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CAMD Scholar Devontae Freeland ’15 Compares the Experiences Between Spanish Gitanos and African Americans

When Devontae Freeland ’15 learned of the Spanish gitanos, a nomadic ethnic group from Spain, in his Spanish 400 class, he was struck by the similarities between the experience of the gitanos in Spain and African Americans in the United States, he said.

“Within the Spanish government, only one gitano has been elected as member of the Parliament since the 1970s,” said Freeland last Friday in his Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Scholar presentation, which was entitled “A Comparative Study of the Socio-Politics of African Americans and Spanish Gitanos during the Post-Civil Rights and Post-Francoist Era.”

Spanish gitanos, also known as “gypsies” or “Roma,” belong to a nomadic tribe that settled in Barcelona, Spain, 567 years ago as a result of a diaspora extending all throughout Europe following the group’s exodus from the Hindu Kush mountains of India. Currently, 15 percent of gitanos are illiterate and 80 percent drop out of school. Furthermore, gitanos who have attained a decent standard of living have again fallen into poverty and exclusion, according to Freeland.

“The statistics of African Americans in the United States today are also startling,” said Freeland. African-American infants have the highest mortality rate and are twice as likely to live in poverty as non- African-American families nationwide, according to Freeland.

Last summer, while traveling in Madrid, Spain, Freeland said he was able to observe public perceptions of gitanos in the community, whom he said are generally seen as nearly invisible and poverty-stricken. Although his main purpose of visit was not to conduct research, Freeland said that he was subconsciously examining and making observations throughout his trip.

As African Americans lived under severe oppression for first half of the 20th century, the Spanish gitanos also suffered under the rise of antiziganism in Spain, a term that refers to hostility, prejudice and discrimination directed against the Roma people, according to Freeland.

Freeland said that discrimination against women as another socio-political disparity that further underscored the ties between African Americans and Spanish gitanos.

“Mainstream depictions serve to promulgate negative stereotypes of gitana women, and African-American women have been subject to similar portrayals as hypersexual. As such, these women of color face both facets of discrimination in their societies, and acknowledgment of their existence at this intersection is all too infrequent,” he said.

Freeland said he hopes to inform others about the disparities and existence of these minority groups as well as to encourage Andover students to critically look at issues of discrimination in the world through his presentation.

“[It is important] to be able to look at these things and make opinions about it. Therefore, students can go out into the world with whatever professions they pursue and do something about it,” he said in an interview with The Phillipian.

“I highlight those who share [the] dream of socio-political equity for all, regardless of race, color or creed. The inalienable rights of humankind are inherent in our human dignity. It’s rare, [and] there’s very little work out there, so I guess it’s my duty to continue working,” he continued.

Freeland’s presentation was the second of a series of CAMD Scholar presentations this year.