Writing Friendship
eBook - ePub

Writing Friendship

A Reciprocal Ethnography

Paloma Gay y Blasco, Liria Hernández

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eBook - ePub

Writing Friendship

A Reciprocal Ethnography

Paloma Gay y Blasco, Liria Hernández

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Información del libro

This book tells the remarkable story of the friendship between Liria Hernández, a Roma woman from Madrid, and Paloma Gay y Blasco, a non-Roma anthropologist. In this unique reciprocal experiment, the former informant returns the gaze to write about the anthropologist, her life and her environment. Through finely crafted and deeply moving text, Hernández and Gay y Blasco suggest new ways of doing and writing anthropology.

The dialogue between Hernández and Gay y Blasco provides a courageous account of the entanglements and rewards of anthropological research. Drawing on letters, conversations, and fieldnotes gathered over twenty-five years, each of the authors talks about herself, the other, and the impact of anthropology on their two lives. They examine their intertwined trajectories as Spanish women and reflect on the challenges of devising their own reciprocal genre. Blending ethnography, life story and memoir, they undermine the dichotomy between author and subject aroundwhich scholarship still revolves.

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© The Author(s) 2020
P. Gay y Blasco, L. HernándezWriting FriendshipPalgrave Studies in Literary Anthropologyhttps://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-26542-7_1
Begin Abstract

1. Sister of My Soul

Paloma Gay y Blasco1 and Liria Hernández2
University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, UK
Madrid, Spain
Paloma Gay y Blasco
End Abstract
What is fear?
What is fear, for a woman like me?
Fear is knowing that you will be ruining the next years of your life if you decide to remake your life with a man who is not your husband and without the approval of your family.
Fear is having to pretend to be brave when you aren’t, as in my case after my escape, confronting my whole family in court to fight for the rights of my son, a little boy of only nine years old, facing my father, my sisters, a whole family, with just God by my side and the hand of my friend Paloma in mine.
I feared the gaze of my father, of my brothers-in-law, saying in silence, ‘There goes the woman who has abandoned her sons, who has escaped with a dirty Moroccan, a moro,1 who has left us in shame in front of our people, a people of honour and respect. There goes the woman who did not mind losing everything.’ Because that is what they always think.
I was frightened because I didn’t know what could happen, maybe everything, or maybe nothing.
Stronger than my fear of the fury of my sisters or of the rage of my husband was the desire to see my son again, after so many years. I did not mind what could happen, if only my son would know that I had done all that is possible in order to see him again.
But my strongest fear was that I would not manage to see my son, I would not be able to explain to him what had pushed me to confront his father and my family, defying the Payo and the Gitano laws.
My strongest fear was that my family would make me see that what I was doing was bad for my child, that I would be a bad influence for him. That it was better for him to be without me.
I feared giving in, taking a step back.
One morning in April 2012, I held the hand of my friend Liria as she waited to face a judge to ask to be allowed to see her child. This was the little boy she had left, asleep in his bed at dawn, already two years earlier.
People kept coming in and out of the lift, a few steps away from the bench where we were sitting. There were lawyers in gowns, secretaries carrying files, women and men hurrying to their hearings at the family courts in central Madrid. Some looked at us, most didn’t.
Liria had her Bible open on her lap but she was not reading it. Instead, she rocked back and forth with her eyes closed, whispering, ‘Padre santo, holy father, hold us on the palm of your hand. Help me, father. Protect us, father. We are your daughters, father. We trust in you, father in heaven.’ Every time the doors of the lift opened, she winced and tightened her grip. Her own hearing was to take place on the second floor, way below, but we were hiding at the top of the building until the last minute. We were worried sick at how Liria’s many relatives—her husband and her father, her three brothers-in-law, her sisters and grown sons, aunts, uncles and cousins—would react when we finally met them face to face.
What Liria was attempting, to use the Spanish legal system to fight for access to her youngest child, had appalled and infuriated her kin—like her, Spanish Roma or Gitanos who lived in the southern periphery of Madrid. Never to their knowledge had a Gitana woman disrespected her people so thoroughly. In 2009, Liria had fled her husband, escaping with her young lover to try to live among the non-Gitanos, the majority Spanish population that Gitanos call Payos. The unwritten precepts of the ley Gitana, the customary law, were keenly cherished in the poorer suburbs of the city and dictated that Liria should be ostracised and allowed no contact whatsoever with her child. When Liria’s relatives received the summons to attend court, they were outraged at her defiance and threatened her safety.
I was with Liria because I had found myself drawn into her conflict with her family—men and women whose lives I had studied as an anthropologist for almost two decades, who had so generously supported my work, shown me so much kindness—and I had taken her side.
Liria and I met in 1992, when we were both twenty-three and I was doing fieldwork in Plata y Castañar, an isolated ghetto recently built by the Madrid authorities to concentrate, contain and control some of the 65,000 Gitanos who lived in the city. At intervals throughout the last five hundred years, Spanish governments have tried to deal once and for all with what they have perceived to be a deeply intractable problem, the continued presence of Gitanos in the midst of Spanish society. From the mid-1980s, segregated ghettos were constructed throughout the capital with the paradoxical intention to achieve the assimilation of Gitanos by providing them with housing and targeted social services. Many of Liria’s relatives were transferred to Plata y Castañar, eighty makeshift houses strewn on no-man’s-land on the edge of Villaverde Alto, one of the most deprived districts of the city. There they were removed from sight and half-heartedly subjected to a variety of interventions and re-education schemes.
Today as in the 1980s, in Spain as elsewhere in Europe, Roma people continue to be one of the most marginalised and vulnerable of ethnic minorities. Gitanos experience the greatest material deprivation of all Spaniards, with 98% living below the national poverty line.2 They suffer the highest levels of interpersonal and institutional racism and discrimination,3 and they have the shortest life expectancy, approximately ten years lower than their Payo neighbours.4 In spite of regular protests by NGOs and parents, Gitano children are often deliberately segregated from their Payo peers in school, and the majority do not complete their compulsory education.5 Sixty per cent of adult Gitanos are illiterate.6 Repeatedly, governmental initiatives that have promised to improve the lives of Gitanos, like the ghettos, have been premised on popular beliefs about Gitanos as uncivilised and criminal, and have worsened their exclusion and marginalisation.
The people who had ended up in Plata y Castañar in the late 1980s, including Liria’s sister, her grandparents, and her aunts and uncles, were not considered by the Payo authorities to have reached the level of cultural development necessary to live among the rest of Spaniards, in the blocks of flats that are the norm in Madrid. Most earned their living very precariously by calling for scrap, peddling or searching for recyclables at massive municipal rubbish dumps, while the better-off families had permits to sell textiles in open-air markets. Their continued entitlement to housing, and to much-needed state benefits, was made conditional on their participation in assimilation programs and re-education classes.
When I first met Liria in 1992, she lived not in Plata y Castañar but nearby, in an apartment with her husband and two young children, within an area where Gitanos evaluated as more culturally advanced had been dispersed among the poorest Payos. She went to the ghetto every day to visit her kin, take her children to the day-care centre and attend the lengthy Pentecostal services that were fast becoming the epicentre of social life for so many Gitanos.
Like Liria, I had been born in Madrid, also in 1969 towards the end of Francoism, but in an affluent, uniformly Payo neighbourhood. I had studied abroad and returned to my city to research how Gitanos remembered the upheavals of the twentieth century—the Civil War, the forty-year dictatorship, the massive exodus from the countryside to the urban slums in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. When I needed a place to stay near the ghetto, Liria and her husband Pedro offered their home. Quickly, Liria and I became very good friends. I wrote my Ph.D., and later a book and several articles, about her and her large extended family, returning periodically to Plata y Castañar to observe the lives of the people who had been resettled there.
I analysed how government officials designed and implemented the segregation of Gitanos, deploying urban planning and education policies to spare Payo sensibilities. I wrote about the tíos, the powerful male elders who resolved conflicts by interpreting the Gitano customary law, about the spectacular spread of the Gitano Evangelical church, and about the silence that surrounded the dead and the past. I also studied the rituals and ideas to do with women’s modesty and the female body: how they encapsulated wider Spanish concerns while helping Gitanos remain distinct in the face of a society that marginalised them so forcefully.
The people I met in the ghetto made much of the care with which girls were taught to guard their virginity until it was publicly tested and celebrated at weddings. According to my Gitano friends, Payas were promiscuous and considered themselves the equals if not the superiors of men. By contrast, Gitanas were modest and chaste before marriage, and obedient and faithful to their husbands afterwards. Above all, this was what made Gitanos different from Payos and the Gitano life so beautiful and upright, and so worth living. And throughout the many years of our friendship, Liria was a model Gitana, the kind of woman who saw herself and was seen by others as an example of modesty, hard work and deference to her father and her husband.
So when I learnt, early in 2009, that forty-year-old Liria had fled with a much younger Moroccan man, I was shaken by the magnitude of her transgression. Then her relatives asked me to help them find Liria and bring her to her senses, persuade her to return to her husband and her young child.
I realised that, no matter what I did, even if it was nothing, I would be making a choice, taking a stand.
Everything started simply with a field trip. We never thought that it was going to reachsofar, for both of us. The two of us were twenty-three, Paloma and me. We were barely starting to live life.
I remember very well the day I first met Paloma. My cousin Teresa had already talked to me about her. She had told me that there was a Paya girl who came to the Gitano church and who was doing a study about the Evangelical Gitanos and about all our surroundings or anything related to the Gitanos of the neighbourhood. She needed to live with a Gitano family to fulfil her fieldwork but nobody in the neighbourhood offered their home, nobody wanted a Paya in their home, and all her studies depended on living with a family. It was necessary in order to become an anthropologist.
I found it strange that, even though Paloma was already a grown woman, and she was becoming independent from her wealthy family, she depended on a Gitano family in order to realise her project. The thing is that, no matter how much money her family had, in those moments it didn’t help her much.
I soon realised that the women of the church and the neighbourhood liked her quite a bit, but having her in their homes was another story. Because, although she seemed to them a very upright and serious girl, I imagined that deep down they did not trust a very pretty girl who was also a Paya. It would be like presenting their husbands with a cake that they were forbidden to eat.
I too was advised not to take a Paya girl into my house because she would bring problems to my marriage. But my marriage could not go to waste more than it already had, even though back then he was not so bad with me. So I felt very sorry for this girl who had so much interest in our lives and our way of life, that we would not give her the chance to realise her project and her future.
And also I acknowledge that I too was interested in knowing more about her world. Inside my Gitano life, I was different from the other women because I was very attracted to the idea of meeting Payo people. I was fascinated by the Payo world, because it seemed very different from what I lived day by day. Because Payos live more independently in their lives, without thinking about others’ opinions or gossip, and I liked very much their way of being, so simple.
In my Gitano environment, everything revolves around the idea that if a woman does anything outside of the family, of the father, the mother, the husband, then there is a hidden intention and what you are really wanting is to go to bed with a man. I liked it that among the Payos a woman does not have to demonstrate constantly that she is not doing anything bad. It has always bothered me, having to do things so that people will let you be and not be criticised for no matter what.
And I was bored by the daily routine of the market, the children, the house. It seemed to me that having a Paya in my home would break the monotony of my life of Gitana wife. For this reason, I wanted to have a Payo friendship in my life.
I thought that Paloma’s work as an anthropologist consisted in knowing about our life, and that she was going to write a book and tell the whole world. I always thought that Paloma was going to write a book about the good side of the Gitanos.
I wanted to show the world through her voice that the Gitano world was not the world of drugs, of scrap dealing, of shanty towns, of the one who goes stealing at the shopping centre. Instead, it was another world, and Paloma could make a friend, overnight, who was Gitana, and so break away from fear. I wanted Payos to change their opinion of Gitanos.
I thought that when Paloma entered my family and told about it, the world would see us from a different perspective. Because people always expect the worst from us Gitanos. And I thought that in future this would help, so that my children will be given opportunities, and that they will find jobs and that we will not be marginalised so badly.
And so, listening to my heart and my instinct, I said yes, Paloma could come to my house to live with us and finish her research. In some ways, I also researched her, because I was fascinated by her world and her way of life.
It is true that the inequalities between us stalked us, and that there were many distances between Paloma and me. She was born in a Payo family, and wealthy, and I in a very humble Gitano home, even though my parents lived quite well. And to this, we must add that Paloma was single, and I already had two children and was married. Yet she needed me and depended on me to help her, and I opened my life and my heart to her.
And this is what has made us different from other people: even though we were from separate ethnicities, in unequal conditions, this never separated us from each other, but completely the opposite. No matter who depended on who on each occasion, we knew how to hold out our hand, without looking anywhere else and without caring about the alien gazes of the people who surrounded us.
Although one was Gitana and the other Paya, and although she had so many more opportunities than me, and we had different customs and we had grown up in such different environments, we knew very well how to share our ideas and our tastes. I even believe that this is what was interesting about our friendship, the wish to know new worlds, to leave the daily routine and to cross borders, meet people who were different to what we were used to.
Both of us had an experience, we both discovered worlds that were new for us.
At first sight, Liria seemed to me certain of her place in the world and fulfilled by her path. At twenty-three, she was already a respected matron, a loving if sometimes hurried mother, and a skilful street vendor and moneymaker. She was quick on her feet, capable and assertive, and no pushover. Although she often argu...


  1. Cover
  2. Front Matter
  3. 1. Sister of My Soul
  4. 2. Breaking Away
  5. 3. Two Girls
  6. 4. Writing Friendship
  7. 5. Those Who Surround Us
  8. 6. About God and About Anthropology
  9. Back Matter
Estilos de citas para Writing Friendship

APA 6 Citation

Blasco, P. G., & Hernández, L. (2019). Writing Friendship ([edition unavailable]). Springer International Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/3490697/writing-friendship-a-reciprocal-ethnography-pdf (Original work published 2019)

Chicago Citation

Blasco, Paloma Gay, and Liria Hernández. (2019) 2019. Writing Friendship. [Edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing. https://www.perlego.com/book/3490697/writing-friendship-a-reciprocal-ethnography-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Blasco, P. G. and Hernández, L. (2019) Writing Friendship. [edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/3490697/writing-friendship-a-reciprocal-ethnography-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Blasco, Paloma Gay, and Liria Hernández. Writing Friendship. [edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing, 2019. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.