Tag Archives: Basque Museum and Cultural Center

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).

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#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)

Nevada

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.

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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]

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The Digital Basque Diaspora in Boise, Idaho…

By the early 1990s, the Internet became generally available to the public, and in 1994 the first Basque website, http://www.buber.net, was created in the diaspora by Blas Uberuaga who grew up in the Basque community of Boise, Idaho. In the homeland, for instance, the Basque Autonomous Community government established its first website in October 1996.

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In 1997 the Basque club or euskal elkartea from Seattle, Washington, U.S., became the first Basque diaspora club ever to construct an online presence.  Seattle was soon followed by other clubs such as the Utah Basque Club from Salt Lake City, and the North American Basque Organizations (NABO) in 1998. In 1999, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center of Boise also established its own website. It became the first online representative of the Basque community of Boise.

Nearly 90% of the institutional websites (i.e., official sites of diaspora institutions) that comprise the Basque digital diaspora had been established in the new millennium. As of March 2009, the diaspora had formed 211 associations throughout twenty-four countries, of which 135 (or nearly 64%) had a presence in cyberspace in twenty countries (or over 83% of the total).

Basque community associations in Boise also became active and joined the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in cyberspace, while multiplying their online presence by combining different online platforms including blogs, websites, and social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter. This trend demonstrates a powerful potential for Basque diaspora expression online.

The Basque diaspora is utilizing the Web as a twenty-four-hour easy to use and inexpensive platform to communicate, interact, maintain identity, create and recreate social ties and networks to both their homelands and co-diaspora communities regardless of geographical distance and time zones due to the low cost, effectiveness, and speed of the Internet. Basque diaspora web sites, blogs and social network sites are platforms for communication, social interaction, and representation.

The majority of the Basque diaspora webmasters in the U.S. and throughout the world argue that the Internet has the potential to maintain Basque identity abroad in terms of information, interaction, and communication, while reconnecting individuals with their collective identity and with a larger global Basque community—homeland and diaspora.

In your opinion, what impact do the Internet and social network sites such as Facebook have on strengthening and maintaining Basque identity in the diaspora?

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The Basque Global Block

Algunos expertos en temas de migración consideran que los símbolos son los últimos vestigios de la identidad de aquellos emigrantes completamente asimilados a sus países de acogida. Es lo que se entiende por “identidad simbólica”, la cual es definida como una forma de expresar la identidad heredada de padres y abuelos, y que es instrumentalizada con el objetivo de evitar cualquier conflicto con las formas de vida de la sociedad en la que hijos y nietos han crecido. Una identidad simbólica que se manifiesta de forma concreta en festivales, desfiles, deportes, juegos, bailes, o en muestras culinarias.

Sin ninguna duda, los símbolos ayudan a muchos individuos de la diáspora vasca a externalizar públicamente tanto su identidad colectiva vasca como las manifestaciones culturales de dicha identidad. En sí, macro-festivales vascos como el Jaialdi de la ciudad de Boise del Estado norteamericano de Idaho, y que se está celebrando estos días, son una expresión tangible de identidad y de reafirmación cultural en un ámbito público ajeno a lo vasco. De hecho, en toda la diáspora vasca que abarca más de una veintena de países son muy pocas las comunidades que a día de hoy han podido articular y gestionar un espacio público propio. La falta de nuevas oleadas de emigrantes, el envejecimiento progresivo de la generación emigrante, su dispersión geográfica, y la regeneración urbana que han experimentado muchas ciudades han evitado que perdurasen en el tiempo algunos espacios que en su día fueron verdaderos barrios vascos, como el de Broadway de San Francisco o el de Ezeiza en Buenos Aires.

Si existe algún lugar en los Estados Unidos donde los vascos como comunidad han construido  su propio espacio público es sin ninguna duda el llamado “Basque Block” de Boise. Un lugar conformado por un museo (Basque Museum and Cultural Center), dos antiguas pensiones—hoy en día ambas destinadas a relatar la historia de las comunidades emigrantes vascas y su posterior asentamiento—dos restaurantes (el Leku Ona y el Gernika Bar), una tienda (The Basque Market), un frontón, y el edificio de la asociación vasca (Euzkaldunak). Es un paisaje urbano ampliamente saturado por símbolos vascos y del cual el visitante puede difícilmente abstraerse.

Boise July2004 (1)

(Basque Block Mural, Julio 2004. Foto de Pedro J. Oiarzabal)

En el propio “Basque Block” un mural aúna la historia de la comunidad vasca en el Estado de Idaho y su devenir en el tiempo. El mural, diseñado por Bill Hueg en el año 2000 a petición del Museo Vasco de Boise, es un extraordinario ejemplo del poder de los símbolos como aglutinadores de la identidad colectiva y del sentir de una comunidad. De izquierda a derecha, el mural hace referencia a los viajes de Cristóbal Colón y a la participación de generaciones de vascos en el “descubrimiento”, conquista y colonización de las Américas; aparece un baserri en lo alto de una colina verde; un fragmento del Guernica de Pablo Picasso—un alto porcentaje de la comunidad vasca de Idaho procede de Bizkaia-; el Árbol de Gernika; la pensión de Uberuaga/Aguirre, establecida en 1903 en Boise; el retrato de Juanita Uberuaga Hormaechea, una de las pioneras en la enseñanza de bailes vascos en la década de 1940; el grupo de danza vasca Oinkari y que este año cumple su 50 aniversario; la Catedral Católica de St. John de Boise; un retrato de Jim Jausoro, acordeonista del grupo Oinkari desde 1947 hasta su fallecimiento en 2005; un hombre levantado una piedra cuadrangular en referencia a los deportes rurales vascos; y finalmente, como no podría ser de otra manera, se hace referencia a un campamento de pastores de ovejas, la principal ocupación de los emigrantes vascos en el Oeste Americano durante más de un siglo.

Tanto el “Basque Block” como el Jaialdi de Boise son considerados verdaderos éxitos a emular por comunidades vascas tanto de dentro como de fuera de Estados Unidos. En un contexto en el que la emigración vasca tuvo su punto final hace más de tres o cuatro décadas, ¿cuáles serían las estrategias más adecuadas que las instituciones de la diáspora vasca deberían de llevar a cabo para hacer frente al futuro más inmediato? Y en cuanto a lo que se denomina “identidad simbólica”, ¿hasta qué punto las propias comunidades de la diáspora se aferran a los símbolos como recursos para impulsar y promocionar sus propias identidades colectivas?

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