Manuel Giménez Valentí, popularly known as Oncle Manel (Uncle Manel), one of the great defenders of the rights of Roma in Catalonia and a pioneer of the Romani association movement, died Thursday at the age of 82.
Manuel Giménez was born in the Gràcia district, where he lived until six years ago, when he moved to Mataró to be closer to his family. It was in his native district where, in 1986, he founded the Gràcia Romani Union. A few years on he was one of the main drivers behind the founding of the Federation of Roma Associations of Catalonia and the Association of Romani Organisations of the Catalan Countries.
His more than 50 years of activism made Oncle Manel an icon not only in the eyes of Roma, but for all citizens. The Catalan Government awarded him the Creu de Sant Jordi (Sant Jordi Prize) in 2004. The following year, he was given the City of Barcelona’s Medal of Honour. He was a close associate of Carmen Garriga, with whom he jointly conducted a number of studies on Catalonia’s Romani population. This work led to a number of significant community initiatives, including the Comprehensive Plan for the Roma People in Catalonia.
His example has served as a wake-up-call for younger generations. The Young Roma of Gràcia organisation has followed his example, as evidenced by the great success that the organisation has had with his home district’s festivals in Plaça del Poble Romaní, a public square whose very name is a recognition of the Romani people and which stands amongst the legacies that this community has left in the district.
*Photo of www.gitanos.cat