I am not a Gypsy. Nor do I have a lifetime of experience working with Gypsies to support them in their struggles against ignorance, misunderstanding, prejudice, persecution and indifference. So, why did I choose a Spanish Gypsy as the protagonist of my debut novel?
Maybe because when I lived in Spain many confused my Indian friend, Govind, for a Gypsy. And maybe because of that association, I felt along with him the subtle sting of racism. Or maybe it’s because I can identify with the position of the “outsider.” And for whatever reason, I have been led to a special relationship with people of Romani heritage.
I am a writer, author, teacher, and above all, a human being who has suffered because I am different from the majority of people who surround me. I live on the edge of a culture that is not my own (Puerto Rican), among people who do not always embrace me as one of their own.
Often, people like me turn to books to find meaning. As a student of Spanish Literature, I read the works of Unamuno and the poets Garcia Lorca and Antonio Machado. All three men wrote about the enigmatic character of the Spanish Gypsy. After reading so many beautiful poems and essays on the Spanish Romani, I wanted to learn more about the people who inspired these famous authors to write so passionately.
Curiosity led to a decision to move to Spain and live among the Gypsies–among the most loving, generous, humble people I have ever met. As Francis Bacon wrote in 1625, “Let the traveller separate himself from his countrymen and lie in such places where there is good company of the nation where he travels.”
I did that by living in the home of a Spanish Gypsy pastor and his extended family. Pictured below to the left is Pastor Pepe and his wife Pura, the Spanish Gypsy couple that took me into their home and hearts when I was in Seville researching the Gypsy culture. To the right are Diego and Hortensia, patriarch and matriarch of a clan of Gypsies in Torreblanca.
Although I learned a lot with Pepe, Pura, Diego, Hortensia, their friends and their families, I am by far an expert on Gypsy culture.
Historically, Gypsies are among the most persecuted of ethnic minorities. I could not presume to voice their story. For this I will rely on my fellow readers, bloggers and tweeters who were born into the Romani culture and know its intricacies far better than I.
I invite all of you to share your stories.