Gitane community in Spain, "chavales" at the stake

//Students in class, in Murcia"There are not tens of thousands of Gitanes in Spain, there are tens of thousands of Spaniards who are Gitanes. It is an important nuance." Says Joaquín López Bustamante, director of Cuadernos Gitanos magazine and conductor of a broadcast about the Gitane art and culture on the Radio Nacional [1]. Diversity is simply logical, because such a large community can not be homogeneous, stresses Bustamante: "There are different beliefs, religions, ideologies, professions and formations depending on the context." The element which remains essential, however, is the consciousness of a common belonging. An element lived with deep pride: "This is not lost. Quite the contrary - says the director of Cuadernos Gitanos - The fear that the school can apayar [2] ("Spanishize") is outdated. It is a thing of the past. Now education is considered a means to acquire major intellectual tools and to improve and learn about our history and our cultures. And to claim them."

These are the important signs of a slow but steady evolution within the Gitane universe in Spain, consisting of different shades compared to the transformations involving the other communities of the country. There hasn't been a censu on Kalé in recent years but according to the latest study by the social research agency FOESSA [3] the number fluctuates between 800 thousand and one million people, and almost half (48.8 %) are under 25 years. A young population, therefore, grew up in the recent decades with the guarantees provided by the welfare state and had the opportunity to fit within the education system, a vital key to explaining recent developments.

"Until the mid-eighties there were virtually no Gitane students in schools", says Isidro Rodriguez, general manager of the Secretariat Gitano Foundation (FSG), "Today almost 100% of children finishes primary school. The Gitane society is changing a lot but the Spaniards do not realize it." Now this process of inclusion and integration has to deal with the economic crisis, that mainly affects the most fragile social realities. Particularly those of the Gitanes, according to the research of FOESSA, record "alarming levels of exclusion, that worsen very quickly with the crisis and cuts in services. And in addition there is a great discrimination." All these factors are reflected in education and become a real problem, especially during adolescence. As a matter of fact, school dropout rate among Gitane pupils older than 12 years is almost 5 times higher than the general population, according to a survey in 2013 by FSG [4].

In this framework, the allarming point signaling the high level of inequality is the exclusion from education which in recent years of crisis has doubled among Gitane students: 18.2 % in 2007, rose to 36 % in 2013. A marked deterioration, therefore, while in the rest of Spanish society, the trend has reversed: fell to 7.7 % in 2013, from 10.2 % in 2007.


//Hospitalet de LlobregatThe risk ghettoization

A form of exclusion to affect the future of the students takes place without much clamor, but in the concrete facts, especially in the suburbs or in the satellite towns of large cities. One example, among many, is Hospitalet de Llobregat, the Catalan city of over 200 thousand inhabitants south of Barcelona. Here, as in other peripheral areas, there are schools that actually have a very high concentration of Gitane gypsy children, says Andrea De Lotto, a former nursery and primary school teacher: "It arrives to 90 % in some classes, and it is absolutely not a matter of choice. Over the years, because of a series of concomitances and various sortings, inscriptions have collapsed from the non-Gitane families in the area with the result of turning some institutions in Gitane schools, to the point of becoming a point of reference for the communities. Sometimes there are children in other districts who come here because of the connotation of the school. The added value is that where I hold my classes, the management and the teaching staff have an elasticity and attention to students and families in other institutions would be unthinkable."

The examples are everyday details, such as helping to retrieve documents to have free access to the canteen or the willingness to support troubled families. "This sensitivity and capacity for dialogue positively affects the children who are more motivated and attend classes - underlines Andrea De Lotto - While in other schools are they too often find themselves in conditions of marginalization or exclusion. These cases often result in abandonment of the school. But Gitane majority schools risk sometimes becoming a double edged sword because they become a sort of ghetto. The biggest problems arise after elementary school when kids come into a new circuit, in "mixed" schools that more often than not fail to keep pace with the needs of Gitane communities. The effect is that after facing the difficulties many decide to leave school.

The confirmation also comes from Sant' Adria del Besos, another important center just outside the outskirts of Barcelona, ​​where Basilio Perona, engaged in the Gitane associative movement in the district of La Mina, was elected to the city council from a list associated with Podemos and Barcelona en Comú: "In the words of José Mujica, former president of Uruguay, the redemption of marginalized peoples is possible only through education, education and more education. For me this is the key. We need to reduce absenteeism but in my neighborhood, where half the population is Gitane and half paya [5], 95 % of pupils in the schools are Gitanes. We are creating ghettos and urgent intervention is needed"[6].

In the past, the disaffection of the Gitane community towards the school as an institution was primarily connected with a fear of the loss of traditional values: "Those of solidarity, respect for the elderly and mutual support - says Isidro Rodriguez - but these fears are disappearing. In Spain it has been shown that our values ​​are compatible with the majority of the society. But until a few decades ago it was not "Gitane" to go to university or allow women to go to work."

To break these antiquated legacies was primarily the commitment of young generations, in many cases supported by the previous ones, particularly by the women/mothers who were capable of breaking the vicious cycles. 25 year-old Martha from Malaga, tells of the encouragement received from her mother Montse: "Do not give up Marta - she repeated all the time - take the diploma. If you are turned down, you'll retry. Do not give up." That's how the girl, step by step, has become a physiotherapist and is now the pride of her parents and a reference point for her community.

Sara Gimenez, who in 2000 became the first Gitane lawyer of Aragon, the autonomous community in northeaster Spain, has heard thousands of these stories. Coming from a family of street vendors, she chose an academic career unlike her three brothers. Now she is a leading figure of the Gitane cause and the director of the department of equality and fight against discrimination at the FSG. Her path has always been accompanied by a phrase that recurred constantly: "You do not look like a Gitane". Yet she made her choice without ever wanting to lose her identity, so as to devote herself to the emancipation and defense communities in Spain. "In recent years - Sara Gimenez says - there have been thousands of Gitane women who bravely showed the desire to empower themselves and become independent, overcoming the barrier of discrimination. For them the difficulty is double: they are women and Gitane".


The housing issue

Although the Gitane communities in Spain are definitely better than the rest of Europe with regard to the living conditions, 4 % of families still live in shacks and 11 % in inadequate housing [7].

These precarious situations, even though limited, persist especially in Galicia and Andalusia where projects are underway to improve the living conditions. Galicia, which has the largest number of informal settlements (about 30 with 2,700 inhabitants), the local government launched a project of social inclusion to overcome the precarious conditions by 2020. A slow and laborious commitment, admits the local FSG, because the social fabric is made up essentially of relations based on solidarity. But even though housing conditions are tough, according to data by the Xunta de Galicia [8], in the last twenty years the level of education has increased. Over 87 % of children living in conditions of poor housing has compğleted compulsory education. Among adolescents, however, the level of absenteeism from the benches reaches 61 %. But the housing problem, according to experts, is not the only reason,the issue is much more complex.


//Tv series "Los gipsy kings”Prejudices die hard

The precariousness of housing in Spain is a marginal element in the country because, unlike the rest of Europe, policies on the right to housing in urban centers were introduced between the 70s and 80s, and these measures have improved conditions life of Gitane communities by promoting social inclusion. Now the challenge is to break down the prejudices that too often have repercussions on the everyday life of these communities: "In my work as head of the equality and anti-discrimination department - explains Sara Gimenez - every day I am faced with cases where a person, simply because of being a Gitane can be refused the rental of a house, a job interview or entry into the disco. Underlying these behaviors are stereotypes that die hard."

The media also, and above all, contributes to consolidate the negative image. The finger is pointed in particular towards the Spanish Mediaset, which after the reality show "Palabra de gitano" has recently launched a new television series:"Los gipsy kings" [9], a cocktail of cliches ranging from homophobia to Gitane criminal 'by nature'. "These messages besmirch and reset years of work for the defense of equality - says Sara Gimenez - We protested against Mediaset, but I think the most important thing is the support of citizens and policy makers in rejecting programs like these."

The racist background hovers also above one of the major cultural institutions of the country, Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy), which promotes the Castilian. The Academy, in its latest dictionary, associates the word "Gitano" with "trapacero", meaning "cheater", "a person who with cunning, deceit and lies tries to deceive others". The protest of Gitane organizations was supported by the "#Yo no soy trapacero. #Yo Soy trapacera"[10] campaign which promoted a video in which some Gitane children read the dictionary and discover the discrimination in front of the cameras. The reactions are between disbelief and disappointment. This is also a part of the pressing reality for the Gitane communities, still trapped in old prejudices that are reflected in society.

According to a study by the Center of Sociological Surveys (CIS) [11] carried out in 2005 "40 % of Spaniards would not like to have the Gitanes as neighbors". Furthermore, one Spaniard in four would not want their child to be in class with Gitane peers. This means, concludes the CIS, that the Gitanes are a discriminated social group, more than the migrants and the homeless. A condition, though, according to Isidro Rodriguez, that is still less severe than elsewhere: "If we compare our situation with other European countries we realize immediately that here it is better. The Spanish system provides social protection and intervention programs to reduce inequalities. Social conditions and access to rights for the Gtane communities are better too. The reality is far more dramatic in Eastern Europe but also in Italy and France."

The "Spanish model"

It is mainly the educational and occupational aspect of the "Spanish model" of social inclusion that is taken as an example in other European countries, including Bosnia and Romania. For example, the "Acceder" [12] project that develops specific programs with the idea of ​​learning through work, promotes employment. In Barcelona integration paths within the Red Cross and numerous business projects have been created for young people.

These experiences have had positive feedback especially now that the labor market is in crisis. In the last six years the rate of unemployment among Gitane groups has tripled, while for the rest of the community it has duplicated. The major concern, given the low average age, is affecting boys between 15 and 19 years who are called "ni-nis" because they do not study or work. Tha rate among the "chavales" [13] is more than 43 %, while among the rest of the population it is at 12 %.

Despite all the social difficulties, however, in Spain there is an air of change. The flourishing of a new idea of ​​politics lets people see the society with new eyes. Miguel Angel Vargas Rubio, Gitane set designer and currently engaged with the party of Pablo Iglesias, Podemos in Sevilla, assures: "It is politically wrong to consider Gitanes a problem. Being a Gitane is just one of the ways not to participate in the hegemonic thought that wants us to believe that Europe and the West are better than the rest of the world."


Cristina Artoni

Translated from Italian by Övgü Pınar

With the support of:

The long road to the integration of Kalé in Spain | Kale, Gitanos, Spain, Andalusia, Jiménez Gonzales, Ian Hanckock, Tia Anica la Pirañaca, Carmen Amaya, Tomás de Perrate, Jerez, ROM Rights of Minorities





1. Joaquín López Bustamante (Valencia, 1961), is co-editor and presenter of "Gitanos: arte y cultura Romany", a program of Radio Nacional born in Radio Exterior.   

2. "Apayar" means turning a Gitano into "payo", a term used by the Gitano community in Spain to call "non-gypsies".

3. Fundaciòn FOESSA, Fomento de estudios sociales y de sociologias aplicada:

4. Fundaciòn Segretariado Gitano, 2013

5. "Not Gitane".

6. Interview with Basilio Perona, ,, 31/5/2015.

7. Mapa sobre vivienda y comunidad gitana



10. Campaign video: “Yo no soy Trapacero”:



13. "Boy", a term that comes from the Romany language.