Newsletter 2004
Gitano: Gypsy Texts and Contexts

     From their first recorded appearance in Spain, the Gypsies have been the object of fascination and fear. For centuries they have lived at the margins of Spanish society, limited to houses at the edges of cities and towns and to work as entertainers, tinkers, animal traders, and mendicants. To trace gitano history is necessarily to abandon traditional scholarly texts, following instead a trail of legal documents, popular legends and dramas, and flamenco songs. In this spring’s special topics course in Spanish, Gitano: Gypsy Texts and Contexts, advanced students are exploring literary texts by both payo (non-Gypsy) and Gypsy writers spanning the past five centuries. As stereotypes become familiar through the words of Lope de Rueda, Cervantes, and Federico García Lorca, so they are questioned by Gypsy writers such as Camarón de la Isla, José Heredia Maya, and Joaquín Albaicín. Historical texts --including the first letter of safe passage granted to a Gypsy count and subsequent orders of repression and expulsion-- provide a grounded context.
     Why study Gypsies and their literature? When students travel to Spain, as many do with our different study abroad programs, they often hear Spaniards warn them about Gypsies. In this class students develop the skills necessary to distinguish among different perspectives and the validity or impartiality of each: what history is the real one? which image is the right one? how should you deal with Gypsies when you encounter them in Spain? Is integration a reasonable or even desirable goal? This course will ideally help students view Spain’s Gypsies as people with a long and proud history who face a challenging present: through an understanding of history and of this compelling group, real growth and communication can take place.