Hijas de la resistencia (Daughters of the Resistance)
Us Feminist Gitanas are very diverse, Jiménez explains, from different professions, religions, sexual orientations, etc. We are lifelong activists. I started in Roma women’s associations when I was 12 years old. And my companions too. We come from the resistance on the ground level. We had no alternative. We organized ourselves under the name “Gitanas Feministas por la Diversidad Feminist,” because our weariness, exhaustion and feeling like “enough is enough” reached its limit with a very specific incident.
In September 2013, a young Roma girl, Leonarda Dibrani, was expelled from France despite having deep roots in her home country. Her parents had a home there and steady work, yet Leonarda’s school bus was stopped by French security forces. They took her off the bus and imprisoned her along with her family and then expelled them to Kosovo, where they had zero ties nor possibilities for livelihood. This was an orchestrated effort by the former French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, who launched a campaign to expel Roma men and women. The same thing happened with the government in Italy under Silvio Berlusconi. He was brutal. When he became president, he had completely anti-Roma rhetoric. This coincided with the rise of the extreme right that is now present and tolerated in many government structures.
When we started, the objectives were few, but strategic. Based on what happened with Leonarda, various women from all over the Spain met to think about political discourse from the perspective of feminism. The aims of the organization are very clear, although difficult to achieve, because we cannot do it alone. This is a question of States, not of the few Gitanas who set out to organize a feminist social movement. We want the identity of our ancient people to be recognized, and for us to be recognized as Gitana feminists. Let us not be denied the possibility of being feminists, because Roma presence was not recognized at the ground level of this political discourse. In addition, we question, at all levels, a feminism that does not develop anti-racist strategies and actions. All the medals can be hung, it can be represented in the government, in any institution, but if there is no development of strategies and actions that include, at the same level, race, class and gender, that is not feminism.
Historically, throughout Europe, a legacy of extermination of Roma people has been orchestrated at the nation-state level. This has always existed, but is not public knowledge. This is not discussed in textbooks. When we mention the Nazi holocaust, the Roma holocaust is never mentioned. The galleys where they put Roma are never mentioned, the laws that were created and enforced to persecute them, to prohibit their language, clothing and movement, to monitor them scrupulously, so that they have to justify even personal belongings that they carry in their backpacks. This is historical. This construction of discrimination and anti-Roma sentiment is a matter of consensual racism, designed for the elimination of the community at a European level. It is full of stereotypes, prejudices, racism, and xenophobia.
The issue does not lie within the Gitano community. It lies outside: within the public administration, because it exercises a consensual and orchestrated racism at the state level. If we go outside now and you follow me, you will see how I am treated at a one-stop shop, to rent a house, to get a job or when I enter a supermarket and buy milk for my children. The treatment, discrimination and harassment every Roma person in this society suffers is criminal.
Estrategia de muerte (Death Strategy)
Roma in Spain do not enjoy the same rights under equal conditions as a non-Roma citizen. There was a state-level strategy to eliminate these communities. We had the expulsion of the Moriscos in Spain, the expulsion of all of Al Andalus. At the same time, the political era coincided with the repression of Jews and concentration camps. And it coincided with the arrest and the great roundup of the Gitano people in Spain. This was in 1749. I am talking about a time when a strategy was being forged, almost worldwide, of eliminating anyone who did not represent European, white, and privileged values. The organization that existed to eliminate Jewish people is recognized, as well as Spanish actions against the Moors. It is known that there were persecutions, expulsions, massacres, repression by the State, the church, and law enforcement. Those three forces came together on an almost global level. And this is repeated throughout Europe (with the Kurdish and Arabs for example) and is part of the death strategy of the nation-state against minority communities.
However, the strategy that was developed in Europe and Spain against Roma people has never been recognized. It was along the same lines: the State, the church, and law enforcement organized themselves to arrest all the Gitanos in Spain, make them slaves in galleys, and force Gitanas to work in factories. The mission was to keep us separated, to dwindle the Roma population into extinction. But these events are not recognized as orchestrated and strategically designed against the Roma. They are treated as specific cases, isolated and unrelated to the political, economic and racist facts. No one talks about this, and no one puts it on the table. There has been no political reparation or request for political forgiveness. There was also no questioning of the State for how it behaved with the Roma people.
Invisibilizadas (Made Invisible)
What has happened to Gitana women? Gitanas have been made invisible. We are all the same. We all need the little hand of the paya (non-Gitana woman) to guide us and take us. In addition, in almost all of Europe, Roma issues are limited to social services, charity, paternalism, the church, the large payo-centric (centered around non-Gitanos) NGOs and never the State. These NGOs do not recognize our identity at all, because they have never lived the idiosyncrasies of Roma people, our ways of thinking, our ways of organizing, our demands, and our forms of resilience. The problems of the Roma community are not internal. My community is no more or less racist than in other patriarchal societies. There is also no Gitano machismo that differs from other machismo. This does not exist. Internally, we are capable because we have many allies, Gitano men, who understand that the struggle is a community one.
Our feminist movement is one of questioning white non-Gitano privileges and, in turn, it is to liberate our people. What it intends is to free us from the yoke of colonization, instrumentalization, manipulation and white racism. Feminism is a struggle for empowerment, equality, rights, but the hegemonic and pro-European feminist movement forgets a very important part— the fight against racism. In the struggle to win rights and put women at the forefront, politics at the nation-state level has been developed with protection and guarantee mechanisms for a hegemonic and white group. I am not saying anything from the other world, this issue has already been addressed by Afro-descendant and Latin American women. When Afro-descendant and Latin American women are at the forefront of a discourse that has to include the discourse of race, gender, and class. It seems that this is being understood, but sometimes with a lot of resistance. There is a hyper-validity of white women to set limits, to see which are the black or Latin women that should have meaning in feminism.
Aliadas y hermanas (Allies and Sisters)
We raise desire every day we get up. It is true that we always work with a lot of creativity and with great enthusiasm, because, otherwise, we would not be able to resist. We live in a predatory economic system, even for lower-middle class whites, who cannot make ends meet. If it is complicated for them, for the Roma the future is very blurred. Likewise, we continue to question, claim, fight and fight, always including more people, not only Roma, but other minorities, other racialized communities and also white allies who know or are beginning to know that white privilege exists. That is the first step, recognizing this, stepping aside and recognizing each other as allies and not as the voice of the Roma community.
We consider the Aymara sisters, the Kurdish sisters, the Arab sisters, the Latin American sisters, the Afro-descendants, the people who are in a situation of struggle for race recognition to be allies. It is true that all these movements have a longer history in the time of visibility, because they have communities where writers and journalists have been recognized. There are Roma women journalists, politicians, artists, poets and they have always existed, but they have not been made visible and recognized. Therefore, the mirrors where we have been able to see that feminism, that resilience, that questioning of white privilege, come from our mothers and grandmothers, from our grassroots political discourse.
We have achieved at European and Spanish level that the nominalism of Roma feminism exists. This did not exist until we pushed the name Gitanas Feministas and developed a political discourse not only in Spain, but also in Europe. We have many Roma allies in Europe and are united with Roma women’s organizations in Romania, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, and Bulgaria.
As Gitanas Feministas, we engage in political discourse around all topics of diversity not only in ethnicity, but in sexual, cultural, and religious aspects as well. Roma people are heterogeneous and include all diversities, as in any other community. But this is difficult to see, because we are thrown into one bag with stereotypes of grotesque, illiterate, thieves. Similarly, we have managed to break Gitana feminism into European feminist discourses. They recognize us, they know that there is an organization that promotes political discourse with one basic concept— to question everything that oppresses us.