It doesn’t sound like a place of legend, but the narrow Carrer de la Cera is the birthplace of Catalan rumba, the son-in-law to the contagious rhythm of flamenco created by the gypsy community of Barcelona in the 1950s and popular today around the world.
It now also houses a Gypsy Museum, which opened on Sunday, in the multicultural Raval district which was once the heart of the Barcelona community.
The museum is the work of the Gypsy cultural organization Carabutsí, a Catalan Gypsy word meaning formidable. Sam Garcia, its president, says the goal is to preserve the memory of the now disparate community.
Documents suggest that there have been Gypsies in Catalonia since the beginning of the 15th century and, like other Spanish Gypsies, they have long since ceased to be itinerant. Most live in big cities, while some have been forced to live in slums like the Cañada Real, near Madrid, or the ramshackle La Mina estate in Barcelona.
“We realized that there was a very big Gypsy population here in el Raval, which is disappearing due to gentrification, ”he said. “Three hundred years ago, 1,500 Gypsies lived in this little street. “
A group of seven women set out to collect oral histories from elderly residents and amassed an archive of 7,000 interviews, photographs and documents – all from a single street – many of which are on display in the museum while the rest will be available online.
“We are not archivists or anthropologists, so it was difficult to organize all this information,” says Garcia, adding with pride that in less than a year their work had won them an award from the city council.
A special place in the new museum is reserved for the celebration Catalan rumba, a mixture of flamenco, Arabic music and Caribbean rhythms. Peret (Pedro Pubill Calaf), the most famous rumbero, played during the closing ceremony of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. The museum will host workshops and study groups and has organized two tourist routes, the Carrer de la Cera and the Catalan rumba route.
The photographs and objects that cover its walls reflect the joys and sorrows of a people persecuted in Spain since the Catholic reconquest in 1492, when they were given 60 days to leave the country.
Hostility towards Gypsies in Spain is so ingrained that racist comments barely raise eyebrows. When Philip Alston, then UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited Spain last year, he was damning about their treatment, citing a “segregated school in a poor neighborhood with a 100% Roma student body and a 75% early departure rate ”.
Alston said that an independent and comprehensive review was needed to ensure that Roma children are “not doomed to repeat the cycle of poverty and exclusion”.
A 2012 Eurobarometer A survey showed that 26% of Spaniards felt “totally uncomfortable” about their children sharing a classroom with Gypsies.
“We have this reputation for being bad, lazy, dirty, thieves and criminals,” says Garcia, who comes from a scrap metal family. “We have been dragging these stereotypes for years. You hear it all the time. If you’re trying to rent an apartment, as soon as they find out you’re a gypsy, that’s it.
In addition to these stereotypes, the resistance of the Gypsies to assimilation means that they are considered as foreigners, “the other”, not really part of society, and have only been recognized as citizens. 1978.
They are even sometimes accused of “self-exclusion”, implying that they have chosen a marginal existence. This is not the case, says Garcia, who says that non-assimilation is a form of resistance.
“We resist through the family,” he says. “When the Catholic Kings forbade us to speak our language and broke up families, we knew we had to move on, come together and start over. The family is what protects us. For us, family is fundamental. This is why most of the time we do not get married to each other, although nowadays marrying a non-Gypsy is more common and it is not a problem.
“We want to educate people about the life of the Gypsies who have been here for 600 years. We hope that if people understand our culture better, they will see that we are not that different from them.