Mirar este articulo en Español abajo.
By now, Uncle Pascual has already left us. As we Roma say he departed, to a world where the racism that he experienced during his lifetime can never reach him anymore, the kingdom of heaven where the gilded rooms are home to Roma and Angels alike, where the voices of our Elders and our loved ones forever resonates, joyfully giving thanks to our God, the God of Roma.
I write this article to the memory of Uncle Pascual. It was originally in his own language, Spanish — or, as he called it, “Gitano”. Because as many Roma in France, our brothers and sisters, although far from us in Spain, they never forgot where they came from or who they were. Roma, yes, and more even: Kalos.
Uncle Pascual lived in Cavaillon. His entire life was perfectly in order: he always looked after his own family, and also those that may have outwardly seemed unrelated but that he always acknowledged as his own people. He took care of my family and always received them. If anything can be said of him, it is that he was an authentic Roma.
I met him for the first time one afternoon; he approached me at the end of the service in the church in Cavaillon, and asked me if I knew of the Sinti. Later on he told me that his mother was Sinti and his father was Kalo, and that it was for him the first time that he knew a Spanish Roma who knew about the Sinti.
A few days later my cousin Vicente contacted him so that we could all have a coffee together. Bekah and I though that it would be very interesting to interview him. He received us with open arms, all the time maintaining full trust in us. He opened the door of his house and began to relate his life and experience, in the way only the elders know, making each detail imprint as an enduring image.Uncle Pascual sat in front of us, resting his arms on the metal table. While we were recording the conversation, I asked and invited him to tell the story of his family.
“My family came from Almería. They went away like all Roma. This was about 120 years ago; my grandfather was born here, my father, all of us were born here, and here we are living like the French. We have the Roma branch but we live as non-Roma. But the Gadjo are far from us, they remain somewhere else. I do my work with the non-Roma , they are the ones who feed me, but once I have finished the business with the non-Roma, I’m talking our language with our kids, young children, because we do not want for our Roma customs to get lost.“
The words of Uncle Pascual are authentic, words of iron as we say. To the question of whether there is racism in France, he answered eloquently.
“Yes, very much , with the Roma and the Moors. And the Moors do not have our way to think, and the French do not have the same philosophy as the Moors or the Roma. We are worlds apart, but we have suffered much racism. We are traveling and most of the neighbours, when they see you they react as if the Germans are coming again. They are afraid that anything will happen, and they watch us day and night. Whenever the most minor robbery happens, and since we’re traveling through almost all of France, when there is a robbery we are the first ones they blame. But as they can see the way we live honourably, they make us two questions and leave. The same thing happens here and in Spain: they always blame Roma first.
“The largest groups of Roma here in France are in Marseille, Paris, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Toulouse. Those are big cities where we live, all the Roma, because we all live from sales and we know everyone. Sometimes I go out of here for some days, we meet together with up to 200 caravans, and we all go together — we are 20,000 people travelling. In these gatherings you will not even hear a fly, for the Gospel.”
I asked Uncle Pascual about other Roma groups, as there are everywhere. I asked how are the relations with Manouches and Sinto and Roma from Romania.
“My mother is Sinti and my father was a spanish Kalo. The Sinti are mostly Italian and Neapolitan. Here there are many, and they formerly spoke perfect Romanes, like the Romanians, who have kept the Romanes more pure; they still are as we were. But when you say you are Roma many think between them, this is not a Roma, because for us it is about flamenco and tradition, but for them is something else.
“They are not like us in their forms. The Manouche swear a lot, they have many words of oath, so sometimes we do not go together, because if they swear for us are the cannons who will speak , and when we are dressed in black , they do not realize that for us is very great mourning, as they play music , and so we do not travel with people Romanichel (using the word referring to various groups of assimilated Roma). Kalos just understand the Catalan Roma, because the day of the wedding the celebrate it in the old way. Here we are French, but we do weddings as Roma, and never have a word higher than another word. We have a relationship with all the Roma but some in Strasbourg are very bad, also they call themselves Kashkane; but today we can talk to them, because they see the fish in your car and you turn on the lights and they ask if you are a Christian, and if you go to church.”
Bekah makes me a wave; she has a question. If the family of Uncle Pascual has been travelling throughout France for the past 120 years, they were probably also victims of, or at least witnessess of the arrival of the Germans. After all, Uncle Pascual refers to the second world war and the German presence constantly as a form of expression for the maximum fear.
“I was born in the year 54 and the war finished here in the 45. I was born after the war, but my mother and her generation, they have seen what war is and what the Germans did with the Roma, who were burned, poured gasoline and burned, put in ovens and burned. Because Hitler did not want Jews or Roma. He just had relation with the Spanish gadjos, and the Spaniards worked with Hitler, and Hitler could not tolerate Roma and even less Jews. And he burned them, wherever they saw carriages and horses, they took them as prisoners. My father spent seven years imprisoned by the Germans, and they took him to carry the ones who were killed to the ovens. The Roma have been here suffering a lot because of the Germans; it was a very bad country .
“Today nobody remembers that. Before, the Roma kept rancour longly, 100 years could pass during which Roma keep rancor inside. But today we ignore it because we see so much going on, and life is getting more short and we have no bad feelings against anyone, because if you have more resentment your life becomes shorter. Because today we see something and for us it is the same. There is so much suffering and so much racism, but those who have really suffered were the old ones; old ones have suffered greatly. Not today. There is something for eating now, the children go to school, we live with the gadjos and never make nothing contrary to them, we will always give them the reason. The things change, life evolves and evolves but we are happy with what God gives us, go where we want, do what we want, and we are free. We are the happiest people in the world. I know Sinti in Italy, Roma from Mexico and we are the happiest people in the world, because although Roma often do not have what to eat, whenever we have we put the pot on. When I go to the store, I see Gadjos; if they are four people they buy four sausages, while we grab two kilos each one of us. It has always been so, we have holes in our hands.“
His comment about the non-Roma and sausage makes me laught a lot, as all of us. After this, Uncle Pascual starts to tell us about the arrival of the Gospel to Roma in France.
” I knew the gospel in the year 92. The first Church in Cavaillon was opened by myself, my wife and my uncle, we were just three people. Life, dancing, guitar, drunkenness, that was my life before I received the gospel; the gospel changed my life. If I saw even a Gadjo I prayed for him within me. Today, thanks to God, I’m already three years well on the way, pretty well, because as I said to Vicente, God has done so much for me that I will never have the chance to give him something back. Even if I cut my two arms and my two legs I will never match him, because of what he has made for me, because he have suffered for me, but we do not suffer for him.”
The Uncle Pascual then prepared to speak about the great mystery of our origin.
“I heard once that Roma came from India, and I once saw an Indian old woman and she seemed Roma, except for the red dot. Others say we came from Egypt, but from Egypt to Israel there is not so much distance. Some say we are one of the lost tribes of Israel. But today we are losing a lot, too much. Before, if a Roma woman married a Gadjo it was like a bomb falling, today we see it and we are used to see it all.“
“Between us a person always takes place , and is with us always, till he departs. Here in France we have very good things: one of them is that the word of an Elder is always respected. My father used to tell me not to do certain things, and I chose not to do these things thinking in the pain that he had for me. But it is not like this today. Today I tell my child not to do that, and behind my back he does so, because we are in 2014. I have a brother who is 67 years, he’s older than me , and I ask him every time, and it is just 7 years of difference but he is older than me. If I advise him he also hears me, because I know which people are good and which people are bad , because I have travelled far . “
At this time my cousin Vincent began to narrate: when he first meet Uncle Pascual he recognized him as Roma in the supermarket. Uncle Pascual commented on this.
“There is one thing among the Roma — in the way they walk, the way they are, you know who is Roma. They can have blonde hair with green eyes, but you look at his position, the gestures, everything. We went to the hospital once and I saw a man, he was looking very much like a Gadjo. I drank a coffee and when I was finishing it I said to him, good afternoon and he said good afternoon back, and I said to him, I knew you were Roma. ”
The heart of the Uncle Pascual was pure as glass. His gestures, his forms and his comments are full of Romanipe. Before leaving he asks us if he can share his testimony, and all of us hear him. He makes us all cry, telling us that he has suffered from a terrible disease and God healed him.
“I had been condemned, and God did not want to take me but left me alive to share all of what he has done to me. This is my testimony, and I cannot tell it because I often fail, I start to cry, but God he has done so much for me that I will never be able to pay him back.”
Uncle Pascual was a diligent man, a devout Christian and an exceptional human being who always honours his name as Roma through his life. His hand was always ready to help, to mediate, to drink coffee, to laugh and to mourn.
The Uncle Pascual is not dead, because death cannot beat Roma, Roma beat death. And while the world falls, the names of our elders are never forgotten. Because we are not as people say, without memory; we are a people rich with stories, life stories, family stories, adventures, chronicles like the tale of Uncle Pascual, already in heaven.
In this world, there is no place for such excellent people as Uncle Pascual. No, this world is too small. So between hard times and joy, weddings and mourning, we Roma people know that our land waits for us at the end of the century, when everything that is written about us will be fulfilled.