“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”?
Homeland 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Winnemucca Hotel, one of the oldest Basque boardinghouses in the American West, established in 1863 (Winnemucca, Nevada).
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.
In the context of understanding the many processes that take part in the creation and development of the Basque identity (or Basque identities) this blog has attempted to understand and explain it from different perspectives. This has taken us to comprehend identity as a true glocal and multidimensional phenomenon. The Basque Country and its diaspora (or diasporas) are envisioned as a spatial and time continuum at the crossroads of tradition and modernity.
Like a puzzle, Basque Identity 2.0 has put together different stories to draw an image of past and present aspects of our culture and traditions, while arguing about the meaning of authenticity, the reproduction of our identity, and the preservation of our common homeland and diaspora history (“The Basque global time,” April post). In this regard, I explored the implication of Basque cuisine in Barcelona, Catalonia as an “appropriation” of the “Basqueness trademark” or “Euskadi made in” label (“Euskal Barcelona,” February post), the endurance of Basque traditional dance in San Francisco, California (“Zazpiak Bat,” June post), and the redefined symbol of Basque music as a representation of our identity globally (“i-bai musika,” December post).
Most of these stories echoed the voices of many Basques around the globe, which sometimes are intertwined with my own life story as reflected, for instance, in the January (“Extraño”—“Singular”), July (“Cartografía de emociones”—“Cartography of emotions”), September and October posts. In a sense, I described the diaspora as a psychological and emotional community, which is increasingly connected to the homeland as an attempt to break up all geographical and temporal barriers (“Connected,” March post).
During the past year, I have tried to bring attention to our exiles as exemplified by the breathtaking story of “La Travesía del Montserrat” (“The Crossing,” August post) as well as our returnees, whom somehow have become “the forgotten Basques” of our contemporary history. In “Entre culturas” (“Between cultures,” May post) I talked about the returnees’ positive role that may play as “cultural brokers” between the society at large and the new migrants in the Basque Country.
Finally, in the aftermath of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 (“¿Dónde estabas el 11 de Septiembre?”—“Where were you on September 11th?” September post), ETA declared the end of the violent episode in its history (“Trust,” October post), while the Basque government called upon the Basque institutional diaspora to promote a peaceful image abroad (“2003, 2011,” November post). This post became the most commented and visited in the history of the blog, which tells us about the significance of homeland politics in the Basque diaspora. However, the diaspora is far from being a homogeneous and united entity. It is as ideologically plural as the Basque society itself, whose collective and historical memory plays a crucial role for its survival.
Thank you all for being there. I would love to hear from you. Happy New Year!
Eskerrik asko eta Urte berri on!
(NOTE: Please feel free to use Google automatic translation service…and good luck with it).