Why Vicente Rodriguez and Rebekah Ward will spend the upcoming months living out of a car, staying in Roma communities, driving through Europe and eventually getting themselves to India.
The birth of a crazy idea:
During the ERGO network meeting that took place in Brussels in November 2013, Rebekah Ward and Vicente Rodriguez met for the first time.
Though they come from totally different backgrounds, they developed a common understanding on modern Roma reality and shared their own experiences and projects. Through discussions about structural discrimination, among other issues, they developed the idea of the current project as an opportunity to have a unique look at the reality of Roma in Europe in different contexts. Far from stereotypes and any form of prejudice, far from the elitism of some scholars and activists, the project “A Long Way To Justice” is searching for an honest portrait of Roma grassroots reality.
A-Z of where we’ll be:
In February 2014, starting from the tip of Spain, we will begin to drive east across Europe towards India. Along the way we will meet and stay with families, Roma families engaged in their communities of origin who have a connection with their own backgrounds and traditions.
Our interest is to understand community after community, to discover the needs and realities of Roma people all over Europe. It is our role and our vision to transcend our own logistical and personal limitations, to have a real clash with the forces of exclusion and mistrust, a real route to the grassroots.
To start the trip in Spain is not an accident, but something that was carefully conceived. Spain was the last point of Europe where Roma arrived approximately 600 years ago.
The trip will reproduce the long pass of Roma people as they migrated through Europe hundreds of years ago; however, we will travel in the opposite sense, ending in the north of India.
From Spain until Turkey, we will have the possibility to meet students, middle class workers, activists, musicians and a whole world of diversity.
But the essence of the trip is indeed to meet and to stay with Roma communities from the grassroots, people who have never had the opportunity to raise their voice, people who suffered from centuries of exclusion, people who are presented as a public enemy by mass media, people who the NGO industry exploits when it sells their pain and daily struggle.
We believe it is time for them to be portrayed as they are: humans, equals, individuals; not paternalized or villainized caricatures.
Where we’re coming from:
VICENTE: I, Vicente Rodriguez Fernandez (Alfafar,1988), AKA Magneto, am self-taught. Most of the knowledge that I have about “life” came from Comics, the Bible, Rock n’ Roll lyrics, Philosophy books, family and my own experiences. For the last 4 years I have been involved in Roma activism as a participant and volunteer in many activities. I have visited Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Krakow, Bratislava, Roma, Spoleto, Berlin, Czarna Gora, Brussels, Hannover, Sofia, Strasburg, Tirana, Simferopol, Zagreb, Larnaka and many other cities and countries as part of my non-formal education process. I have published several articles and regularly participate in digital media as blogger. I am also a contemporary artist-creator and a free thinker who has collaborated several times with other Roma artists in creative initiatives, and a consummate Rock n’ Roll singer and musician.
During 2011, I founded and presided over the controversial initiative named YAG BARI. I also collaborated with TernYpe-International Roma Youth Network and many other European NGOs as volunteer and youth leader, and have been vice-president and president of a never-ending list of initiatives and organizations. My irreverence, my past as a seller of socks and my self-security full of contradictions have made me one of the most scandalous and polemical characters of the actual panorama of European Roma Activism.
REBEKAH: I am a 23-year-old Canadian woman who grew up in downtown Montreal. In 2013, I graduated from Colgate University in the United States with a degree in Social Psychology and Peace & Conflict Studies. I have long been interested in understanding structures and practices that maintain systemic marginalization, with an interest in rewriting these structures; this curiosity has since stirred in me a deep frustration with hateful prejudice derived from stereotypes. With the help of a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship I have been able to travel to Europe for one year after graduation. Here, I have been independently learning from/assisting various NGOs, activists and scholars, in hopes of developing a more complex understanding of the barriers faced by Roma communities.
I am an aspiring writer, journalist, editor, activist, public policy influencer and community development advocate. But right now, most of all, I want to find ways to provoke people to rethink the often dangerously simplified “single stories” they attribute to Roma people. During this trip, I am particularly interested in discovering the ways that people in Roma communities define the identity of the “other”, and in learning from the challenges and resilience in their daily lives.
Where this trip will take us:
VICENTE: I’ve been living all my life in a community that is mostly composed of Roma people; we face discrimination, exclusion, violence, fear and hate every day. In this kind of environment human rights violations happen daily. One of the biggest challenges for our generation is to face this part of our reality, understanding that this is strongly related with our history. We need to understand the past to shape the future. To focus our activist work on the problems without understanding the context is simply not functioning, and as Roma we have the duty to strengthen our sense of community and common identity — that’s maybe one of the first points in our fight against anti-gipsyism through this project. This initiative represents a very good effort in the Roma path to emancipation; I hope that the project will provide me with a new perspective on my own cultural and ethnic background, and with a better understanding of our actual situation throughout Europe. I think that my coexistence with Roma people from different communities all over Europe will be an extraordinary experience that will enrich my knowledge about our common roots.
The trip will work also as the Beginning of the First Official Yag Bari Campaign, Heroes Reborn. In our adventure we will meet Roma youngsters, and I will be searching for extraordinary and gifted youth who are suffering a continuous depreciation of their skills and abilities. As a gifted child who grew up in a community under attack, it is one of my strongest wishes to build a coalition for the defense of gifted Roma youngsters and children.
REBEKAH: When I left for my fellowship year in Europe, I came hoping to learn, not to impose; to be shaped, not to shape. But I have reached the point where opening my own mind isn’t enough any more. The majority population fails Roma communities when it fails to attempt to understand them. Even if complete comprehension is impossible from my perspective, I believe it is worth it to try. I plan to write about this trip in a way that inverts hateful popular stereotypes about Roma communities, and brings information from historical and other scholarly research to a different audience. As a gadji, I do not plan to write the story “of a people”, but a self-critical, thought-provoking story about meaningful interaction.
Collective goals and results:
In life, as in two-person adventures by car in Roma communities throughout Europe, it’s hard to know where you will actually end up. This being said, wherever we do end up, we want YOU with us.
Given the miracles of modern technology, our goal is to produce steady multimedia output to a blog and a Facebook page, both of which will document our travels. This will tell you where we are, but it will also give you some insight into what we have learnt along the way.
We expect that our trip will teach us, as well as our followers, innumerable lessons about solidarity, identity, meaningful interaction, discrimination, and of course about the similarities and differences between the lives and lifestyles of Roma communities across Europe.
We expect to make a statement through our actions about the feasibility of such a trip, and about the necessity of attempting to make human connections across differences.
We expect to say hello to you in Spain, and not to quit before our “goodbye” from India.