Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Forgotten Children of Abraham: Iglesia Evangelica Misionera Biblica Rom of Buenos Aires

Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Forgotten Children of Abraham: Iglesia Evangelica Misionera Biblica Rom of Buenos Aires

Article excerpt

For a long time Roma/Gypsies have been considered non-religious and apolitical. The unprecedented, associative, movements of the 'Roma-organisations' and of Pentecostal churches are now compelling us to revise our understanding of the Romani/Gypsy identifications. In Buenos Aires (Argentina), where about 70,000 Gitanos from different communities live, Pentecostalism has become a source of empowerment for the Romani Kalderasha community. On the one side it has encouraged and strengthened old and new networks, revived the language and improved the education level among the Roma/Gypsies, and on the other side it has also made new symbolical strategies possible. Presenting themselves as the children of Abraham's third wife Ketura and as part of the Christian genealogy enables them to renegotiate and rephrase ethnic boundaries, and thus their status in the society.

Keywords: Latin America, Buenos Aires, Pentecostalism, Roma Kalderasha, cultural innovators, Iglesia de Filadelfia, biblical genealogy, associative movements, empowerment, strategies of resistance

You know, now the Lord wants to reach His forgotten children. We are the descendants of Abraham's third wife and therefore the children of Abraham. ... You know, that the names that people bear, mould them. With God's help the Gypsies are becoming Roma; thieves and marginalized are becoming proud believers. (Rom Kalderash and pastor Ricardo Papadopulos; Carrizo -Reimann 2008, my trans.)

For a long time Roma/Gypsies1 have been considered non-religious and apolitical. These assumptions, as Elena Marushiakova and Veselin Popov have argued, are often the result of an ethnocentric and unilateral conception of religion and power, rather than of a critical analysis of their performances and perceptions (1999: 82). The unprecedented, associative, political movements of the Roma organisations2 and of Pentecostal churches are now compelling us to revise our understanding of Romani/Gypsy identifications. How these phenomena influence the constructed ethnic boundaries3 between communities and societies, between Roma/Gypsies and gadzhe,4 and between Roma/ Gypsies themselves has become an inevitable question for Romani/Gypsy studies.

In recent years many articles and books have addressed both the destructive and the revitalising roles of religious movements for Roma/Gypsy identifications and communities. In her article 'Gypsy/Roma Diasporas. A Comparative Perspective', Paloma Gay y Blasco compares the different ways in which the Madrilenian Roma/Gypsies imagined communities are being constructed upon new political and religious movements. Gay y Blasco characterises the new political and confessional identifications among the Roma/Gypsies in Madrid as different diaspora modalities'. Regarding the Pentecostal movement, she considers that the conversion of the Madrilenian Roma/Gypsies does not always entail the loss of particular ethnic diacritics. On the contrary, the Roma/ Gypsies' identifications seem to be restated. Unlike the politically engaged Roma/Gypsies, the Pentecostals consider that "the Gitano [. . .] occupies the centre of the world, and the non-Gypsies that are marginal and peripheral" (2002: 184-6).

In contrast to Gay y Blasco, Ellen Sato comes to the conclusion, based on her observations of some Roma/Gypsies communities in North Virginia (US), that conversion to the Pentecostal belief compellingly implies the loss of the gyp', that is, the traditional way of interaction between Roma/Gypsies and gadzhe. The pastors of these churches, explains Sato, expect that the converted sacrifices his gypsy way of life' in exchange for his liberation from a stigmatised, marginalised existence. The Pentecostal community not only offers a new, cleaner' identity; it also generates a new kind of social dynamic and common 'public space' where individual skills such as singing and playing music can be rewarded with social prestige (1988: 82-3).

Sato's and Gay y Blasco' s articles show how differently the interplay between confessional and socio-ethnic identifications can develop. …

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