Basque migration to the Americas has been widely documented. From the 15-16th century Spanish colonial pursuits to the 20th century Franco dictatorship, Basques left the home country in great numbers to escape economic hardships and political turbulence in search of a better life. In the United States, the image of the lonely Basque sheepherder has become an important figure in the iconography of the American West, and Basque bars, restaurants, and cultural centers continue to thrive as descendants of the once ubiquitous Basque boarding houses.
Women, however, are conspicuously missing from the grand narratives of Basque migration, Ph.D. student Edurne Arostegui argued at her lecture at the CBS Seminar Series. “We need to make an effort to bring female immigrant experiences out of the shadows.” Even canonical works of Basque migration suffer from this lacuna, Edurne argued, while women came in great numbers, and worked just as hard as any man: they were sheepherders, boarding house managers, cooks, translators, housewives, bar tenders, and waitresses, etc. “Basque women immigrants are not given due credit as long as they are featured as mere appendices to their husbands who came to this country with no agency of their own. They did have their own dreams and aspirations about their new lives, and worked very hard for them.” Furthermore, the lecture featured pioneering women who affected gender breakthroughs by taking up traditionally masculine jobs like sheepherding or becoming pivotal figures, as leaders, in their communities. “We need to reach out to these women before their stories get lost,” Edurne concluded.