Tag Archives: Basque-America

This is not the Basque Country

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”

                                                                 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (The Communist Manifesto, 1848)

Between July 28 and August 2, 2015, the city of Boise (Idaho, United States) will held one of the largest Basque cultural festivals outside the Basque Country, Euskal Herria. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people will attend Jaialdi. This is the story of homeland visitors and alike encountering their fellow people of the diaspora, perhaps, for the first time in their lives. It would be an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of “home” and “homeland” for diasporans’ identity as well as notions of “authenticity” and “cultural (re)production”. Where is the Basque Country in the imagery of those who left their land of origin? Where is “home” for Basque Americans? How the homeland imagines the expatriates as part of their “imagined community”?

jaialdi_postcardHomeland visitors coming to Boise should, if I may, prepare themselves to embrace the many different expressions of Basque identity and culture that will encounter, which may depart from pre-conceived ideas of what Basque culture and identity are as produced at home. Paraphrasing the friendly summer reminder for tourists, posted through many towns across the region, “You are neither in Spain nor in France. You are in the Basque Country,” please remember “Basque America is not the Basque Country” or is it? What do you think?

Athletic Club Bilbao vs Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente | Boise Basques | Oinkari Basque Dancers | Biotzetik Basque Choir | Euzkaldunak | Basque Museum and Cultural Center Exhibits | Basque Studies Symposium | Memoria Bizia Meeting | NABO Convention | Ahizpak Designs | Amuma Says No | Gayaldi Boise Edition | The Basque Market | Bar Gernika | Leku Ona | Boiseko Ikastola

For more information, please read “The Open Circle” (at “Diaspora Bizia,” EuskalKultura.com).

Creative_Commons


 

Yes!

“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.

Creative_Commons


 

#EuskalWest2012

I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was—I was far away from home…”

Jack Kerouac (“On the Road”, Part 1, Chapter 3, 1957)

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One summer evening at dusk (Las Vegas, Nevada).

Upon arriving in Reno, Nevada, the memories I thought were gone for good came back quickly…the silhouettes of the mountains, the city lights, the fragrant smell of the sagebrush, and the name of the streets revealed themselves like invisible ink on a white canvas. Time did not temper the sentiments, and past stories did not diminish in size. It is always good to come back, even if it is impossible to return to the point where I left off.

Ainara Puerta, my colleague, and I embarked on a month-and-a-half-long field trip to conduct oral history interviews with Basque emigrants across the American West as part of a larger project called BizkaiLab, which is the result of an agreement between the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and the University of Deusto. The Center for Basque Studies in Reno became our base camp.

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The Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The aim of the project was (and still is) to preserve the rich migrant past of the Basque people for future generations by gathering information from the people who actually migrated and from those who had returned. Their stories travel landscapes of near and distant memories, between then and now, between an old home and a new home, and are invaluable for understanding our past and our present as a common people dispersed throughout the world.

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The Star Hotel, Basque boardinghouse established in 1910 in Elko, Nevada.

Understanding the relevance of preserving the life histories of the oldest members of the different Basque communities in America, the North American Basque Organizations, the Center for Basque Studies, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, and the University of Deusto came together to organize, in a very short period of time, an oral history workshop to train community members in the interviewing process. This, we believe, is a way forward to empower the communities to regain ownership of their local histories as told by those who lived through the migration and resettlement processes.

Workshop

The Oral History Workshop on Basque immigrants in the U.S. took place at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center (Boise, Idaho). Participants from left to right, Patty A. Miller, Teresa Yragui, Grace Mainvil, Gloria Lejardi, Gina Gridley, Goisalde Jausoro, David Lachiondo, and Izaskun Kortazar.

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The North American Basque Organizations Board of Directors. From left to right: Marisa Espinal (Secretary), Valerie (Etcharren) Arrechea (President), Mary Gaztambide (Vice-president), and Grace Mainvil (Treasurer).

Similarly, the road led us to the Basque Cultural Center where we met the members of the Basque Educational Organization; great friends. Their constant work has turned into successful cultural projects in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the book, “Gardeners of Identity”, which I was honored to author.

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The Board of Directors of the Basque Educational Organization at the Basque Cultural Center (South San Francisco, California). From left to right, standing: Ainara Puerta, Marisa Espinal, Aña Iriartborde, Yvonne Hauscarriague, Esther Bidaurreta, Nicole Sorhondo, and Pedro J. Oiarzabal. From left to right, kneeling down: Franxoa Bidaurreta, Mari-José Durquet (guest), and Philippe Acheritogaray. (Photograph courtesy of Philippe Acheritogaray)

By the time our trip was coming to an end we had driven over 4,000 miles (approximately 6.600 kilometers) through the states of California, Idaho, and Nevada in less than thirty days. We gathered over 21 hours of interviews with Basques from Boise, Elko, Henderson, Las Vegas, Reno, and Winnemucca. We conducted ethnographic work in the Basque festivals of Boise, Elko, Reno, and Gardnerville; took hundreds of photographs; attended community meetings; and met with several Basque associations and individuals.

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On the road, Highway 50, “The Loneliest Road in America.”

Since the last time I was in the country many dear friends—some of whom had been key players in their Basque-American communities for decades—had sadly passed away. And yet, I found some comfort when witnessing a new generation of Basques, born in the United States, coming forward to maintain and promote our common heritage. This, in turn, will revitalize the Basque life and social fabric of their communities and institutions.

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Oinkari Basque Dancers at the San Inazio Festival (Boise, Idaho).

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Zazpiak Bat Reno Basque Club dancers preparing for the Basque festival in Elko, Nevada.

Throughout our road trip, we also perceived how some rural towns—once lively hubs filled with Basque social activities—now painfully languished, while others were certainly flourishing. It is a mixed sensation, a bitter-sweet feeling that comes to mind when I reflect back on the “health” of our Basque America. Are we writing the last chapters of the Basque culture book in the U.S.? I do not believe so or, at least, I do not want to believe it. I am not sure whether the answer to this question is based on evidence or just wishful thinking. Like many other things in life only time will tell.

Winnemucca

The Winnemucca Hotel, one of the oldest Basque boardinghouses in the American West, established in 1863 (Winnemucca, Nevada).

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The handball court in Elko, Nevada. A commemorative plaque for the mural reads as follows: “Ama, aita, euzkaldunak, inoiz ez dugu ahaztuko’…mother, father, Basques everywhere, we shall not forget! Our roots run deep.

Thank you all for your love, hospitality and support. Special thanks to those who opened their homes and lives by sharing their memories, some filled with hardships and struggles as well as with hopes and dreams. Indeed, our Basque roots run deep in the American West, and we barely scratched the surface.

Eskerrik asko eta ikusi arte…

On a personal note, “Basque Identity 2.0finally met “A Basque in Boise.”

Henar_Pedro

With Henar Chico in the “City of Trees.” (Photograph courtesy of Henar Chico)

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

Creative_Commons


 

Encounters

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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Handik-Hona: 1959-2009

Este primer fin de semana de Junio marca el cincuenta aniversario del Western Basque Festival, considerado el primer festival vasco sino a nivel nacional al menos a nivel regional en la historia de Estados Unidos. El festival se celebró en la localidad de Sparks del estado de Nevada y atrajo a miles de vascos (y vascas) esparcidos por todo el territorio. Marcó un antes y un después. El éxito de dicho festival revitalizó a las diferentes comunidades vascas del Oeste Americano, plantando una semilla que continua fructificando, sin ninguna duda, hasta el día de hoy. Este resurgimiento por el interés de la identidad y de la cultura no se limitó a la población vasca sino que se extendió al resto de grupos, particularmente de origen europeo. Estos movimientos identitarios buscaban una cierta autenticidad perdida en el pasado y reclamaban por primera vez la identidad de sus antepasados como la suya propia. El modelo de asimilación de emigrantes impulsado por el gobierno americano había fracasado. Se abrieron las puertas al multiculturalismo y se favorecieron políticas que promovían hasta cierto punto las distintas culturas y lenguas de los llamados grupos “étnicos” del país. Se fomento la identidad compuesta (por ejemplo, la identidad vasco-americana) como la nueva forma de ser americano. Asociaciones vascas se multiplicaron a raíz del éxito de aquel “laboratorio” identitario que fue Sparks. Hoy en día, la Federación de Organizaciones Vasco-Americanas (NABO) no solamente integra a casi cuarenta asociaciones vascas de Estados Unidos, sino también a las canadienses de Quebec y Vancouver, siendo la primera federación vasca de este tipo a nivel mundial de carácter transfronterizo.

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Durante los días 24, 25 y 26 de Julio, la localidad limítrofe con Sparks, Reno (cuna del Centro y Biblioteca de Estudios Vascos, el Consorcio de Estudios Universitarios en el Extranjero, USAC, la Serie del Libro Vasco de la Universidad de Nevada, el grupo de danzas Zenbat Gara, y la asociación Zazpiak Bat) será testigo una vez más de una de las mayores concentraciones de vascas (y vascos) en la historia de Estados Unidos, con el objetivo de conmemorar el cincuenta aniversario de aquella euskal jaia de Sparks, con la mente puesta en las próximas generaciones y en la responsabilidad de continuar renovando la cultura vasca en el país norte americano. Es la gran cita vasca del año en Estados Unidos. En un mundo altamente globalizado, donde impera la noticia triste, gris y apocalíptica sobre el futuro inmediato de nuestras economías y sociedades, es realmente agradable comprobar que lo local y lo minorizado son valores en alza, aunque éstos no se coticen precisamente en Wall Street. No hay apenas distancia física entre las ciudades de Sparks y Reno, sin embargo ha transcurrido medio siglo de grandes esfuerzos, sacrificios, y también de satisfacciones entre ambos eventos. La comunidad vasca en América se encuentra en constante reflexión sobre la forma de afrontar el futuro de su identidad vasca, el mantenimiento de sus tradiciones, y sobre todo la recuperación y fortalecimiento del euskera, especialmente entre los más jóvenes. Reno es cita inigualable en el ámbito cultural de la Euskal Herria exterior. Durante los días 24, 25 y 26 de Julio Reno va a ser la capital de la cultura vasca. No se pierdan esta gran oportunidad y disfruten de este fenomenal aniversario.

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