godfather.
Vicente Rodriguez Rodriguez: The Adventurer
Uncle “Chitin”, nicnamed like this in reference to his small size of around 1,5 m, Son of Vicente the Fat, was 3 times Vicentes heir. He escaped early from his Covertera household to fullfil his deepest wish: to become a Bullfighter. He travelled all over Spain to participate spontaneously in Bullfighter shows, until his best friend died by a bull attack in a show. Agonizing in the hands of my uncle, the tragic dead of this anonymous bullfighter made him abandon his dreams of bullfighting glory, but against all logic he then enrolled in the army in Africa to fight hand in hand with the French and the Spanish Legion, emulating Lawrence of Arabia at the frontiers of the Sahara desert. After experiencing the horrors of war, he came back to Spain where he became a street-sweeper and married my aunt Joaquina, a very young Roma girl, with whom he raised 7 children, the first of them also called Vicente…
Vicente Rodriguez Moreno: The Pastor
My cousin Vicente is the last of a saga. Vicente, son of Vicente per 3 generations lives today in France. As brilliant as he is extraordinarily kind, we visited him on our Road to Justice in the town of Cavaillon, where he and the rest of my family are living due to the terrible economical crisis we suffered in Spain.
We have the joy and the honor to bring you, our dear readers, an interview with the actual heir of the throne of the Vicentes. Get ready and hold your attention for Vicente number four, featured very soon on A Long Way to Justice!