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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Roma, Gypsies, and Payos


In the streets of Valencia the Roma—or gypsy—scrap collectors are as ever-present as the street sweepers, mailmen, and cops…and probably more reliable. There are two versions of the Roma scrap collector: those pushing stolen supermarket shopping carts and those on beat-up mountain bikes pulling improvised trailers, usually fashioned from the little shopping trolleys Spanish households use to ferry their shopping home from the market.  It’s almost always men on the bicycles while the shopping carts are piloted by both sexes. They stop at every public trash receptacle and prod around with a length of broom handle. Scrap metal is the number one priority but anything of value is part of their swag.

There is quite a difference from the native Spanish gitanos and the post-EU brand of Roma now flooding into Western Europe, mostly from Romania and Bulgaria. The Spanish gypsies no longer speak the unadulterated Romani language but a hybrid developed from centuries of living in Spain.  The Spanish gypsy children attend school, for the most part, but the new wave of Eastern European Roma immigrants seem to have fallen outside of the public safety net of education, health care, and housing.

Many of the new Roma live in squalid shacks on the edges of Valencia while the native gypsies live in apartments. Granted, some of their dwellings are pretty rundown but at least they have sewage and running water. The fact is, I don’t think that many outsiders know much about the Spanish gypsies (non-gypsies are called payos by gygpsies here in Spain).  In the three and a half years I have lived in Spain I have read less than a half dozen newspaper articles concerning the life of these strange people—they are strange to me at least. People here know next-to-nothing about the Roma people. They roam the city like ghosts, ignored by the locals. I see them pushing their shopping carts or pedaling around town and I wondered where they take it. I saw one place on the outskirts of Valencia where they stockpile their scrap so it seems that they are working in consort, at least on some level.

I have also seen an instance where they have worked together. Someone discarded an old porcelain bathtub next door to my apartment. One gypsy guy found it but it was too big and heavy for his bicycle cart. I think he communicated by cell phone with someone else in within a half hour or so he had backup and the two men carried away the tub. It reminded me of The Old Man and the Sea

I see these people humping a huge cast iron tub across town and I wonder how much money they get.   According to popular folklore gypsies are all thieving pick-pockets who will take anything that isn't nailed down. I will see the occasional beggar in front of the supermarket but mostly I see the scrap collectors. In one of the few newspaper articles that I read about Spanish gypsies the reporter asked a young man what he was going to do for a living after he dropped out of school at age 15 to get married. "Chatarra (scrap metal)," he replied to the reporter as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Although it appears to be back-breaking work there is definitely one side of me that envies them because I love finding cool stuff in the trash. I found my turtle tank in the garbage (and I had to carry it on my bike a few kilometers). I guess that I miss going to thrift stores like we have in Seattle. 


I am going to keep researching this subject, at least as much as I am able as there seem to be few resources available to anyone who wants to know more about gypsies.

3 comments:

  1. I know where the scrap collectors of our part of Madrid take the stuff - there's a scrap merchant around the corner and up the hill a bit, and the pavement is frequently thronged with them dismantling this, breaking up that, and scraping plastic sheathing off bits of electrical cable.

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  2. I see these people humping a huge cast iron tub across town and I wonder how much money they get. There is definitely one side of me that envies them because I love finding cool stuff in the trash. I found my turtle tank in the garbage (and I had to carry it on my bike a few kilometers). I guess that I miss going to thrift stores like we have in Seattle.

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  3. Thank you for visiting my blog and for your lovely comments. I have been very interested to read your post about the gypsies because I have never seen them here in my home city. Maybe it is because we have a very low density population.

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