“Proud to be a Canarian and the first gypsy doctor in the Canary Islands”. It is the letter of introduction of José Carmona Santiago, 47 years old, born in Argentina (1974), although most of his life has been spent in the Archipelago. Between Las Palmas and Tenerife, where he lives, works and has raised his family. His thesis is based on pioneering research that analyzes the reality of Roma families and the causes of their children’s school failure. He himself lacked primary education until just 13 years ago. He studied the Degree in Social Work at the ULL where he has a doctorate and develops his professional work in the School Absenteeism Unit of La Laguna.
José begins to study in a regulated way late, at the age of 33, although before, from the age of 26, he is trained at the Biblical Research Center of the Canary Islands (Ceivi), an evangelical institution, a religion he professes and of which he has become a pastor.. Overcome academic stages. ESO, Baccalaureate, Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s degree until becoming the first gypsy doctor of the ULL, where appropriate, in Psychology and specialized in the fields of research and intervention.
A bit of history to start with: «My family has been buying and selling clothes since the end of the 19th century. My great-great-grandparents were already entrepreneurs together with their wives ». The family origins are located in the Axarquía of Malaga and the Alpujarra of Granada, although there was a subsequent emigration to Melilla at the beginning of the 20th century and at the end of the 50s the arrival in the Canary Islands. Carmona explains that these are settled gypsies whose way of life has been the same ever since. He points to the study of a cousin, José Heredia, who has investigated family roots until 1820. He considers the brand new doctor who «found here the space they dreamed of to set up their business. They did not find any refusal to build a decent life with their work.
José indicates that “here there are no stereotypes with gypsies that occur in the peninsula where 3,000 Homes in Seville or La Cañada Real in Madrid have been marginalized in places.” Here, “gypsies are not news,” he sums up. The reason is that its adaptation is total in a society in which there are no ghettos, no shanty towns, or alarming places like those mentioned. In short, “it is a community that goes unnoticed”, he adds.
Carmona explains that the Canarian Archipelago became the “idyllic space” for the families of the Caló people who came from the south of Spain and wanted to work and put down roots. On the islands they were able to recover part of their identity because they could trade, buy and sell – something that had been prohibited in the peninsula – and they did not receive the rejection of Canarian society.
Carmona analyzes some stereotypes anchored in society in general. For example, machismo. He emphasizes that “it is something that has been there since prehistory and throughout society. We gypsies fight against this scourge and against gender violence that we condemn in the same way as that exercised against children ». Because, he emphasizes, “our core is the family and the family is sacred.”
“We are a non-territorial cultural nation that is recognized anywhere in the world”, sentence to add: “We have a flag and an anthem, in addition to having suffered a genocide, the Sadumaripen, during World War II in which the Nazis murdered hundreds of thousands of gypsies ». That is not an obstacle to “feel deeply about the place where we are, in my case from the Canary Islands and Tenerife, or we were born, Argentina.” There is also a lot of pride in being a gypsy, “of course”, but he emphasizes that “the identity of the human being is multiple”.
He believes that “my studies did not cost me so much, because they always made that path easier for me, but when it comes to accessing work, you do have to prove something else.” He values that “people are surprised when they see that you are a gypsy but I think that canaries do not have evil but ignorance.”
Being the first gypsy doctor in the Canary Islands is «important but because I have wanted it and others have not. There are already a number of students, about twenty, who can apply for it. It is no longer news that a gypsy is a university student and little by little that barrier is being broken. We are prepared to start a path and be masters of our own destiny. In all professions ».
Carmona thinks that “there is a structural racism at the macro level that is not behavioral” because “the paternalistic treatment that they often give us is basically racism.” He summarizes: «My greatest wealth is my culture. I am more concerned about the lack of opportunities than the hate messages, which also concern me.
Integrate, share and learn. It is the formula, according to Carmona it works because “culture feeds itself with difference.” Like flamenco singing with blues or jazz and gypsy gastronomy with the mixture of smells and flavors “that make it different from any other.”
Carmona considers that the gypsy community “is integrated but not included.” Values schooling, access to housing or the universal health system, Peor also calls for “a more gypsy Canary Islands.” Gestures such as the recognition of the Day of the Gypsy People – April 8 -, the presence of the language, the Romany, “testimonial because it has been taken from us” or the story “that does not seem at any educational level.”
Another key aspect is the influence of a “mostly evangelical” religion, aim. The stages of life and religious rites are linked in the gypsy culture. From christening to funeral ceremonies or weddings.
A literary ‘mole’
José reflects: «Since Miguel de Cervantes, the gypsy is a literary mole –a commonplace that is repeated– as a criminal and marginal. And so it has remained for centuries in the popular imagination. This idea survives in a Spanish-speaking world where 300 million people have learned to read with this literary mole. An unconscious but constant image ».
The pandemic has affected the gypsy community in the Islands “like the whole world.” Carmona emphasizes that “it has wiped out some 50 companies in the sale and purchase market.” He insists that “it is no longer a question of street vending except for a specific example such as the Rastro de Santa Cruz. If it occurs in a fixed place as it happens here, it ceases to be an itinerant ».
In the Canary Islands there are between 3,000 and 4,000 gypsies, of them approximately 2,000 in Tenerife, mostly settled in the Metropolitan Area.
A ‘cum laude’ job
Carmona has developed in his doctoral thesis research on the parental models of the Gypsy People in the Canary Islands and their impact on educational success ”, a pioneering study that delves into the reality of the Caló de las Islas community. This work obtained the qualification of cum laude unanimously by the court that evaluated it. It is the first scientific study that shows the social context of the gypsy community in the Archipelago ‒ and brings to light the possible causes of the school failure of gypsy children, which is estimated to be around 95%.
The thesis shows that in the gypsy families in the Canary Islands there are no indicators of marginality. Unlike what happens in the peninsula, they are perfectly integrated into Canarian society and live in rental, property or officially protected housing. The doctor points out that, in general, families have a good standard of living and very few are at risk of poverty and exclusion, although “the lack of training is one of the difficulties that must be overcome.”
The study makes a journey through the history of the gypsy people of the Canary Islands, settled and socially integrated, and shows the research carried out in 95 families of Arrecife (Lanzarote), Las Palmas, San Bartolomé de Tirajana (Gran Canaria) and La Laguna, Arona and Granadilla (Tenerife) «from a social and scientific point of view, and always under the positive parenting approach», indicates the emeritus professor of the ULL and expert in family intervention and mediation, María José Rodrigo López, one of the three directors of the thesis together with María Luisa Máiquez Chaves and Marta García Ruiz.
In this school failure, multiculturalism has an important weight. Thus, in the schools in the south of the islands, gypsy children have fewer educational problems. «When the spaces are more diverse there is less school failure, the teachers have a more open look. For this reason, the first thing to start accepting are the differences ”.
José Carmona Santiago, graduated in Social Work and the first person of gypsy ethnicity in the Canary Islands to obtain a doctorate in Psychology. Assesses it: «It sounds good but I don’t think I have broken barriers. There is a moment in which I chose and now I feel privileged in life, both in the family and in the professional aspect ».