“I am a gypsy and a lawyer”: the Roma people wear the toga to dispel the myth

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Manuel Reyes (51 years old, Córdoba) is a lawyer. He is also a gypsy, both of his father and mother. He has been one of the few (replacement) judges and prosecutors of his ethnic group who has come to practice in the country, as he says in a telephone conversation with this medium. When asked how he has experienced the stigma against his people in his professional life, some episodes come to mind. Once, he remembers, a prosecutor said in his court that the politicians “were all gypsies” and that it was better to “be careful with them.” “Your honor is a gypsy,” he told her. The attorney, in a hurry, ran to apologize. Social exclusion and racist stereotypes have fueled a historically marginalized people — the Secretariado Gitano Foundation recorded 532 episodes of rejection in 2022. Perhaps that is the reason why more and more young Gypsies choose to wear the toga, the feeling that the time has come to dispel the fable that always puts the Gypsy in the dock. Three practicing Romani lawyers believe so. Reyes, who currently heads his own law firm, Iudex Union Abogados, began his career at the Montero Aramburu firm. He never hung a sign in the office saying that he was a gypsy, but he admits that when the conversation arose “my colleagues had a hard time believing it.” He never experienced discrimination at the firm; He did perceive it, however, during his time as judge and prosecutor. He wasn't the victim though. “It was clear to him that when judging he had to choose the least burdensome option”; However, he noticed that some judges and prosecutors forgot this principle when the accused was Roma. A 2020 report from the organization Rights International names this phenomenon. It is known as unconscious anti-gypsy bias, and it is a bag of stereotypes that, voluntarily or involuntarily, conditions the decisions of judges, which is detected in all the courts of the European Union. So, in the face of similar facts, if the accused is a gypsy, the probability of being sentenced to provisional detention is greater due to the «historical group stereotypes.» For the lawyer and trade unionist Pastora Filigrana (43 years old, Seville), the weight of myth is evident. “There is no evidence because there are no clear records of who we gypsies are,” but “there is also no doubt that there are more prisons and identifications when you are.” Of mixed-race parents and humble origins, Filigrana was the first in her family to go to university. At the age of 23, she began her career advising in an association in the marginal neighborhood of Tres Mil Viviendas in Seville, where she discovered that her vocation was to defend minorities. In 2021, for example, she defended the Moroccan strawberry seasonal workers in Huelva, workers without a contract and subjected to abuse, as she denounced at the time. Today she practices at Abogadas Sociedad Cooperativa Andaluza, a group of lawyers specialized in social issues. Like Filigrana, many gypsy lawyers opt for activism. It is a form of struggle, she explains, but also a survival method to avoid work environments that may be more hostile. Filigrana regrets that there are many young people who rule out studying due to a host of factors. “There is educational segregation and a system that guides gypsies towards vocational training.” Which, together with the low level of family income and exclusion, makes it difficult for “gypsies to get to the University.”

Success in Barcelona

Josefa Salazar Salazar (43 years old, Zafra, Badajoz) remembers the ordeal her parents went through to find a temporary rental apartment when they decided to do work on their house. The reason was the surnames: the landlords rejected them as soon as they associated them with the gypsies of the region. They had to ask for help from a family friend, a non-gypsy, who served as a link to get housing. Josefa is now a lawyer. She is a founding partner and legal director of Abogados para tus Deudas, a law firm specialized in second chances in Barcelona. Together with her husband, Cristian, a gypsy, economist and Romanian, and other partners, they run a company that in 2021 obtained financing of 1.3 million euros and to date has achieved the forgiveness of 60 million euros in debts. . “My mother always wanted her to be a lawyer so that no one could beat me down, so that she would always be clear about what my rights were,” she says. Salazar followed her mother's advice to the letter. She now has 16 workers under her care, although she remembers that the specter of racism was always present. “Once, in Criminal Law class, the professor used a person of Roma ethnicity as an example of a criminal to explain a concept and I had to raise my hand and explain why these types of comments are racist. I have heard clients say: 'You have to be careful with these gypsies' because they didn't know that I was one. Sometimes I jump up and say I'm a gypsy and explain why saying this is wrong. Others I admit that I decide not to say anything because we accept that there are people who will not change,” she laments. As a company director, she advocates for visibility, although she recognizes that it is not always easy. “I don't wear an ID that says 'I'm a gypsy', but whenever the occasion arises I say it with pride.” And she encourages new generations not to hide their identity, their features or their accent. “We must raise awareness that there are also gypsy bosses.”

Without institutional support

April 8 is International Gypsy People's Day. Sara Giménez, president of the Secretariado Gitano Foundation, denounces that the fight against racism towards her people is being ignored in the legal sector. “We continue to be the great unknowns and there are no formations.” The Association of Gypsy Jurists agrees with this diagnosis, a group that has tried to close agreements with large law firms so that young Gypsies can access these firms as interns. Conversations that “have never come to fruition,” denounces Emilio Israel Cortés, its founder. Follow all the information about Economy and Business on Facebook and xor in our weekly newsletter

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