Month: March 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Tales from Basques in the United States: Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the Woman Sheepherder

Welcome to another post about the (sometimes extraordinary) lives of ordinary Basques who came to the United States in search of a new and hopefully better life. These are all stories adapted from our 2-volume work, Basques in the United States, with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, and with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more.

Today we’re going to recall the remarkable life of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, who we honor as a pioneering woman sheepherder (adapted from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States).


Juanita Mendiola Gabiola. A true pioneer.

Born Jun. 24 1901 on the Ziortza-Beitze baserri (farmstead) in Ziortza-Bolibar, Bizkaia, as a child Juanita Mendiola Gabiola went to live on the Karrietorre baserri in Markina. She married Cipriano Barrutia (b. 1891) of the Patrokua baserri in Xemein, Bizkaia–who had first emigrated to the US in 1911–in 1921 and that same year they traveled across the Atlantic to start their new life together. They arrived in Mountain Home, Idaho and she worked alongside her husband, for the Gandiaga Sheep Company, in the desert and the mountains herding sheep and cooking. Although the majority of sheepherders’ wives stayed in town while their menfolk were up in the mountains, Juanita wanted to accompany her partner and husband. Her first month in Idaho she spent on horseback, trailing sheep, and spending nights in a sleeping bag under the stars. Her first home was a sheepherder’s tent, and this lifestyle lasted six years. Indeed, the couple’s successful partnership meant that in 1927 Cipriano was able to launch his own business, the Yuba Sheep Company.

Gus Bundy.

Women were no strangers to life in the sheep camps. Photo by Gus Bundy. Photo from Jon Bilbao Basque Library Archive.

Juanita adjusted well to the new and very different lifestyle in the desert, where she gave birth to their 5 children (although 2 died at birth). Ralph was born in 1929, John in 1931, and Richard or “Dick” in 1935. When the 3 children came of school age, they rented a house in Mountain Home and she stayed in town with them. The couple established a ranch, where they spent summers and a lot of the year with the sheep, and Juanita acquired US citizenship in 1938. When it came to life outside work, she used to visit the Bengoechea Hotel in Mountain Home to socialize with other Basque women. Cipriano died in 1966 and Juanita continued on, active as always, and competing in several contests for seniors. At age 92 she participated in the Third Age Olympic Games in Boise, Idaho and won several races. In 2001 she was still living alone on her ranch, caring for animals, and was very interested in politics and the Church. She died a centenarian on Oct. 1, 2001.

We intend for this work to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

Basque terroir: The red onions of Zalla

This time around in our series on Basque terroir, I’d like to thank María José Cortés Lamas for her article, “What Makes the Basque Violet Onion so Awesome?” which serves as the inspiration behind this latest post. I was aware of the fact that Zalla, a town in the Enkarterri/Encartaciones region of Bizkaia some fifteen miles west of Bilbao, is a producer of Bizkaiko txakolina wine, but I knew nothing of its renowned red onions.

Minolta DSC

Sliced red onion, one of nature’s great joys. Photo by Agon S. Buchholz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Onions, of course, are one of the most ubiquitous vegetables in the world, coming in all sizes, shapes, and colors. The onion is most frequently a biennial or a perennial plant, but is usually treated as an annual and harvested in its first growing season. Red onions in particular are high in flavonoids.

The red (or purple or violet, depending on your point of view) onions of Zalla are especially mild and sweet. As noted in the abovementioned article, for star Basque chef Eneko Atxa, of Azurmendi restaurant fame, they can be the key element to producing the classic red Bizkaian sauce (bizkaitar saltsa/salsa vizcaína). And, of course, as is only right and fitting, the Enkarterri Fest food festival, held each fall, gives pride of place to the red onions of Zalla.


Cod Bizkaian Style in the characteristic red sauce. Photo by Tamorlan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A quick note on Bizkaian sauce: According to Hasier Etxeberria, author of On Basque Cooking (free to download here), “This particular kind of sauce is equally suitable for meat or fish. In ancient times, this was our most exported recipe: the vizcaína or Bizkaian.” He goes on to discuss this sauce and offers a detailed recipe (pp. 63-65).


We’ve been up and we’ve been down …

J. J. Altube.

J. J. Altube. One from the archive 🙂 

Hello and happy post Easter to all of our readers. Some of you may have encountered some technical difficulties getting to our posts lately. We are trying to work with the University IT Department to resolve any issues, and we will very soon, but please be patient with us and check back!!! We love bringing you news and stories from the Center, the press, and Basque culture in general, so we will continue to work to resolve the issues.

If you try to access our blog and it is down, I would really appreciate it if you would let us know! Either my personal email,, or the general Center email would work, or just leave a comment when it’s back up and running! We have readers all over the world, so it would be really helpful to know the what, when and how of the errors that have been happening.

Hopefully this issue will be over soon and we’ll just get back to sharing.

Prominent American Women of Basque Descent: Nina Garbiras

Born in 1964 in New York City of Basque descent, actress, singer, and businesswoman Nina Garbiras has enjoyed an eclectic career.


Nina Garbiras

Garbiras grew up in both New York and northern California, majoring in psychology at the University of Santa Clara. She later studied dramatic art at the L’Ecole de Claude Mathieu in Paris, France, where she also appeared in several small theater productions. She then moved to London, acting in fringe theater roles, before returning to the US.

She is perhaps best known for her TV work, especially in the role of Alexandra Brill in Fox Television’s series The Street (2000), Beth Greenway in the Showtime series Leap Years (2001), and Andrea Little in NBC/DreamWorks’ Boomtown (2002). But she has also appeared in a variety of movies such as the short French-language Swiss film Fin de Siècle (1998), You Can Count on Me, with Matthew Broderick (2000),  Bruiser (2000), and The Nanny Diaries, with Scarlett Johansson and Alicia Keys (2007).

In recent years, Garbiras has become a successful businesswoman. She runs FIG, a boutique and design firm described by Christopher Bollen of V Magazine as “The perfect mix of Evelyn Waugh gone rock and roll and staying up late.” According to the company website, “FIG began on New York’s Lower East side as a richly curated gallery with a blend of vintage European pieces that spanned several centuries (18th century to 1960’s). Inside the studio was an eclectic mix of French gilt mirrors, English leather sofas, early-Italian oil paintings, Turkish rugs, Chinese art deco and refined American Industrial design. In addition to its historic pieces, FIG also carried contemporary photography along with lush textiles and one-of-a-kind antique jewelry. The modern-day atelier was an ever-shifting emporium that reflected a contemporary aesthetic with a soulful collection.”


March 22, 1960: Death of Jose Antonio Agirre

On March 22, 1960, the lehendakari or president of the Basque Country, Jose Antonio Agirre (also spelled Aguirre), died in exile in Paris at the age of fifty-six.


Lehendakari Jose Antonio Agirre Lekube. Photo by Jesus Elosegi Irazusta, March 27, 1939, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Agirre had been–and remains to this day–arguably the most charismatic and certainly one of the key figures in twentieth-century Basque political history. Born in Bilbao in 1904, he studied law at the University of Deusto and later went to work for the family firm (a chocolate making company). At age twenty-seven he was elected mayor of Getxo, Bizkaia, for the Basque Nationalist Party and in October 1936–the Spanish Civil War already having broken out the previous July–he was chosen to become the first lehendakari. He then presided over a Basque government that had to deal with the trauma of war and its consequences, including the bombing of Durango and Gernika, the flight of thousands of people into exile, and ultimately defeat at the hands of Franco’s forces.

Fleeing himself following the fall of Bilbao in June 1937–in a remarkable journey worthy of a Hollywood movie (on which see his own gripping account in Escape via Berlin: Eluding Franco in Hitler’s Europe)–Agirre and his family traversed Europe and Latin America before settling in the United States in 1941, from where he initially led the Basque government-in-exile and helped create a pro-Allied Basque network during World War II in the hope of gaining US support for overthrowing the Franco regime. He later relocated to Paris, from where, in the 1950s during the new context of the Cold War in which the US began to support Franco’s Spain, he pursued a new pan-European federalist policy. Throughout his political career, he was characterized for his statesmanship and was eulogized by even the staunchest of opponents. Agirre died in Paris and was buried in the cemetery of Donibane Lohitzune, Lapurdi, on March 27, 1960.

In Expelled from the Motherland: The Government of Jose Antonio Agirre in Exile, 1937-1960, Xabier Irujo charts Agirre’s political career after the fall of Bilbao.  As Irujo notes (see chapter 13), prominent figures attended the funeral Mass in Paris on March 26, including representatives of the Basque, Catalan, and Spanish Republic’s governments-in-exile, major figures from French politics (including government ministers), and the ambassadors of Chile and Venezuela. Moreover, not only did thousands of people attend the burial in Donibane Lohitzune (despite severe border restrictions being imposed by the Spanish police), but memorial services were held for him throughout practically all the Basque communities of the Americas and Australia.


Today, a statue of Agirre stands in the heart of Bilbao. Photo by Fernandopascullo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Agirre is also a central figure in Joseba Zulaika’s That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City. In Zulaika’s words (p. 43):

“He is already in his casket, but you can go see him,” they told François Mauriac, the French Nobel Prize winner, in late March, 1960. Mauriac could utter only “broken words” in the presence of his friend Aguirre’s corpse. Later he wrote, “The casket has a crystal peephole at the face’s level. What a vision! . . . In this face, as if eaten away from inside, I cannot recognize the noble and frank face of Don José Antonio de Aguirre. . . . Who could have been the victim of a more unjust destiny than he?” Mauriac saw in Aguirre’s face the horror that had destroyed its nobility, that still haunts his legacy—the bitter truth of the century. He wrote, “With the liberation [of Europe from fascism], José Antonio de Aguirre drank the chalice to the last dregs, when he understood that Franco would be respected and the apparent victory of the democracies covered up, concealed, at the very heart of the West, another very hidden victory: the one of the professional armies and policemen.” Disguised as “free” and “democratic,” or as “socialist,” the cold warriors, led by Churchill, Truman, and Stalin, remained in charge, plotting the next Hiroshimas—only now with hydrogen bombs, thousands of times deadlier than the atomic ones. Mauriac observed in Aguirre the face of the century’s unfinished agenda.

Meanwhile, Agirre’s death also had important consequences, as noted by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006 (p. 340n13):

The death of the Basque president in exile, Aguirre, in Iparralde in 1960, marked an important symbolic moment for the gestation of nationalism in Iparralde. Around five thousand people attended his funeral, and his death seemed to mark a critical juncture for many individuals in Iparralde in their own shift toward more avowedly Basque nationalist positions.

Today, the Agirre Lehendakaria Center for Social and Political Studies, a collaborative project involving the UPV-EHU (University of the Basque Country), Columbia University in New York (The Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity – AC4), Seton Hall University, and George Mason University (School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution – SCAR), is named in his honor.

And finally, a quick reminder that the Center is hosting the first part of a major international conference on the life and times of Agirre, starting this weekend, as reported in a post from earlier on this week (click here for more information).

Tales from Basques in the United States: Basque Logic

Today in our look at the sketches of individual Basque lives portrayed in the mammoth 2-volume work, Basques in the United States, we take a lighthearted look at Basque logic, as expressed in the following two charming anecdotes adapted from volume 1:


The machines of Basque sheepherding. From the Jon Bilbao Basque Library archive.

The first of these is about Simón Cruz Nachiondo Achaval, born July 16, 1882, in Ispaster, Bizkaia. He arrived in New York City on Feb. 26, 1899. and went to Boise. His reference was Domingo Bengoa in Rye Patch, Nevada. In 1918 he was an independent herder in Moore, Idaho. In 1927, while in Boise, our man was involved in an accident: he was kicked by a horse. Not missing a beat, he went to the insurance company to claim compensation. The answers provided to the insurance agent by our man were deemed worthy of publication in the local press, which assured that “accidents can happen even to the most careful person.” These were the technical explanations: Q: What machine were you working with when you were injured? A: With a horse. Q: What is the power of this machine? A: One horse. Q: Please, describe the nature of the injury. A: I worked behind the said machine when it decided to extend its hind leg toward me in the horizontal direction. (Ogden Standard-Examiner, Nov. 10, 1927; Oregonian, Nov. 13, 1927).



Orange County Sheriff’s deputies dumping illegal alcohol, 1932. Orange County Archives. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The second story concerns Peter Astuy, born in Bermeo, Bizkaia, on Oct. 7, 1902. While he was managing a lounge in Monterey, California in 1932, he was prosecuted for selling liquor to Prohibition agents. However, he claimed that the agents did not pay him, therefore he was freed with no charge! (San Diego Evening Tribune, 1932-03-05).

We intend for this work to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

The terroir that creates Txakoli


As I was wandering through my Facebook, I came across a post by Mikel Garaizabal, enologist at Mendraka Winery.  For anyone that knows me, I’m a little obsessed with Basque wine–in particular, Txakolina.  Although I have not visited the Basque Country in over 10 years, and what I did see of it was only San Sebastian, I hope to visit these fields during my upcoming trip there this summer. This video covers the grape varietals used in producing Txakoli, and even goes into detail to describe the terroir with picturesque views with the ocean in the background, the cycles according to season, and the green hills on which these vines thrive.  Take a look below and check out the Bizkaia Denominacion de Origenes.


Groundbreaking Cross-Border Agreement Foments Trilingual Education in the Two Navarres

On March 15, the Navarrese government’s Department of Education approved a groundbreaking scheme to pool public school resources in the neighboring towns of Luzaide (Valcarlos in Spanish), Hegoalde, and Arnegi (Arnéguy in French) in Iparralde, during the 2016-2017 school year.

This plan has been on the table since since September 2015 and responds not only to educational, cultural, and linguistic demands, but also to a demographic deficit in this rural mountain area. Barely two miles separate the towns and next fall, if fully approved by all interested parties, there will be a regular exchange of pupils between its two public school systems.


This new educational initiative seeks to encourage cultural and linguistic exchanges of all colors. Photo by Onderwijsgek. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

According to the draft agreement, preschoolers from both towns will attend the public school in Luzaide every morning and study primarily in Basque. Then on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, the same joint groups will attend school in Arnegi and study primarily in French. Meanwhile, elementary school students from Luzaide will study French in the public school in Arnegi on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons.

As well as being a necessary educational initiative, it is also hoped that joint schooling will help social ties between Luzaide and Arnegi, as well as fomenting the trilingual nature of this particular geographical area straddling the “two” Navarres, and serving as the basis for the future development of the area.

While the plan has still not be officially rubber-stamped by the respective authorities on both sides of the border, all relevant parties (including parents) have expressed their approval, and it is just a matter of time before it this becomes a reality. In many ways, then, this little (and often overlooked) rural corner of the Basque Country will be at the vanguard of multi-lingual and multicultural education at a European and even global level.

See a report on the scheme at the Noticias de Navarra site (in Spanish) here and at Mediabask (in French) here.

Equality, Equity, and Diversity: Educational Solutions in the Basque Country, edited by Alfonso Unceta and Concepción Medrano, is a collection of different articles on various aspects of the Basque educational system, with a special emphasis on efforts to emphasize equality in the classroom and the challenges faced by a multilingual society.

William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies hosts start of major International Congress on Jose Antonio Agirre

Agirre Congress

On the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of Lehendakari (Basque president)Jose Antonio Agirre’s passing through Berlin on his odyssey to flee fascism in Europe,  the Center is proud to announce its participation in a major new congress on his legacy that starts here this weekend.  This is the first step in a three-part congress, “The International Legacy of Lehendakari Jose Antonio Agirre’s Government,” running through March and June, to be held successively at UNR, Humboldt University in Berlin, and Columbia University in New York.

The congress has been jointly organized by the Center and the Etxepare Basque Institute, with the help and participation of  the Agirre Lehendakaria Center for Social and Political Studies and the Basque Government’s General Secretariat for Foreign Affairs, with the collaboration of the Mikel Laboa Chair at the University of the Basque Country.

The Center will host the first part of the congress, March 26-28, which will focus on the international contribution of Agirre, with talks by faculty members Xabier Irujo, Joseba Zulaika, and Sandra Ott, together with visiting guest speakers Ángel Viñas (Complutense University, Madrid) and Julián Casanova (University of Zaragoza). Details of the Reno gathering are as follows:

March 26, Sparks Heritage Museum, 2 pm: Xabier Irujo, “The Bombing of Gernika.”

March 28, Basque Conference Room, 305, third floor, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 4 pm: Ángel Viñas, “The English Gold: British Payment of Multi-million Pound Bribes to Franco’s Top Generals.”

March 28, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 5 pm: Julián Casanova, “Francoist repression.”

March 29, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 4 pm: Joseba Zulaika, “From Gernika to Bilbao.”

March 29, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 5 pm: Sandra Ott, “Occupation of Iparralde (1940-1944).”

Then on June 1, Humboldt University in Berlin will host the second installment, addressing the exile of Agirre and other Basques as well as the formation of a united Europe, with talks by Paul Preston (London School of Economics), Carlos Collado Seidel (Phillips University Marburg), Joan Villarroya (University of Barcelona), the writer and journalist Nicholas Rankin, historian Hilari Raguer i Suñer, and Xabier Irujo.

Finally, on June 9 Columbia University will host the third and final part of the Congress, with talks by former lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe, Ludger Mees, Mari Jose Olaziregi, Jose Ramon Bengoetxea, Izaro Arroita, and Amaia Agirre of the University of the Basque Country, as well as Leyre Arrieta of the University of Deusto.

Besides the academic gathering, the Basque Club or Euskal Etxea of Berlin will also organize a program of cultural events through May and June to commemorate Agirre’s legacy. Titled “Agirre in Berlín 1941-2016. Das Baskenland mitten in Europa” (Agirre in Berlin 1941-2016: The Basque Country in the heart of Europe), this program will pay specific attention to the effects of the civil war and Basque exile from different artistic perspectives, including publications, lectures, concerts, and other diverse events.

See the full program of the Agirre Congress here.

March 18, 1795: French Revolutionary proclamation in Basque

On March 18, 1795 (28 Ventôse, year III in the Republican calendar), the French Revolutionary “people’s representative” or envoy to the High and Low Pyrenees, (Jean-François) Auguste Izoard (1765-1840), issued a declaration. Tellingly, the declaration was published jointly in French and Basque.


Freedom, Equality. In the Name of the French Republic: The people’s representative sent to the two départements in the mountains of the High and Low Pyrenees

This proclamation is particularly interesting because it indicates a backtracking of sorts, on the part of the Revolutionary authorities, when it comes to Basques who had fled from Iparralde to Hegoalde (on this, and particularly the internment and deportation of thousands of Basques, see our March 3 post here). Previously, under the infamous “Reign of Terror,” many Basques had suffered persecution, for their religious beliefs, for speaking their language, and for refusing to fight in France’s Revolutionary Wars.

By the spring of 1795, however, Izoard’s declaration would indicate a relaxing of attitudes (to some extent at least). The text refers to numerous inhabitants of Uztaritze (Lapurdi) who had fled to Hegoalde in the wake of the Terror and internment. It suggests that they may not be aware of a new amnesty-like law that would allow them to return unpunished. In Izoard’s words:

The inhabitants, all Basques, driven into the interior of Spain, deprived of all relations with their relatives and friends, all speaking a particular language, unaware of either the French language or the Spanish language, cannot, or only with great difficulty, manage to understand the beneficent decrees of the National Convention

The proclamation goes on to extend the amnesty period, and underscores the fact that:

The present decree shall be translated into the Basque language, read, and published wherever it should be necessary.

Quite apart from the general importance of the document as regards the history of the Basque Country during the French Revolution–for example, to see how the language attitudes expressed here contradict, to some extent, previous Revolutionary notions, see our previous post in this respect here–the fact that the declaration was published in Basque would appear to reveal that, not only was it widely spoken at the time, but that it was also a literary language for a literate people. The French Revolutionary authorities had to publish in Basque, a language they were not especially interested in and even hostile toward, to get their message across.

On the Basque experience during the French Revolution, check out The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006, by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga. See, also, Hills of Conflict: Basque Nationalism in France, by James E. Jacob.

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