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Spain: Gypsy groups protest ‘swindler’ dictionary definition

April 8, 2015

MADRID (AP) — Spanish groups representing gypsies Wednesday launched a campaign to remove a reference to them as swindlers from the world’s benchmark Spanish dictionary.

The country’s Gypsy Secretariat Foundation and others delivered protest letters to members of Spain’s Royal Language Academy, which produces the definitive Spanish dictionary.

Foundation spokeswoman Pilar Calon says the campaign attempts to raise awareness of discrimination against gypsies, also known as Roma.

The dictionary’s most recent 2014 print edition lists “swindler” (“trapacero”) as one of its definitions for “gypsy” (“gitano”).

The foundation does not object to other academy dictionary definitions for gypsy but would like the “swindler” reference changed.

The academy declined comment but has said dictionary definitions reflect actual use and are not meant to be derogatory. It has offered the possibility of changing the forthcoming online edition to clarify that such references are pejorative.

The protest was delivered on International Roma Day.

Before handing in the letter, Roma group representatives gathered to throw flower petals into Madrid’s Manzanares river in the customary homage to the gypsies killed in the Holocaust and other extermination campaigns.

The dictionary protest stretches back some years. The “swindler” reference was introduced late last year following complaints about the 22nd edition entry that included a colloquial reference to “gypsy” (“gitano”) as one “who deceives or maneuvers to cheat,” a reference which is still on the online edition.

“That was a swindle in itself!” said Calon. She said members of the State Council for Roma People, which includes the foundation, hope to meet with academy authorities soon to discuss the issue. The language academy is made up of some 20 esteemed authors and intellectuals backed by language experts.

Spain has about 750,000 people of Roma heritage, out of a total population of some 47 million.

Although a minority, the ethnic group has always formed an important part of Spanish society and culture, most notably due its strong links to Spain’s emblematic flamenco music. One of the country’s most internationally renowned flamenco dancers is gypsy Joaquin Cortes.

Although there have been giant steps made toward greater integration in society, Roma are still often marginalized and discriminated against in housing, education and jobs. The community is commonly associated with dealing in scrap metal and selling flowers or cheap clothes at town markets. For years, many gypsies did not finishing schooling and they have no noteworthy representation in Parliament, business or academia.

“Gypsies feel indignant,” said Sara Jimenez, 37, a Roma lawyer who works for the foundation’s equality department. “It’s not fair because we are a people marked by prejudices, stereotypes and these type of contributions by the Royal Language Academy encourage rejection and stigmatization and do not correspond to gypsies in Spanish society.”

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