Alberto Rodríguez is joking around with a young man who wants to have his picture taken with the new deputy for Podemos.
“Careful, I might pass you my lice!”
Rodríguez was the involuntary star of the constituent session of parliament last Thursday because of his dreadlocks, which figured prominently in media coverage of the event.
“I have nothing against suits and ties. We are well aware of internal regulations, and there is nothing there about dress codes”
Now back in Tenerife, he is still trying to come to terms with all the fuss that was made over a photograph in which an astonished-looking Mariano Rajoy, the acting prime minister of Spain, watches Rodríguez pass in front of him in Spain’s lower house.
There was an even greater commotion when Celia Villalobos, the newly re-elected deputy congressional speaker, said that she didn’t have a problem with dreadlocks: “As long as they are clean so I don’t get lice, it’s just fine,” she said.
In person, Rodríguez’s towering stature (at 198 centimeters he is “the same as Michael Jordan,” he notes proudly) is just as striking as his hairstyle.
Question. What do you think about this whole fuss that was made over your dreadlocks?
Answer. It is all part of the spectacle that seeks to conceal truly relevant political events of shameful dimensions, such as the taking up of his congressional seat by Popular Party (PP) deputy Pedro Gómez de la Serna [under scrutiny for allegedly charging fees for helping Spanish firms secure foreign contracts]. Nobody talks about that, but they do talk about Carolina Bescansa’s baby or about Alberto Rodríguez’s hair. What they are also trying to do is to conceal initiatives such as our bill to ensure that nobody is left without a home or without medical treatment because they can’t afford it.
Q. But it is Podemos that has been accused of putting on a show in parliament. What do you say to that?
A. It’s unbelievable that people said that about us. All we did is take our oath in a different way, in order to reflect society and parliament’s current plurality and diversity. We tried to do that in a democratic, normal manner and we were met with catcalls and insults. We were surprised by the lack of respect in various forms, particularly in a place like Congress. We couldn’t understand why political differences cannot be respected.
Q. How are you dealing with your newfound stardom since that day?
A. I am currently dealing with all the fallout. I even made it into a Forges political cartoon! In any case, I was aware that running for Congress would come with a personal cost that I had to accept, because our goal is to improve this country and improve people’s lives.
Q. What does your family have to say about all this?
A. I haven’t even had time to talk to the people who are closest to me. Last Thursday I had breakfast at 9pm. Since then, I’ve been flooded with media requests and barely been able to take calls on my cellphone because of the avalanche of messages. I’ve been forced to put it on silent mode, and every time I look at it, I see a bunch of new calls from numbers I don’t recognize.
Q. Celia Villalobos said she hoped that people with dreadlocks would bring them clean to parliament so she wouldn’t get lice. What do you say to that?
A. I don’t know what she was trying to achieve with that statement, but we will not be distracted by it or dragged into making our own assessment when people are already judging it on social media. Our goal is to implement our program and to put forward initiatives that will improve people’s and citizens’ lives. There are many people who cannot make ends meet, and they will be angry to see [politicians] arguing over superfluous matters rather than policies to improve their lives, which is why we were elected in the first place.
Q. Next time you run into Villalobos at a session of parliament, will you say something to her?
A. I’m not planning on doing so. When we start working on political proposals and programs, then we’ll talk.
“We were surprised by the lack of respect, particularly in a place like Congress. We couldn’t understand why political differences cannot be respected”
Q. Dreadlocks are part of your personal image and personality. Will you keep them even if you hear more comments along the same lines?
A. There are different hairdos and styles of dress in Congress now, reflecting the diversity in our country, a country of ordinary people; until now, it only reflected one part of society. Evidently I am not going to get rid of [the dreadlocks] just because of what people have to say about them. To me it’s just a hairstyle like any other, and I will only cut them off when I personally feel like it.
Q. On the first day of the new Congress, there was also criticism about the way Podemos deputies dressed. Should the representatives from traditional parties start getting used to it?
A. Of course. But above all, they need to get used to the fact that this country has changed, that we are in a new political era now, whether they like it or not. They will have to accept that, because citizens wanted it that way.
Q. Will you ever wear a suit and tie to parliament?
A. I have nothing against suits and ties. We are well aware of internal regulations, and there is nothing there about dress codes. We dress the same way ordinary people do down on the street, and we are not being disrespectful to anyone by doing so, not to the deputies and not to the institution.
Q. Is it true you were once arrested for disturbing the peace?
A. As a result of repressive policies by various governments, I participated in social movements and protests. I was arrested for disturbing the peace at the Indignados demonstrations in 2012, and I was acquitted. Now I am pending trial over another protest in 2006 in which the police assaulted my brother, who lost the sight in one eye. I was arrested when I was merely phoning my friends to let them know what was happening. I never insulted the police officers as they claimed.
Q. How would you define Rajoy’s expression in the photograph where you show up walking in front of his congressional seat?
A. It may have been a look of surprise illustrating the fact that perhaps he hasn’t yet fully grasped the new political era in this country. If it helped to make him aware that Spain is no longer a private hunting ground for a few, and that they can no longer steamroll their way through Congress, then it was all for the best.
English version by Susana Urra.