Pedro J. Oiarzabal, a researcher on Migration and Diaspora Studies at the Pedro Arrupe Human Rights Institute (University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain) and the Jon Bilbao Research Fellow at the Center for Basque Studies is visiting us in order to continue with his innovative and daring research project: Memoria Bizia (Living Memory). The Basque Diaspora Living Heritage Project 2014-16. United States and Canada. We had the opportunity to talk to him during his brief stay in Reno.

Can you tell us what the goal of the project is?

Memoria Bizia aims at collecting, preserving, and disseminating the history of migration and exile through the personal oral testimonies of elderly Basque men and women residing in the United States and Canada. In fact, this community, the Basque communities across the U.S. and Canada, become active protagonists instead of being research “subjects.”

In a sense, this research, if not unique, at least departs from the typical academic study, would you say?

In this project, the researcher becomes just the conduit of the social community-based network that we are creating. The project’s main idea is to build an intergenerational and sustainable bridge within the different Basque communities to save the living memory of their elders. In this regard, Memoria Bizia seeks to empower local Basque individuals, communities, and their associations to be active participants in their own history. It is a different way of generating information and knowledge, while fostering values such as ownership.

How do you intend to accomplish it?

From the very beginning, the community has taken part in the design and implementation of the project, with the North American Basque Organizations (NABO) being the main force behind Memoria Bizia. For years, we have talked about the need to carry out interviews with the last Basque migrant generation. Fortunately, last year, four organizations—NABO, the Basque Government, the Etxepare Basque Institute, and the University of Deusto—understood the importance of recording those testimonies and got together to fund this project. In addition, I have designed specific training workshops to teach individuals how to conduct and process oral history interviews. In a way, the interviewer and the interviewee are coauthors and co-owners of the resulting testimony.

What do you intend to do with the oral history interviews?

Both the interviewer and interviewee are constructing narratives by weaving an intertwined living memory tapestry, resulting in an unprecedented database open to everyone who wishes to explore and analyze the history of immigration and settlement through Basque eyes. This digital database will constitute a living treasure for future generations to come. Consequently, we have established three official repositories for the long-term preservation of the audio/video recordings: the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, Boise, and the University of Deusto Library. Our goal is to establish more archives to store hard copies of the recordings in the near future.

This idea of an open network goes beyond Basque America, right?

Correct, not only Basque communities but also different institutions, such as the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal (Quebec), the Great Basin College, Elko, the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program at the Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, and New York University have seen the urgent need for such research and have enthusiastically joined this open network. We are extremely fortunate to have them as partners and grateful for their unconditional support.

What has been the response from the local communities?

It has been phenomenal! So far, local interviewing teams, made up of numerous trained volunteers, have been set up in different locations, including Montreal and Toronto in Canada, and New York, Chino, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Elko, Ontario (Oregon), Boise, and Reno in the U.S. And also there are associated projects in Miami, Bishop, and Northwest Mojave (California). This constitutes the largest ever ensemble community-based network with the goal of collecting and preserving the oral history of Basques in the United States and Canada in a systematic and standardized way. We are also in the process of identifying potential interviewees, while we have begun interviewing some of those already identified.

What next? If a person wants to join the project, what does he/she need to do?

The project is eager to geographically span areas such as Fresno, Los Banos, Susanville, Gardnerville-Minden, Utah, and Wyoming in the United States, and British Columbia in Canada. At the same time, we need to reinforce the existing teams with new volunteers, particularly young members of the Basque communities. We are also seeking new partners to sponsor new initiatives across the country. Consequently, anyone interested in participating in the project, as an interviewer or an interviewee, or anyone wanting to establish an interviewing team in their local area or wanting to join an existing one, please contact Kate Camino at info@nabasque.org