Saturday, January 11, 2003

Here's an update on the "gypsy queen" story we talked about two days ago. (Part One of the story is here.) Seems that they packed up and left Sant Cugat, only to move down the road to Castellbisbal. The headline, from La Vanguardia, is, "Castellbisbal permits gypsies to stay extra day for party." It's also by Paloma Arenós.

After signing an eviction order yesterday to force some sixty trailers to leave the improvised gypsy campground that was set up on Thursday in Castellbisbal, the mayor of the municipality, Joan Playà, had a 180-degree change of attitude. Playà went to the Castellbisbal Sud industrial zone to learn the plans of the calé squatters. "They've asked me to let them stay the night here (Friday) because they want to have a party in the evening. They've promised they'll leave on Saturday at 10 AM and that they'll clean up the area," said Playà.

The trailers arrived there after being expelled on Thursday by the mayor of Sant Cugat, Lluís Recoder. Those camping in Castellbisbal yesterday were visited by the president of the Federation of Gypsy Associations of Catalonia (FAGIC), Manuel Heredia, who volunteered to act as mediator between the community and the City Council. He was disappointed by the lack of responsibility of the group. "They don't have a valid spokesman. Each one says something different, that they'll be here ten days, that they're on vacation for a month...This is chaotic," he said with irritation.

The supervisor of the Philadelphia Evangelical Church of Catalonia, Ricardo Díaz, said that he has no knowledge that these nomads belong to his religious congregation, as they have reiteratedly insisted. The principal excuse for the settling down in Sant Cugat was the celebration of the wedding of the "gypsy queen", a 17-year-old adolescent. "Maybe some of them are believers and know the Evangels, but we don't know anything about them as a religious community in Spain," warned Díaz, worried that they might take advantage of the good name of the congregation in their own benefit.

Paloma's not a bad young reporter; she's new, I've never seen her by-line before this series. She's been to the campsites and she's gone out and gotten some good quotes. She needs to pare down her style; it's much too wordy in a typically Spanish sort of way. She also needs to improve her lead paragraphs, which don't give you the answers to all the six questions right away but screw around and waste space. But she got the story.

I imagine that having a thousand gypsies come to your small town is rather like having a biker rally show up. Now, they're probably harmless, but they're definitely going to make their presence known, and some actions that flout community norms are going to take place. The best policy is to grin and bear it; as long as nothing seriously nasty happens, which is unlikely if you treat them with decency and respect, everything will be more or less fine. But you want to move them on. Maybe only one bunch of adolescents shoplifts in the local supermarket, no biggie. But if it happens every day, which it's likely to, pretty soon it becomes a biggie. There's a big party with a lot of noise and drinking and a couple of fights, we can live with that. One night. Two is pushing it. Three is not acceptable. But you're at risk, because they might retaliate if they think you're mistreating them. So you treat them with kid gloves and hope and pray that they just move on with no trouble and as soon as possible.

They gave Manuel Heredia the back-page interview today. It's a long one but it's interesting.

Q: What's all this mess about the wedding of a gypsy queen that was going to happen around here?
A: We gypsies don't have kings or queens. They're calling the bride a queen in an affectionate way. The bride is from a Ludari family...

Q: Ludari? What's that?
A: Among gypsies there's a great variety of groups: the calés (those from Spain), the Caldera (Kalderash?)...The ludari are Hungarians, with very large, nomadic families.

Q: Ah. So what are they doing around here?
A: A big Ludari family came to the Vallés (north of Barcelona) years ago, while another part travels around southern France and other countries. I wouldn't rule out that the groom, visiting here now, and tired of being far from his bride, "stole" her!

Q: Stole? What do you mean?
A: It's a way of asking for the bride's hand that obligates the father to get them married immediately. Because, if they don't, it means the dishonor of the father!

Q: But they've packed up the campsite: what will happen to the bride and groom, to that father?
A: They'll get married somewhere near here, for sure, ha, ha! The authorities have forced them to move away from where they were because today there are still not campsites with facilities for these big gypsy campouts, as there are in France.

Q: Are you a nomad, too?
A: No! We calés are sedentary: we've always had our own house! My grandfathers were, one, a horse dealer, and the other, a peddler, at fairs and farmhouses down in Granada. But both families had their houses!

Q: Were both grandfathers gypsies?
A: Yes, I'm gypsy on all four sides, I'm a "seven-and-a-half rib" gypsy!

Q: And are gypsy weddings always so elaborate? They said this one would last days and days...
A: Before they were, because the payos (non-gypsies) refused to deal with gypsies, so the families did everything themselves: buy everything, share it out...And that takes days! Not today, now we go to a payo restaurant, we pay, and that's it. But we make it as Pharoahonic as we can, that's for sure!

Q: By the way, those are some cars, trailers, and satellite dishes the Ludari have! They're rich!
A: No. They're nomads! That is, all their capital is here, what you see. And they can't drive small cars because they wouldn't make it up the hills: all the money that you put into your house, they put into their cars and trailers!

Q: OK, but there must be some rich ones...
A: There are poor gypsies and rich gypsies, but every gypsy dies poor!

Q: Why?
A: Because gypsies spend it all while they're alive. He works to live, he doesn't live to work! But when we decide to do something, we're the best! We put heart, faith, and care into it...

Q: Let's go back to the wedding: do you still check the virginity of the bride before the wedding?
A: Yes. That's sacred! Before the wedding, an expert woman (we call her the "gardener") meets with the bride and, among dirty jokes, gives her the virginity test, which the father's honor depends on. And the test is shown to the father.

Q: The honor of the father?
A: Of course. It's as if your daughter got a college degree and showed it to you: you're proud of her because that means she hasn't been doing what she shouldn't. The handkerchief with the mark of the three roses of her virginity is like that diploma; your daughter hasn't been doing what she shouldn't!

Q: The three roses?
A: Yes, certain little wrinkles in the handkerchief...

Q. Did you do that with your daughters?
A: No, because they married payos, and they (the husbands) didn't ask me to do the test.

Q: Does it bother you that they're married to payos?
A: No. I just want them to be happy. And they are, so I'm thrilled!

Q: Aren't you gypsies a little sexist?
A: Ask that to the gypsy women. They'll tell you they're the happiest women in the world! Look, a gypsy won't do anything, anything! without the previous agreement of his wife. And look at them at any celebration: jeweled, beautiful, tall, splendid...

Q: What happens if a gypsy beats his wife?
A: With the payo law, nothing! With ours, yes: the gypsy council will rule that that man must distance himself from the woman until further orders. And if he doesn't obey, then the woman's family has the right to act against him.

Q: You dictate forcible divorces, then...
A: But correctly done! Not like those that the payo judges dictate. When a mare has a foal, the foal is part of the deal!

Q: That's from your grandfather, right? Explain it to me.
A: The children should stay with the mother. What's all this moving the child around from one side to the other? No! That's dividing the child in two, traumatizing him! Children, with the mother.

Q: I see that you have your own laws...
A: We gypsies don't care about being from one country or another, one ideology or another, one system or another, we don't care if this square is called the Plaza de España or de la República. The gypsy only belongs to his family, and to nothing or nobody else!

Q: But there are other things in life...
A: Yes. God. All us gypsies believe in God. Look: in Spain they've expelled Jews, Muslims, they've gotten rid of everyone different. They tried as hard as they could with us, and here we are! Couldn't it be because God is helping us a little?

Q: Maybe, anybody else?
A: Fortunately, there isn't any more institutional racism. Social racism...that's another story. My struggle now is pressuring gypsy parents so that not a single gypsy child drops out of school. We have to be educated and finally get some political power!

Q: In order to defend the family.
A: Everyone defends his own family. Look: you'll never see a single old gypsy in a nursing home! And if we ever see one, we'll expel his family! Because anyone who does no longer a gypsy.

One thing I like about Spanish journalism is the lack of political correctness. The interviewer, Victor M. Amela, pulls no punches and isn't afraid to challenge the interviewee. Heredia seems like an ideal representative of a discriminated-against group, ready to stand up for his people and proud of his heritage but also ready to compromise, be realistic, and set goals to work toward. I'm not nearly as sanguine as Heredia about women's place in gypsy society, but it could be a lot worse, I suppose, and his goal of education is laudable. Heredia admits, though, that his people hold no allegiance to Spain or Catalonia; frankly, this is a rejection of full integration into payo society. It's a little contradictory to want the privileges of the payo lifestyle without assuming all the responsibilities; still, I imagine that improvements in gypsies' educations and job skills will lead to a growing identification with society in general.

Also, it's an excellent sign that both Heredia's daughters are married to payos and he doesn't mind. Ethnicity and race and sex make up the last taboo left in America, according to Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, who are normally of the disposition that racial issues in America are not as dividing as they may seem. The Thernstroms say that these days, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians have no problems intermarrying and are doing so more and more frequently. The sexual / marriage taboo has disappeared between these four groups for all practical purposes. Anecdotal evidence from my life supports this idea. (I also believe that religious differences, whether someone is non-religious or Jewish or Catholic or whatever brand of Prod, make little difference these days in America. Hell, I'm not sure I ever nailed a Protestant chick way back in the unrestricted free-agent days, and that was the 80s.) However, blacks tend to be more unwilling to marry outside of the black group, and the other four groups are more unwilling to marry into the black group. This taboo has lessened a lot in recent years, but a goodly percentage of whites would still object to their kid marrying someone who was black, and an even higher percentage of blacks would object to their kid marrying someone who was white. Fortunately, those numbers are dropping, but we're not color-blind yet back home in America. Here in Spain, though, there are really four groups, payos, gypsies, Arabs, and miscellaneous immigrants. Spanish people--that is, payos--have no problem marrying miscellaneous immigrants. Arabs--well, if the guy is integrated here and speaks Spanish and doesn't make her wear the burqa and has a job and the like, most payos wouldn't kick up much of a fuss, less if the guy was born here, and even less if the Arab is a Christian. Gypsies and payos still normally do not intermarry except at the very lowest social level. Heredia's daughters, I hope, are part of a trend toward making gypsy-payo intermarriages less taboo.

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