Tag Archives: American West

#EuskalWest2013

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In memory of Lydia (Sillonis Chacartegui) Jausoro (1920-2013)

“When he first came to the mountains his life was far away… He climbed cathedral mountains. Saw silver clouds below. Saw everything as far as you can see. And they say that he got crazy once. And he tried to touch the sun…”

John Denver (Rocky Mountain High, 1972)

By the time “Rocky Mountain High” became one of the most popular folk songs in America, the North American Basque Organizations (NABO) was an incipient reality. During a visit to Argentina, Basque-Puerto Rican bibliographer Jon Bilbao Azkarate learnt about the Federation of Basque Argentinean Entities (FEVA in its Spanish acronym), which was established in 1955. Bilbao, through the Center for Basque Studies (the then Basque Studies Program) at the University of Nevada, Reno, was the promoter of a series of encounters among Basque associations and individuals, which led to the establishment of NABO in 1973. Its founding members were the clubs of Bakersfield and San Francisco (California); Ontario (Oregon); Boise (Idaho); Grand Junction (Colorado); and Elko, Ely, and Reno (Nevada).

Following last year’s field trip into the Basque-American memory landscape of migration and settlement throughout the American West, I arrived on time for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of NABO that took place in Elko, Nevada, during the first weekend of July. NABO’s 2013 convention was hosted by the Euzkaldunak Basque club, which coincidentally celebrated the 50th anniversary of its National Basque Festival.

NABO-Convention-2013-ElkoNorth American Basque Organizations’ officers, delegates and guests. (Elko, Nevada. July 5th.) (For further information please read Argitxu Camus’ book on the history of NABO.)

On the last day of the festival, NABO president, Valerie Arrechea, presented NABO’s “Bizi Emankorra” or lifetime achievement award to Jim Ithurralde (Eureka, Nevada) and Bob Goicoechea (Elko) for their significant contribution to NABO. Both men were instrumental in the creation of an embryonic Basque federation back in 1973.

Goicoechea-Arrechea-IthurraldeBob Goicoechea (on the right), Valerie Arrechea, and Jim Ithurralde. (Elko, Nevada, July 7th.)

The main goal of my latest summer trip was to initiate a community-based project, called “Memoria Bizia” (The Living Memory), with the goals of collecting, preserving and disseminating the personal oral recollections and testimonies of those who left their country of birth as well as their descendants born in the United States and Canada. Indeed, we are witnessing how rapidly the last Basque migrant and exile generation is unfortunately vanishing. Consequently, I was thrilled to learn that NABO will lead the initiative. The collaboration and active involvement of the Basque communities in the project is paramount for its success. Can we afford to lose our past as told by the people who went through the actual process of migrating and resettlement? Please watch the following video so that you may get a better idea of what the NABO Memoria Bizia project may look like.

This video “Gure Bizitzen Pasarteak—Fragments of our lives” was recorded in 2012, and it shows a selection of interviews conducted with Basque refugees, exiles and emigrants that returned to the Basque Country. The video is part of a larger oral history research project at the University of Deusto.

While being at the Center for Basque Studies in Reno, the road took me to different Basque gatherings in Elko, San Francisco, and Boise.

Basque-Library-RenoBasque Studies Library sign outside the Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno. Established in the late 1960s, the Basque library is the largest repository of its kind outside Europe.

Jordan-Valley-Basque-SignOn the US-95 North going through Jordan Valley, Oregon.

During my stay I was lucky to conduct a couple of interviews with two elder Basque-American women. One of them was Lydia Victoria Jausoro, “Amuma Lil,” who sadly passed away on November 14th at the age of 93. Lydia was born in 1920 in Mountain Home (Idaho) to Pablo Sillonis and Julia Chacartegui. Her dad was born in Ispaster in 1881 and her mother in the nearby town of Lekeitio in 1888. Both Pablo and Julia left the Basque province of Bizkaia in 1900 and 1905 respectively. They met in Boise, where they married. Soon after, Lydia’s parents moved to Mountain Home, where she grew up. She had five brothers. Lydia went to the Boise Business University and later on, in 1946, married Louie Jausoro Mallea in Nampa. Lydia and Louie had two daughters, Juliana and Robbie Lou. (Louie was born in 1919 in Silver City (Idaho) and died in 2005 in Boise. His father, Tomás, was from Eskoriatza (Gipuzkoa) and his mother, Tomasa, from Ereño, Bizkaia.) When I asked about her intentions for the summer, Lydia was really excited to share with me her plans of going to the different Basque festivals. She felt extremely optimist about the future of the Basques in America. Goian bego.

Lydia-Victoria-Jausoro“Amuma Lil” at the San Inazio Festival. (Boise, Idaho. July 28th.)

On July 19th I travelled to San Francisco, where I met my very good friends of the Basque Cultural Center and the Basque Educational Organization. On this occasion, I participated at their Basque Film Series Night, by presenting “Basque Hotel” (directed by Josu Venero, 2011). 2014 will mark the 10th anniversary of Basque movie night, one of the most popular initiatives in the Basque calendar of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Bidaurreta-Anchustegui-Oiarzabal-EspinalBEOWith Basque Educational Organization directors Franxoa Bidaurreta, Esther Anchustegui Bidaurreta, and Marisa Espinal. (Basque Cultural Center, South San Francisco. July 19th. Photo courtesy of Philippe Acheritogaray.)

This summer marked my first time in the United States, twelve years ago. I have been very fortunate to experience, at first hand, the different ways that Basques and Basque-Americans enjoy and celebrate their heritage. From an institutional level, the cultural, recreational and educational organizations (NABO and its member clubs) display a wide array of initiatives that enrich the American society at large, while private ventures flourish around Basque culture: art designs (Ahizpak), photography (Argazki Lana), genealogy (The Basque Branch), imports (Etcheverry Basque Imports, The Basque Market), music (Noka, Amuma Says No), books (Center for Basque Studies), news (EuskalKazeta)… A new Basque America is born.

Eskerrik asko bihotz bihotzez eta ikusi arte.

On a personal note, our Basque blogosphere keeps growing…

Chico-Oiarzabal-ChiramberroWith Basque fellow bloggers “Hella Basque” (Anne Marie Chiramberro) and “A Basque in Boise” (Henar Chico). (Boise, Idaho. July 28th.)

[Except where otherwise noted, all photographs by Pedro J. Oiarzabal]

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“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark”

Victor Hugo (Les Misérables, 1862)

Against the backdrop of the secular Basque immigration history to the United States of America, a five-year-old girl, Maite Echeto, awaits the return of her father to the Old Country with her mother. In a visit to her cousins’ farm Maite meets a new-born goslin, by the name of “Oui Oui Oui,” that she ends up adopting. As one could imagine this is the beginning of their numerous and unexpected adventures throughout the colorful countryside of the Basque Country in France (Iparralde). Maite and the goslin are the main characters of the children’s book Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees is the posthumous and first short story of Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton. As a well-known local artist she also illustrated the book with original drawings. Mary Jean was born in 1921 in Reno, Nevada, and passed away in 2008 in Verdi, Nevada. She lived in Iparralde for a number of years in the 1950s. According to her family, “Mary Jean had a vehicle and was popular with the family because the roads then were in bad shape. She lived most of the time in a little house named Bakea, in Laxia of Itxassou [Itsasu], Lapurdi.

Mary Jean’s parents were Jean Pierre Etcheberry and María Simona “Louisa” Larralde. Jean Pierre was born in 1891 in the small town of Saint-Just-Ibarre (Donaixti-Ibarre), in the Basque province of Lower Navarre, Nafarroa Beherea. He arrived in New York City at the age of 18. He worked as a sheepherder in Flagstaff, Arizona, and later on in the Winnemucca area. Jean Pierre arrived in Reno around 1914 and worked for the Jeroux family, a successful rancher at that time. María Simona “Louisa” was born in 1896 in Erratzu in the province of Nafarroa. She was the seventh of ten children, of whom six migrated to Nevada and California. Louisa arrived in New York City in 1914. Upon arrival in Reno, she worked as a maid in the mansion of the Jeroux family. “No doubt this is where she met her future husband Jean Pierre Etcheberry,” Paul Etxeberri, a nephew of Mary Jean, states. They married in 1917 in Reno and had three children: St. John, Paul John and Mary Jean. A decade later, Jean Pierre and Louisa bought a sheep ranch in southwest Reno and managed the Santa Fe Hotel, a successful Basque boardinghouse in downtown Reno, for over thirty years. Jean Pierre passed away in 1943, and Louisa in 1989 at the age of 93.

Mary Jean has now become part of Basque-America’s literary legacy, alongside Frank Bergon (Jesse’s Ghost), Martin Etchart (The Good Oak, The Last Shepherd), Robert Laxalt (Sweet Promised Land, The Basque Hotel…), Gregory Martin (Mountain City), and Monique Urza (The Deep Blue Memory), among others.

Before passing away Mary Jean entrusted her great-nieces, Marylou and Jennifer Etcheberry, with her precious manuscript, although it was just recently published.

Oui-Original-ManuscriptBook cover of Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees alongside the original type-written manuscript. Photo by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, July 2013, Reno Nevada.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees was published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2012, the second book of its Juvenile Literature collection. It follows Mark Kurlansky’s The Girl Who Swam to Euskadi, published in 2005 in English and Basque. With more than eighty titles ranging from diaspora and migration books to graphic novels it is by far the largest publishing house in the world on Basque topics for the English-speaking audience. Not shy to admit that academic presses should welcome other types of non-academic quality literary works, the Center for Basque Studies has issued a call for the first annual Basque Literary Writing Contest. (Please note: Entries closed on September 15, 2013.)

Marylou-EtcheberryMarylou Etcheberry, proud great-niece of Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton, poses with a copy of Oui Oui Oui. Photo by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, July 2013, Elko, Nevada.

Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees is a welcoming breath of fresh air for the English-speaking reader, and especially for its younger members, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background. I hope that many more titles would follow the adventures of Maite and her goslin.

My dearest darlings,” Jacque, Maite’s father, writes. “This is the letter I’ve dreamed of writing for four long years…Our future in America looks bright, and I can look forward to having my darlings with me…” This might well echo the wishes of many families that became strangled due to the physical separation upon leaving their homes and their loved ones behind. It very much resembles the family histories of our recent past. For Maite and her mother, it marks the beginning of a new quest.

Many thanks to Paul Etxeberri for gathering information on the Etcheberry family.

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The Flag

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Johnson County, Wyoming - encompassing the rolling plains of the Old West and the towering peaks of the Bighorn Mountains. It’s a land rich in both history and scenery. A place of sheep herders and cattle barons, renegades and rustlers. Where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up after their outlaw exploits. Where miners consumed with gold rush fever passed through on the Bozeman Trail. Where some of the most famous Indian battles in American history occurred. And where the Johnson County Cattle War, a rangeland dispute which historians often deem one of the most notorious events in our history, left its mark here in the late 1880s…and that Owen Wister wrote about in his epic American novel, The Virginian.”

(Johnson County, 2012)

Within this grand introduction to the singular history of the Johnson County in the State of Wyoming, surrounded by wild beauty and its frontier origins, lie the story of the Espondas from Baigorri; the Harriets, the Etchemendys, the Urrizagas, and the Caminos from Arnegi; the Iberlins from Banca; the Ansolabeheres, the Iriberrys, and many others. All these Basque pioneers came from the tiny province of Nafarroa Beherea (approximately 511 square mile), in the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees in France, and with a current population of 28,000 people. On the other hand, Johnson County, established in 1879, and its main city Buffalo, has a population of over 8,500 people on an area of 4,175 square mile.

The history of the Basque presence in the Johnson County begins with the arrival of Jean Esponda in 1902 as reported by Dollie Iberlin and David Romtvedt in their book “Buffalotarrak”. Most Buffalo Basques originated in the village of Baigorri, because Jean Esponda, a successful immigrant from Baigorri, settled in that area of Wyoming. Esponda immigrated into California in 1886 and then moved to Wyoming in 1902, where he set up a thriving sheepherding operation, claiming many Basques from his own natal village and neighboring villages for nearly two decades. Esponda became known as the “King of the Basques”. He passed away in 1936. By the end of the 1960s, Basque sheepmen owned over 250,000 acres (approximately 390 square mile) of Johnson County land, which was about 76% of the land of the entire province of Nafarroa Beherea. According to the United States Census, in 2000 there were only 869 Basque people in Wyoming, being the smallest, but nonetheless vibrant, Basque community in the American West.

basq04111Basque group photograph at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, in Buffalo, Wyoming, in the late 1960s. (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Basque Studies Library, University of Nevada, Reno)

110 years have passed since Jean Esponda set foot in Wyoming, and much of the Basque heritage is still flourishing. It has become part of the social and cultural fabric of Wyoming. In this regard, Johnson County designed a flag to commemorate the State Fair’s 100th anniversary, which depicts the Ikurriña or Basque flag (originally designed in 1894 in Bilbao, Bizkaia) with the county’s seal in the center, as a way to honor the county’s Basque origins. The Johnson County’s “Basque” flag is the first official Basque flag outside the Basque Country, and the first in the nation. Its symbolism will definitely help to preserve and assure the continuity of the Basque history in the State of Wyoming. It will be publicly displayed, for the first time, at the State Fair that is going to be held on August 11-18 in Douglass.

Do you know similar stories to this one?

jo_co_flag The Johnson County, Wyoming “Basque” flag

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connected…lertxun marrak, the “Republic of Letters,” and the dabbawala‏s

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“Think on the last 24 hours of your life. And now ask yourself what percentage of that time you have devoted to think on social issues. You will discover that it has been 99% of the time. How is your wife? And your child? And the person who works with you?”

(Michael Gazzaniga, 2011)

Leading neuroscientists such as Gazzaniga argue that humans are inherently social creatures. According to them, being social is one of the characteristics that make us unique from other species. That is to say, the more intelligent we are, the more social we are. Then, the more social we are, the more experienced we are, which, in turn, facilitates what we are and what we achieve. Undeniably, the fact that we have developed a complex language has provided us with the ability to express ourselves, communicate, and transfer knowledge. Our desire for being social is at the core of the development of an increasing array of tools and resources, which have helped us to be in contact with each other (e.g., lertxun marrak); to create networks and communities of knowledge regardless of time and space (e.g., the “Republic of Letters”); and to establish low-tech supply businesses such as the one of the dabbawalas, and which may seem anachronic in a world increasingly determined by technology.

Tree carvings (arborglyphs) or lertxun marrak (in the Basque language) have been part of the American West landscape since the massive influx of Basque migrants from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. The majority of the young Basque men from France and Spain who came to America worked in the sheep industry as sheepherders and camp tenders. Their jobs required to work in the sierras for extended periods of time and demanded physical and mental strength. The feelings of isolation and loneliness experienced by Basque sheepherders provoked on some of them mental illnesses and drove some others to commit suicide. Names, dates, human and animal figures, phrases, poems, warnings for other sheepherders, were carved on the bark of thousands and thousands of aspen trees, thereby recording the historical presence of Basques in the most remote areas of the American West. The tree carvings are not only “banal” expressions of Basques’ identities, dreams, nightmares, and artistic ability, but they are also a “primitive” information and communication system, which desperately attempted to break down the barriers of the physical and mental isolation imposed on them.

Joseph C. R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, pioneers in promoting the development of the Internet in the early 1960s, had begun to conceive of the computer as a communication device more than a calculating machine. That is, they forecast computers as machines able to create communities, bounded by common interests and not by space or time. This idea echoes the “Republic of Letters” that described the exchange of private correspondence between philosophers and other influential intellectuals from the 15th century to the 19th century in Europe and America. The development of various “Republic of Letters” was linked to the invention and further improvement of the printing press, which meant a technological revolution in terms of dissemination of information and ideas. Similar to the carvings on the bark of trees, the ink on the paper draws maps of social connections, which, in this case, transcended the thinkers’ immediate communities. This proves that there was a great need for sharing ideas and experiences across borders. The “Republic of Letters” constituted informal social networks based on scholarly, literary, and artistic correspondence, which facilitated the circulation of information and exchange of ideas.  The “Republic of Letters” became the foundation of today’s scientific knowledge communities in the Western world.

The dabbawalas (literally, “one who carries the box”) are self-employed workers associated to the Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association, and whose main job is to deliver lunches in tin boxes from the homes of their customers to their work places on a daily basis and for a very low monthly fee. The origin of the business dates back to the late 19th century when India was under British rule. A system was set up to distribute British-style (home cooked) meals to British workers in Mumbai. Soon, Indians became the primary customers of the dabbawalas. The impossibility for workers to go back to their homes during lunch time makes the work of the dabbawalas essential to establish the connection between individuals and their families’ home cooking. Often, the lunch boxes also include messages between home and the family member. In a city with nearly 14 million people, the dabbawalas rely on local trains and bicycles to carry out their deliveries in an area from 60 to 70 kilometers. Around 5,000 dabbawalas deliver approximately 200,000 lunches every day. Most of the dabbawalas are male, have a low level of formal education, and do not rely in modern technology to manage the logistics of the business. They do not use any electronic barcode system or tracking device. However, their distribution system is extremely accurate. (Just recently, the Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association has set up a website and a text messaging system to take orders.) The tin boxes are color-coded with small series of letters painted by hand that identify the destination and the recipient as well as the railway stations to be used to deliver them efficiently. The boxes can change hands three to four times until it reaches the customer. After lunchtime, the empty boxes are collected and returned to the respective houses. In 2002, Forbes Magazine awarded the dabbawala supply-chain business a Six Sigma performance rating on the basis that only 1 in 16 million tins get lost (i.e., 1 tin gets lost every 2 months). Its reliability rivals with the best global logistic businesses in the market.

The previous examples are all attempts to connect. We all have the need to express ourselves and to establish communication with others, particularly when facing acute isolation. There is a further need to transfer information and ideas across continents as well as to establish connections between people in the most populous metropolitan areas of the planet.

Are you socially connected?

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Encounters

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For the past few years we have witnessed an increase of documentary productions on Basques of the American West through truly nostalgic stories of some remarkable lives. For example, Tim and Ken Kahn and Scott Carroll directed “The Last Link” (2004), while Javi Zubizarreta and Jacob Griswold produced “Artzainak: Sheperds and Sheep” (2010) and Nacho Reig and Gorka Bilbao filmed “Amerikanuak” (2010). “The Last Link” addresses the transformation of a Basque sheepherding community in the State of Wyoming through the story of Pete Camino who planned to travel to his home village of Arnegi in the Basque province of Behe Nafarroa. “Artzainak” looks into the hard life of former Basque sheepherders in the State of Idaho, while “Amerikanuak” focuses on another prominent Basque immigrant area, Elko, in the State of Nevada.

“Amerikanuak” falls in love with Nevada’s winter landscape of big and blue skies and with its main character, Juan Juaristi “Parrillas,” an 83 year old boarder at the centennial Basque boardinghouse, the Star Hotel of Elko. Juan becomes the link between the different colorful stories that the film narrates through its ninety minutes of majestic photography. Juan was born in Guizaburuaga in the Basque province of Bizkaia in 1926 and immigrated into the United States at the age of 29. He first settled in Pocatello, Idaho and then moved to Elko, Nevada and worked as a sheepherder for many years. I hear from Scott “Patxi” Igoa, current owner of the Star Hotel, that Juan got sick in May and has been moved to a nursing home. Juan still manages to go to the Star Hotel every Saturday to play mus, a Basque card game, and have lunch with his old friends. I would say that Juan was the last Basque sheepherder that lived in a traditional Basque boardinghouse in America. Most of them, nowadays, have closed down or refurbished as public restaurants and do not offer rooms.

Amerikanuak-715544182-large

amerikanuak (teaser english)

This media has become a new cultural interface between two worlds—the world of the emigrants and their descendants, the Basque-America, and the world of their ancestors in the European homeland. For many in the Basque Country this is the first encounter with Basques abroad. The three documentaries are interlinked brief journeys through various Basque communities in America that reflect their rise and fall within the context of a migrant culture portrayed as endangered. The short documentaries explore Basque heritage in America, which is clearly and painfully fading away with the vanishing of the immigrant generation. Their homes in the Old Country are figments of their childhood and youth memories, while their present lifestyle and sheepherding culture in America cannot keep from disappearing. The image of Juan looking through the window of his room at the Star Hotel is a powerful metaphor of the life of many migrants that left the Basque Country to live the American dream in the hills of the American West and encounter many hardships, loneliness and despair…

If you have watched any of the documentaries, particularly if this is the first time that you have learned about Basques in America, please share your thoughts with us.

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