Ramírez Heredia, the gypsy deputy who brought racism to Congress

Centuries of marginalization and isolation, both forced and chosen, have led the Roma people to maintain their identity in a democratic context that, without legally recognizing its own idiosyncrasy, has guaranteed the rights of its members as full-fledged citizens.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
25 May 2023 Thursday 22:25
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Ramírez Heredia, the gypsy deputy who brought racism to Congress

Centuries of marginalization and isolation, both forced and chosen, have led the Roma people to maintain their identity in a democratic context that, without legally recognizing its own idiosyncrasy, has guaranteed the rights of its members as full-fledged citizens. The differences are limited to a cultural and social level, although both because of the zeal with which many gypsies preserve their heritage and because of the misgivings that still exist towards them among those who are not.

Within the legal framework, gypsies ceased to be different when the Spanish Constitution guaranteed equality "without any discrimination based on birth, race, sex, religion, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance." And to eliminate the last fringes of discrimination, the gypsy deputy Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia, the first representative of this people elected as a popular representative, dedicated his first intervention to defending a non-legal proposal to end the “racist” articles of the Civil Guard Regulations.

He did so on June 7, 1978 during a session that must be considered historic with a speech that we offer excerpted. The UCD deputy elected by the Barcelona constituency –despite being a native of Cádiz– opened a path that the Roma people did not follow again until this legislature, when there are four Roma deputies in the Chamber. Paradoxically, from many other formations (PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos and En Comú Podem).

Ramírez Heredia achieved his goal and also denounced the marginality and helplessness in which many gypsies lived in those years, a situation that democratic institutions have also managed, if not fully resolved, to alleviate to a large extent. There remains, however, a notable perception of discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin that is collected by both the Council for the Elimination of Racial or Ethnic Discrimination of the Ministry of Equality and the Eurobarometer on Discrimination in its data referring to Spain.

Today, the National Strategy for the Inclusion of the Roma Population points to the existence of school and residential segregation, persistence of risk of poverty, low rates of self-perception of the state of health, difficulties in accessing the labor market, digital divide, substandard housing and cases of discrimination in political, economic, social and cultural life. Circumstances that have aggravated the pandemic, revealing the high levels of vulnerability, marginalization and social exclusion to which Roma are still exposed in Spain and Europe.

"Mr President, ladies and gentlemen:

”Almost a year after the birth of the incipient Spanish democracy and here is the gypsy deputy willing to speak to you during the time granted to me by the provisional Regulations of the Congress of Deputies.

”By my own intention, I have arrived this afternoon in my white shirt and tie, to avoid the possible sensitivities that have aroused for some time in this House, and fundamentally in the media, my classic colored shirts. and my polka dot handkerchiefs, because I would like my speech this afternoon to see only the sincere and honest man who for many years has tried to defend the rights of a marginalized minority who for a long time has been there, in the crest of the wave, denouncing situations of injustice, which ultimately seeks, in defense of this marginalized minority, to show that we are human persons, that we are subjects of rights and duties and that, invested with that elementary condition of dignity and of respect for the human person, on which, fundamentally, we base the defense of our rights.

”And we do it considering that the defense of minorities, the right of each people to occupy their rightful place in society, the respect that as human beings we deserve from society does not have, far from it, why be political flag of any parliamentary group, of any political party, since the defense of the interests of men is not the patrimony of the right or the left or the center, but is the patrimony of all humanity.

"Certainly, what justifies my intervention today before the Chamber is to ask your honorable Members to vote in favor of this non-legal proposal, in which we ask the Government to take action on the matter so that these three terrible articles of the Code of the Civil Guard in which specific reference is made to the Roma population; some truly outdated articles, whose literary writing, of course, I believe belongs to the last century, but which are still valid and whose last approval is precisely from the year 1942.

”In the literalness of these articles, reflected in the Regulations of the Civil Guard, possibly a whole trajectory of persecution and open discrimination against the Roma population is contained. Taking advantage, I insist, of the time granted to me by the Regulations of the Congress of Deputies, I would like to bring to your honorable members a few points for meditation that, ultimately, are those that lay the minimum foundations for a coherent program of coexistence in Roma society. , of coexistence of a marginalized community in that context of democratic freedom that all Spaniards are launching.

”Obviously, according to the most up-to-date sociological studies, it is said that the culture of minority peoples is in crisis. I certainly believe that the culture of the gypsy people may be in crisis, in an open crisis of shock with a Western society, with a capitalist, consumerist and technocratic society that, in short, is drowning out many of the eminently human aspects that have shaped the trajectory of the gypsy people and of all the communities fundamentally of oriental roots, for which there is, without a doubt, a hierarchy of values, ethical norms of action and behavior, many times in flagrant clash with the norms established by this society in which we are living, where moral and ethical values ​​of coexistence have sadly and regrettably disappeared, while these marginalized groups, fundamentally unknown, have continued to maintain to this day the imprint of their own personality, the idiosyncrasies of their authentic way of being, which constitutes for us our greatest wealth.

”I have said it as many times as I have had the opportunity, that for us gypsies the defense of our culture is the most fundamental thing, it is the most important thing, it is the north that looks, ultimately, all our desires for promotion. Because we gypsies have few other things to defend, ladies and gentlemen, few things other than the cultural heritage of our traditions, our customs, our peculiar way of being; and in open clash many times with those norms of a society whose approaches we do not share the vast majority of times, and that society itself, at least its most responsible elites, do not share either, but that, for the sake of outdated hypocrisy or a know how to keep up appearances, communes with mill wheels.

”The gypsy people, above all, who have always made a banner of freedom; to the gypsy people, who, in order not to lose their freedom, have been capable of suffering thousands and thousands of persecutions and of suffering on their own social body the amount of pragmatic and legal provisions with which the vast majority of official documents that since the arrival of the gypsies to Spain exist, and that they are there for the opprobrium of the society that dictated them; I insist that the gypsy people, who have known how to maintain their tradition and their profound respect for freedom, today launch their cry, possibly anguished, through me, asking the Spanish people, asking the members of this democratic Chamber to support my non-law proposal, knowing that, really, the support for this proposal lies in something more than the simple disappearance of these three articles that exist, in the mathematical fact of voting: the sincere desire to collaborate with the desire for promotion that the gypsy people are demonstrating, today, through multiple channels.

”Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the simple reading of the three articles that constitute the main object of my non-law proposal is so exquisitely eloquent that little more comment would be needed from me. When in article 4 of the second part of the provisions of the Civil Guard Regulations it is stated that gypsies will be scrupulously monitored, taking great care to recognize the documents they have, check their particular signs, observe their costumes and find out their way of living and how much leads to form an exact idea of ​​their movements; when in article 5 it is said that, since these people generally do not have a place of residence, they must be scrupulously watched to prevent them from committing robberies; when, ultimately, the gypsy people are required to have more documents than are necessary to be able to carry out their commercial transactions in the purchase and sale of objects, gadgets, clothing or chivalry, as literally stated in article 6. , open discrimination is being revealed, in legal terms, against a community that demands equal treatment, I insist, for the simple condition of human person, because we know we are subject to rights and duties and because, ultimately, we are there as Spanish citizens and we do not ask for any type of preferential treatment, but that the law be applied to us in the same terms and with the same intensity with which it is applied to the rest of the citizens.

”But it is true that this legal provision, which already has precedents in history such as that, the first, from the year 1499, issued in Medina del Campo, by our distinguished and illustrious Catholic Monarchs, in which all gypsies are ordered to living in a fixed place of residence, where the logical, natural and free transhumance of this community from one municipality to another is prevented; where each gypsy is actually condemned to live in a certain place, and if he does not do so, the first time he is given a hundred lashes in public squares and fifty if it is a woman; that the second time their ears be cut off and they be perpetually banished, as the Pragmatics says in that literature, from these our kingdoms and dominions; and that the third time a gypsy was taken out of his municipality, he was sentenced to the galleys for life.

”Laws and Pragmatics that have been taking place in the Spanish legal system through the various monarchs that succeeded the Catholic Monarchs, up to Carlos III, who in 1783 dictated a Pragmatic, certainly with more human overtones, but which continues to discriminate against the population gypsy, since the use of their peculiar clothing is prevented, the very use of the term gypsy to symbolize and name a race, an ethnic community, a cultural group, and even the use of our language, Caló romaní, language that, certainly, is not from slangs or criminal groups, but rather a communication vehicle through which 12 and a half million people can understand each other in the world.

”When these Spanish Courts, although not in this building, obviously more recent, have come to dictate 27 provisions against the gypsy people; when there are 28 royal pragmatics and decrees of the Council of Castilla; when there are 27 laws of Portuguese origin, in that concordance of territorial unity of Portugal with Spain in the historical period to which I am referring; when there are more than 20 edicts promulgated in Aragon, Catalonia, Navarra, Valencia and Granada against the gypsy people; when we find ourselves with a whole legal regulation that prevents and restricts the full realization of a human community and that is, ultimately, transgressing the most basic rights of any human being; When one contemplates at these moments the reminiscences that the three articles of the Civil Guard can present, as a symptom of the marginalization of a people through a society, then the feeling of rejection on the part of a society, obviously manipulated, is deeply explained , who has taken from us gypsies an image that has placed on our shoulders the disgraceful curse of believing that gypsies are the born prototype for lies, theft and deceit; but this, ladies and gentlemen, which may belong to the historical annals of the evolution of our country, of our nation, throughout the centuries, still has, at present times, fearsome characteristics of reality.

”The end of the Second World War is not far off yet. Nazi fascism, Hitler, in the world concentration camps, murdered half a million gypsies. It wasn't just the five million Jews who were gassed to death in those concentration camps; Five hundred thousand gypsies died victims of Nazism during the Second World War, as it has been possible to demonstrate; even in the last trial in Frankfurt, 18,000 gypsies who believed they found refuge in the forests of Poland - and I'm talking about the year 1943 - were all 18,000 shot on the same night. And the chronicles say that small children, to save ammunition, smashed their heads against the trunks of trees. And this has happened today, it has happened in our century, because I am talking about 1943.

”And still in the present moments, in a tacit marginalization and company that exists on the part of this society in which we are living, this Spanish society, to which many times it is necessary to point the finger accusingly, so propitious that we are to see the straw in the other's eye and we do not see the beam in ours; At this moment, in our incipient Spanish democracy, still a vestige, no doubt, increased by the obscurantist period that represented the last era, of the regime that we Spaniards had to live through, we are, and still are, practicing racist discrimination against the Gypsy town.

”It is true that the gypsies in Spain can get on the same buses as the non-gypsies; It is true that we can go to the same cinema as the non-natives, that racial discrimination is not practiced against us in the same terms that can be done in the United States with blacks or in southern Africa; nor do we tear our clothes when faced with the problem of gypsy marginalization as we do when contemplating the disastrous image of so many Indians dying of starvation and hunger there on that continent, but here, against us, the worst and cruelest of discrimination, which I would describe as the discrimination of indifference.

”The gypsy is warmly applauded when an artist emerges and is capable of filling a stage with his art and his interpretative capacity, but it doesn't matter if the gypsies starve in the suburbs of our big cities; It doesn't matter that 400,000 people who exist in Spain lack the most vital elements for their own subsistence; It doesn't matter if at night the rats pass over our children's faces, as I was able to verify just seven days ago in Alicante.

"For me it is not a new image, since I have had to live it, unfortunately, for fifteen continuous years of fighting in defense of the interests of my people, when the gypsies from the Alicante shacks surrounded me and someone introduced me to their little son of only five months with the teeth of the rat perfectly marked on his cheeks, because, at night, in those filthy suburbs, in that place where the lumpen of the Spanish proletariat resides, is where the vast majority of men are condemned to live and women who take pride in our condition as gypsies.

”This is the cruel reality, the sarcastic reality, on the other hand, that makes many Spanish gypsies who live in barracks say that they not only have to work every day overcoming thousands of difficulties to earn their own subsistence, but also, they have to earn a little more to buy bread for the rats, since as long as the rats have food to eat at night, they have a better chance of sleeping peacefully. Meanwhile, they are living, living poorly, just trying to survive in these places.

"People are tired of talking and hearing about consensus, about the Constitution, about things that they often do not understand, and they have the feeling that this House and its legislators are oblivious to the vital problems of each day that, in the vast majority of occasions, are limited to elements as vital and precise as the means necessary to survive. To what extent will we be aware once and for all that Spanish democracy can really demonstrate its value, its authenticity, its heart perfectly linked to the heart of the people to the extent that it cares for the weakest, the most needy, those who are least able to make their voices heard?

”I really believe that the day the Chamber becomes truly aware that there are 380 families in Alicante that rats pass through their faces at night; that there is a suburban neighborhood in Valladolid, La Paz; that there are very important nuclei of shacks in my Barcelona, ​​such as in Campo de la Bota, in La Perona, in La Sagrera or in Casa Antúnez; that there is a gravel pit like the gravel pit in La Paz, in Zaragoza; that authentic ghettos exist in all the capitals and important centers of Spain, where people are dying of hunger, where they lack the most vital elements for subsistence and development, when we really get down and put our feet on the ground we will have to dedicate The most important thing in our budget and our modest and political attention to redemption, which, ultimately, is to do justice and not outdated charity to this important nucleus of Spanish society, in which, obviously, I include not only the gypsies, but to all the worker and proletarian people who, ultimately, are suffering from the same deficiencies and are suffering in their own bodies the consequences of the economic system in which we are living.

”Adolfo Suárez, in his brilliant speech on this very platform, not too long ago, told us an extraordinarily beautiful parable, which had the assent of the entire Chamber and the unanimous applause of all of Spanish society. It said: 'We are making the transition from dictatorship to democracy, we are making the transition from an authoritarian regime to a regime full of freedoms, and we are being asked every day to build that house by laying the bricks of that important building without that dust splashes us, that water is given without changing the pipes, that light is given without changing the electrical wiring.'

”But, ladies and gentlemen, to those in whose house there is no type of plumbing; to those whose house does not have any kind of electrical wiring that gives them light; to those who lack bricks, wood, bags or cans, the most elementary means, in short, with which to protect their bodies from the elements in winter or from the torrid heat in summer; to those for whom the house, water and electricity are almost pure entelechy, because they have never been able to fully enjoy it, how are we going to talk to them about a democratic, peaceful and step-by-step political transition?

"And may my farewell in this my first and inexperienced parliamentary speech be with the gypsy greeting that I heard so many times from my grandfather, a poor uneducated and illiterate gypsy, there in the province of Cádiz, which I wish you with all my heart: health and freedom."