Interview with Jeronimo Fernandez Cortes
Jeronimo Fernandez Cortes, 43, is a member of the Federación de Asociaciones Gitanas Calí (Federation of Gypsy Calí Associations), an organisation that is a participant in the Albacete Participation Forum.
Jeronimo Fernandez Cortes, 43, is a member of the Federación de Asociaciones Gitanas Calí (Federation of Gypsy Calí Associations), an organisation that is a participant in the Albacete Participation Forum. The federation promoted the creation of the Office for Gypsy Affairs that, thanks to the participative budget, has attended to the needs of gypsies from the La Milagrosa neighbourhood over the last four years.
How did Fundación Calí first get involved in the participation forum?
We have been part of the forum since the start. Creating the forum was the former mayor Manuel’s idea: a call went out and we took part from the very beginning, alongside other groups. Our role is to represent the gypsy community of Albacete.
In the first year, the creation of a gypsy community care office – an office to provide advice and information for the gypsy community – was proposed. The idea was submitted to the equality and participation councillor’s office, and it started working immediately with funding from the city council.
Why have an Office for Gypsy Affairs?
For years, we’d had the idea of creating a place that gypsies and non-gypsy immigrants (of whom there are plenty in the La Milagrosa neighbourhood) could turn to – to create something that they could use freely and trust, from which they could be directed to the different departments of the public administration.
In the office, guidance is offered about matters such as housing, education, the neighbourhood... When someone needs something we send them to the appropriate service, or we help them with the paperwork if they don’t know how to fill in the forms. We also accompany them, if necessary. It is a kind of care that is very personalised.
In the gypsy community there are many problems that need solving, but the administration doesn’t know where to start, whether it’s the issue of housing, which is very important, or employment and training.
Us gypsies are the ones who are most excluded when it comes to applying for a job. When we go to factories or respond to job offers and they see that the address is in the La Milagrosa neighbourhood, all of a sudden the post has already been filled. People think about it very hard before giving a gypsy a job – they don’t see us as having become normal.
We also have a problem in the field of education. Not so much in primary school, but in secondary school and university. In Castile-La Mancha, there are very few gypsies in university. These are some fundamental social issues that we have to work very hard to make an impact on.
Would it have been possible to create the office without a participative process?
The previous mayor was very receptive to the needs of the gypsy community, so it may have been possible, but the participation forum was the space where a wholehearted effort was made. The entire forum council understood that it was a necessary space. Us in the gypsy community are very disadavantaged, and nobody hesitated in approving the proposal for the creation of the office, not at the time or in the following years. So, for four years now, we have had a budget for running the office and complete moral support from the forum council in all matters that affect gypsies.
Moreover, the office was a foundation stone: a great achievement that has now made it possible for there to be a Department of Gypsy Affairs within the councillor’s office as well, resulting in our very positive assessment of the process. When we started, there was nowhere that had an office like this one, but now the idea has been exported to municipalities near Madrid, like Parla, Getafe and Leganés, always following the blueprint of our office in Albacete.
What is the relationship between the different organisations and proposals in the forum?
We support all the proposals presented in the forum that we feel are good. However, of course, we talk the problems that we have, such as children not going to school, while other groups want them to put up streetlights.
When proposals are submitted for the city to be fairer, more pleasant, and for there to be greater solidarity, we agree and we support it. How are we not going to support more squares or more parks or more bicycle lanes? But, you see, our problem is that many gypsies don’t have a house, or access to employment, and have to devote themselves to hawking or begging in the street...