Gypsies in Madrid: Sex, Gender and the Performance of Identity

Gypsies in Madrid: Sex, Gender and the Performance of Identity

Gypsies in Madrid: Sex, Gender and the Performance of Identity

Gypsies in Madrid: Sex, Gender and the Performance of Identity

Synopsis

Throughout the twentieth century, Spanish people have deployed conflicting sexual moralities in their struggle for political supremacy within the state. The Spanish Gypsies or Gitanos, who live at the very bottom of the Spanish socio-economic scale, have appropriated this concern with gender morality and, in the process, have reinvented themselves as the only honourable Spaniards. Although the Gitano gender ideology has a distinctively Spanish flavour, it revolves around a conceptualization of the female body that is radically different from that of other Spaniards.The subtle exploration of these acts of cultural invention is one of the original features of this important new ethnography. Another even more striking aspect of the work is the author's vision of the 'impermanent' nature of the Gitano social order and the absence of any representation of 'community' or 'society'. Unlike their non-Gypsy neighbours, Gitanos do not use concepts of tradition, territory or social harmony as bases for their singularity. Instead, they focus on the evaluation of personal moral performances in the present. In a cultural universe where all activities are markers of shared identity, and where personhood is always sexed, men and women continually enact the superiority of Gypsies over non-Gypsies. Through dress, manner and the management of emations, or at wedding rituals where the virginity of young brides is put to the test, the body works as the site of these processes.

Excerpt

We Gitanos are the only people who don't know their descent. We have always roamed the roads and we had no neighbours who could tell us who we were.

In this statement Colombo, a man from Jarana in his thirties, proposes a specific model of Gitano identity. He denies that Gypsyness may be fixed in memory – ‘we don't know our descent’ – in links to others ‘we had no neighbours’ – or in space – ‘we have always roamed the roads’. Not knowing where they came from and caring little where they were going, ‘the Gitanos of before’ (los Gitanos de antes) roamed the roads. Whether or not their parents or grandparents were in fact nomadic, today the Gitanos think of their ancestors as such: transient, passing through other people's lands and subject to other people's whims. in this sense ‘the Gitanos of before’ are not very different from the Gitanos of today who are settled and resettled according to the wishes of the Administration, the object of constant protests and demonstrations, and subjected to what they see as the arbitrary control of the social services and the police.

The model of identity that the Gitanos of Jarana hold denies that a shared memory may play a role in the constitution of Gypsyness. the Gitanos, they say, are a group of people who ‘don't know’ (no saben). They ignore their ‘descent’, as Colombo explained: what their origins are or where they came from. They cannot read or write, they are a people ‘without schooling’ (sin escuela). They also do not know the important things that the non-Gypsies know, such as medicine, science or law. However, unlike the Payos, they are a people with knowledge (conocimiento) of what is right and wrong: in this sense they are a people ‘who know’ (saben). They know how to live their . . .

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