Tag Archives: migration

#EuskalWest2012

  • Menéame0

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.

CBS

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.

NABO

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.

SF

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.

on the road

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.

Boise

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

Reno

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).

Elko1

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

  • Menéame0

“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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