Today is the commemoration day of the Romani Resistance. We recall our heroes and heroines, all those who stood up to nothing less but the Nazis at the death camps during the infamous Second World War. Yet we don’t want to do so from a whiteness[1] standing point. For our heroes neither appear in widespread comics or in popular movies, nor seem they to be a model of courage for the mainstream society –although they could well be. They are not attired in special costumes or flowing capes, nor have they magic powers. They were –and continue to be- ordinary people leading simple lives; people who simply dealt with the all-too-quotidian hardships of life. Our heroines would laugh and mourn as much as they loved and hated. They are like our family, as each of us.

These great people were gitanos and gitanas,[2] who have had to endure abominable infamies: from the extinction of our language -the Romani- in the Spanish soil, to the atrocities committed by the European fascism in the 1940s.[3] Our people managed a valiant resistance before being murdered by the criminal machinery of Nazism and hatred -alas beyond redress; and they remind us how we ought to live today. Here it goes a nudge for the increasing amnesiacs.

It is hard enough to being placed at the bottom end of a society that ensures the perpetuation of its own inequalities at your expense. This is a social order that condemns the thousands to barbarism and ostracism; a murderous and nefarious order, which seemingly regards as “advisable” and a “civilized” situation that the Mediterranean see bottom be teeming with dead bodies – to our disgrace. This may be a grim view of its miserly and insatiable disarray. But this order also allows to set up detention facilities for migrant people,[4] where human rights are being violated on a daily basis; and it deems acceptable to entrap migrants and Romanies in slums and ghettoes, where it appears to be something respectable for a white family (gadje[5]) to decide not to bring their children to the same school than the others. What to do, for instance, in La Cañada Real,[6] where disgraceful governments and electric companies have shamelessly shown their lack of concern for the thousands of people there residing, without power supply amidst one of the heaviest snow storms seen in decades; meanwhile, many of our countrymen would not shudder with horror at the images of freezing kids broadcasted in the news, as if it were a Netflix show. We are compelled to resist to this reality as a means of survival; this is also what we learn from our heroes.

The Romanies who, with sticks and stones, fiercely managed to fight the SS officials at Auschwitz II-Birkenau also remind us that racism kills; that antigypsyism kills. As it has recently happened to our cousin Eleazar García, a Romani young man with cerebral palsy, who was physically reduced -eventually causing his death- by up to 15 officers of the wrongly-called “public order” in Gijón (Asturias). Or the case of Manuel Fernández Jiménez, from Rociana (Huelva), shot dead for a handful of beans by an individual who has just been released from prison after a bail payment of five-thousand Euros. And that of our cousin Daniel Jiménez, who died while being in custody at a police station in Algeciras (Cádiz), under circumstances which have yet to be clarified. This all cruelly shows how little value has the life of a gitano in this country. These events are nothing but the latest sequels of an age-old problem called antigypsyism, a social malady unable to acknowledge the structural and institutional manifestations of the monster of racism.

Living to resist is not an option, nor a willful choice. When you have to live with the police repression in slum areas and ghettos; when you have to assume that the odds of finding a job depend on the color of your skin; when your living standards reduce your life expectancy up to a 15% under the gadjo average; when you have no choice but to make use of a healthy dose of humor whenever a security guard watches you over if you enter a supermarket… Resistance is not an option but a need.

Resistance is not an option. No. For the Romani people, to resist is so vital as it might be a piece of bread to nurture your body or a warm garment for the harshness of the weather. Resistance is a philosophy of life, a way to understand the world. Otherwise, we would not have managed to survive the multiple attempts of genocide against our people, nor would we be in a position to write this article today. That is the reason why we will better honor those who resisted by employing the force of Romanipen,[7] to turn ourselves into the frustration of a system that would rather to have us extinct; but also, to become the evidence of its failure as a social and political project. It’s a hard line, but believe us when we say that it’s our way to acknowledge that we are keeping on standing and fighting, with no acquiescence, rather organizing our discontent.

Resisting involves as well for our people to reflect on the need to mobilize together so as to defeat the passivity and the conformity to the status quo; that is, to act upon, and to make the necessary changes in order to allow circumstances become different and better. We need to take to the streets so as to reclaim justice and reparation for our people; we must support those cousins who are engaged in institutional policy-making, from our respective positions, both with a critical thinking and unwavering actions. Rights are won, within every possible domain, through the exercise of struggle and resistance; with the force of Romanipen: the legacy of our ancestors. 

We must stop living off the actions of previous generations. Let us learn from their courage and channel their impulse towards our own struggles, in the “here and now”, with a realistic action plan, so that the new generations can proudly look up to us. We owe it to them. For a lasting collective memory and for their future.

In honor of their legacy: memory!
Long live the struggle of the Romani people!
Opre Rromano Ustipen!

Written by: Iñaki Vázquez and Celia Montoya by Rromani Pativ
Translated by: Susana Macías Pascua
Photo: Ela Rabasco

[1] Whiteness is a term employed within Critical Race Theory, Whiteness Studies and Civil Rights movements. It generally refers to the structures that produce ‘white privilege’, the culture and identity associated with it, as well as the means of sustaining social/racial stratifications worldwide. [TLN]

[2] The Spanish word “gitano” – like the English “gypsy” or the French “gitan”- comes from “Egyptian,” a denomination given to the first Romani groups who arrived in the European continent. Unlike any other Romani group (e.g. Rom, Romanichals, Sintis, Kalderash; Lovaira…) the Spanish-speaking Kale (Spanish gitanos) are the only ones who have kept this name and have it re-appropriated for themselves. [TLN]

[3] Between 1939 and 1945, approximately half-million of Romanies were murdered under the Nazi regime. The Romanies refer to this Holocaust with the names of Porrajmos (also Porraimos), meaning “the devouring”; and Samudaripen, meaning “mass killing” or “genocide.” [TLN]

[4] Known as CIE (Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros) in Spain. [TLN]

[5] Gadje [pl.; mas. Sing.: gadjo; fem. Sing: gadjí] is the Romani word to refer broadly to “the other,” to a non-Romani. Spanish Romanies generally use the terms payo(a); or jambo(a). [TLN]

[6] La Cañada Real is a shanty town in the Madrid region in Spain. It is a settlement of informal housing in a linear succession following 14.4-kilometer-long cattle-track. The population is mixed, housing both Spaniards (mainly Spanish Romanies) and migrants (mainly from Morocco). There estimated to be a population of about 7000 individuals, a third of which are minors. [TLN]

[7] Romanipen is a rather complex concept encompassing the culture, the language, and the identity, as well as a set of values and codes, which are particular to the Romani people. Generally speaking, Romanipen is way to understand and to be in the world. It can be translated as “gypsiness.” [TLN]

[*] This article was originally written in Spanish. The Romani words had all been spelled with the double R, thus Rromani or Rromanipen. While this spelling is becoming well established in Romani itself, I have opted for the use of the single R in this translation, as it is more commonly used in English. Except for the Romani locution Opre Rromano Ustipen, all the others have been amended. [TLN]

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