'Spain's gypsies are more invisible than ever'

George Mills
George Mills - [email protected]
'Spain's gypsies are more invisible than ever'
Flamenco is only one part of Spain's complex Roma, or gitano, community. Photo: Torsten Blackwood/AFP

They are often portrayed as flamenco artists or petty criminals. But what is Spain's Roma population really like? And how has the crisis affected them? The Local spoke to Carolina Fernández at Spain's Gypsy Foundation (the FSG) to find out.


First thing first: what’s the correct term — 'gitano' or 'Roma'?

Gitano! Roma is the term promoted by the Council of Europe, but the term 'gitano' (the Spanish word for gypsy) doesn't have negative connotations for people in the Roma community here in Spain.

The stereotype of Spanish gitanos abroad is flamenco music, drugs and crime. Can you give us a more comprehensive picture of the community?

Flamenco is perhaps the most visible face of gitanos in Spain. 

But we can also talk about 'invisible gypsies'. After three to four decades of integration many of Spain's up to 700,000 gitanos study, and work and live a 'normal life'.

So television shows like Palabra de gitano (a cultural programme which has been accused of reinforcing stereotypes) only give a partial image.    

Can you tell us about a gypsy-related news story which has interested you recently?

It was really interesting to see the coverage of the story of a Roma girl who was deported from France during a school trip, and to see the racist speech of the French government.

It was also interesting to see that the Spanish media reported the story: Roma issues don't usually get much coverage in Spain.

Overall, the media here has improved over the last 10 years in terms of gitanos.

But there are still cases where certain media outlets report on the ethnicity of people where it's not relevant. And there is still very little reflection about how Spaniards in general fee about the gitanos in our society.

Why don’t we have stories about gypsies being deported or otherwise persecuted in Spain?

Integration has been different in Spain — very pragmatic. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 says that all Spaniards are equal before the law (section 14), and this has marked integration.

Gitanos have had access to social housing and employment, and there has been a substantial change in living conditions.

But the rejection of the majority of the population continues because of the link with drugs and crime.

Gitanos have been living apart for many centuries and it is going to take a while for this to change.

And how is the crisis affecting Spain’s gitanos?

There are a few factors here. Firstly, there are the budget cuts to services which are affecting gitanos just as they are affecting everyone else.

Then there are the cuts to programmes designed specifically for gitanos.

On top of that, the higher poverty rate in Spain has made gypsies even more invisible.  Their needs are larger but now they are even harder to see.

It is also a question of social discrimination: gitanos are seen as a ‘social burden’ and now their image is even worse.

What is the relationship like between Spain’s gitanos and the Roma from Eastern Europe who live in this country?

There is no relationship. Gitanos have tried to integrate and they see the Roma of Eastern Europe as having traditions they have given up.

Eastern European Roma, for example, still beg. But Spain’s gitanos stopped doing that three decades ago.

Are being gitano and being Spanish mutually exclusive?

In a modern society, we all have different identities. For gitanos, the feeling of being Roma is very strong but the first identity is still one of being a citizen.

The important thing is that human rights, social rights and cultural rights are respected.

Our foundation doesn't place an emphasis on ethnicity. We talk in terms of being a citizen.

At the same time, political representation is not a priority for Spain’s gitanos, and recognition as a minority is not important either.

What are the main objectives for your foundation, the FSG?

What comes first is improvement in living conditions — access to employment, education and housing.

Gitano children are now attending school. But the next step is to make sure they finish compulsory education and don’t drop out.

We also still have a number of gypsy camps in Spain, especially on the edges of big cities.

And to finish up, can you give me some positive news about the situation for Spain’s gypsies?

The enlargement of the EU to include many eastern European countries has been a positive development for Roma.

The EU has really run with the Roma issue and now there are lots of new policies and laws designed to protect the Roma. This has also been positive for Spain’s gitanos.  

Spain's Fundación Secretariado Gitano runs 407 programmes for Spain's gitano population. In 2012. they worked directly with 104,000 people.

To find out more, visit their website (in English and Spanish).



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also