Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I participated in the Spain off-campus program. I am extremely happy to say that this was a real life changing experience I will always be glad to remember. I was also very fortunate to be granted this exceptional opportunity to do a research about “Gypsies and flamenco” in three beautiful cities of Seville, Granada, and Córdoba, located in the region of Andalucía, on the south of Spain. In my research, I wanted to get a better understanding of the socio-economic reality of the gypsy minorities that in many European countries have been deeply marginalized. Based on my previous knowledge, my assumption was that Spanish gypsies generally enjoy better life opportunities than those of other European countries. The reason why I felt that was partially because of a strong cultural tie between the two groups.
My second research question was the phenomenon of flamenco, as a way through which gypsies assimilate with the Spanish society. Broadly speaking, when people think of the word gypsy some of the most common stereotypes that come to their mind are thieves, baggers, lazy, and dirty. However, in the case of the Spanish gypsies this image changes drastically when the extraordinary art of the flamenco dance comes into place. Also, it is important to note that flamenco has been the second biggest tourist attraction in Spain.
As far as the research process, I must admit I was very lucky to meet the right people who directed me to some fantastic resources. While I was still in Madrid, I managed to get in contact with an NGO, “La Cede Española” that fights for the rights of gypsy minorities. My first research area was Seville, where I successfully interviewed many gypsies - mostly women. I also visited the city Council and got a chance to talk to the director of the first flamenco museum in Andalucía, Mr. Kurt Grötsch. This museum was originally founded by a bailaora - flamenco dancer, Cristina Hoyos. The most exciting part of my stay in Seville was the visit to a gypsy ghetto called “Polígono del Sur”, where I witnessed the negative side of the gypsy reality. In this neighborhood the prostitution and criminal rates are known to be very high. On the other hand, in Granada I was invited to a school visit in a small village of Santa Fe, which regionally has the highest percent of enrolled gypsy students. I was very surprised to hear about their perspective on the relation between the gypsies and payos – non gypsies.
One student said that as a gypsy he will never be a part of the Spanish society and that flamenco can do very little to help him feel integrated. On the other hand, in Córdoba many of my gypsy interviewees saw flamenco as the point of junction between gypsies and Spaniards.
Finally, coming from the Balkans region that deals with a serious problem of gypsy minorities, deprived from the basic human rights, I was able understand some of the issues that these groups face, such as marginalization and unemployment. From the case of Spanish gypsies, I learned that the harsh socio-economic reality of this minority in other European countries can be changed following the example of Spain. Flamenco is important cultural aspect in the Spanish society and has contributed in the process of integration of the Spanish gypsy minorities. There is a lot more to be done on this case, but one thing that could help is culture that has the power to bring closer the members of disintegrated communities.