MADRID, February 23, 2012—Societal outcasts in many European countries, gypsies often struggle to integrate themselves while retaining their cultural identity. One group of successful Parisian gypsies clearly knows the ropes.
Cirque Romanè, the only remaining gypsy circus in Europe, is holding on tightly to their roots. Parisians have filled the bleachers of the circus tent for 18 years to watch a show combining various spectacles such as acrobatics, dancing, juggling, tightrope walking and animal tricks.
Surrounded by trailers, the circus tent is dark. A few spotlights illuminate the worn area rugs, which form the stage. Bursting out from behind the sheets that form the backstage area, musicians play with drunken jolliness while dancing and shouting. The performers, both children and adults, do stunts and tricks with a contagious playfulness and a third-try’s-the-charm attitude.
However, any show could be their grand finale.
On August 26, 2010, France deported 700 gypsies to Romania and offered small monetary rewards for anyone who left voluntarily. The previous year, the government reported that they deported over 10,000 Roma sans citizenship.
The authorities refused to validate the work permits of five musicians who are in danger of deportation.
Combating accusations of the integrity of their circus, the family rallied with thousands against gypsy deportations in October of 2010. While deportation was the spark that started the fire, issues go far beyond politics.
In Spain, the rejection of gypsies from society is an age-old phenomenon. Roma have lived in Spain since the 15th century and have endured harsh laws, treatments and overall attempts to exclude them.
Madrileños, people from Madrid, can usually spot them on the street and most keep their distance. They also have a “mala fama” or bad reputation for being thieves. The majority of madrileños would think twice about using a cleaning service run by gypsies or allowing them in their homes at all. Many neighborhoods refuse to accept them.
Beyond rejection, “gitanos” are often the victims of public anger and racism.
In Madrid, many blame gypsies for drug problems and there are even cases of rioters burning down gypsy homes and villages.
While there is no doubt that there are gypsy narcotraficantes or drug traffickers, they are small in numbers. No matter the statistics, a large percentage of madrileños and Spaniards in general associate gypsies with drugs.
While many Spaniards maintain the stereotype that most gypsies live in small shacks or chabolas in Madrid’s outskirts, about half of Roma are homeowners.
Disregarding the stigmas, Spain has actually become a model country of gypsy integration by The European Commission, E.U. member countries and Roma themselves. Spain has taken many steps to give gypsies access to all social services and aid overall integration. Gypsy culture is also integral to Spain in the forms of flamenco dancing and traditional Spanish dress.
Only 7 percent of the Roma population lives in sub-standard housing or shanty towns according to “Health and the Roma Community, analysis of the situation in Europe,” a study funded by the European Union that compared the Roma population in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
When the show is over, the gypsies are in no rush to shoo the audience members away. Welcomed in. Allowed to stay. They collect their pigeons, round up the little children, finish off the leftover mulled wine and warm pastries, mingle, and return to their caravans when the last lingering audience-members leave.
No drugs. No theft. Just a show with a rich history and an uncertain future.
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