Category: Amerikanuak (page 1 of 4)

Basque traditional musical instrument in the US: Interview with alboka player Joe Memeo

“As soon as I heard about the alboka I became interested in it, and have been learning and researching the instrument and its history ever since.”

Interview with alboka player Joe Memeo by Xavier Irujo.

The alboka is a traditional Basque musical instrument. Its sound is similar to the pipe, and it is also played using circular breathing, that is, the alboka player does not take a break from blowing into the instrument, and inhales while simultaneously exhaling when a breath is needed. This creates continuous, uninterrupted sound.

 

      

Joe is probably one of the very few alboka players in the U.S. and the sole manufacturer of albokas in the country. He has played the alboka for several years now and has participated in events and festivals over the last year with the Elko dance group Ardi Baltza.

How did you get immersed in the Basque culture?

I was able to get involved through my wife, Kiaya Memeo. She grew up within the local Basque community and spent many years Basque dancing and participating in the local festivals. About six years ago she started her own Basque cultural group in the Elko community called Ardi Baltza. Throughout the years I have become more and more involved with the group. I have enjoyed traveling and serving as an Ardi Baltza ambassador to other clubs, such as the Basque Club in Lima, Peru. In addition to this I have also had the opportunity to work with Anamarie and Mikel Lopategui at Ogi, the Basque Pintxo Bar in Elko. I have been able to meet wonderful people all over the US, Basque Country and South America and have been exposed to many facets of this wonderful culture.

How did you become interested in the alboka?

What first attracted me to the alboka was the uniqueness of the instrument. It is unique in almost every aspect: the sound, the build, the playing style, and the limited scale. There is a good metaphor applied to the alboka by Alan Griffin that highlights this: The alboka is like a hedgehog. It is small, spiky, and low on fancy and finesse, but full of individuality. As soon as I heard the alboka I became interested and have been learning and researching the instrument and its history ever since.

How did you learn to play it and, especially, how did you learn to manufacture them?

I bought my first alboka which was made by the incredibly talented alboka luthier Jose Osses and started to learn to play it. I am self-taught by researching music and watching videos of others playing the instrument to learn techniques. Mostly it was a lot of very loud practice (which my wife can attest to) and trying different methods to determine what works and what doesn’t. One of the difficulties was there are only a couple of people in the US that play the alboka, so there were no local resources. There are a few people in Argentina that actively play the alboka that I was able to connect with and they were very helpful with any questions that I had.

Learning to make them started out of necessity. Because the main sources for replacement reeds and expertise for the alboka is in the Basque Country. It took a long time and was expensive to get anything to the US. I was able to get information on the construction of the instrument and purchased the required equipment. One of the appeals of the alboka is its simplicity and simple construction materials. All the parts are made of wood and the horn is a steer horn. Once constructed, the instrument is sealed with bee’s wax. This meant that I can make every part of the alboka by hand. Recently I have been trying out different designs and tunings for the new albokas I have been making.

Besides the instrument itself, I also make and have available accessories and learning aids for the alboka. One of the learning aids I have made is the “Circular Breathing Aid”. The alboka is played using circular breathing (this is where the player does not take a break from blowing into the instrument and inhales while simultaneously exhaling when a breath is needed, this creates a continuous, uninterrupted sound). This can be a very difficult technique to master. The tool I have created mimics the mouthpiece of the alboka and lets the player practice circular breathing while adjusting the air resistance depending on the player’s skill. If you are like me and live with (or around) other people, the most important aspect of this tool is that it is silent and can be used for practice anywhere.

For how long have you participated in cultural events, concerts or celebrations with the alboka?

I have been playing the alboka for several years now but have only been participating in events and festivals over the last year. I have been participating and playing with Ardi Baltza in local festivals and most recently the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko that featured many Basque performers. In the coming year I plan to travel with Ardi Baltza to events and gatherings across the US and to have a booth at many more events with informational material and albokas for sale.

What is the response of the American public to this unique Basque instrument?

The response from Americans has been great. The alboka has not had a lot a representation in the US, so people have been very excited to see it growing, but for a lot of people it is still very new. There has also been a lot of interest in this instrument in the US outside of the Basque communities. Quite a few of the albokas I have made went to people that do not have big ties to Basque communities.  I think this shows the wider appeal and appreciation of the alboka.

My goal is to be a resource for individuals and clubs that are interested in learning to play the instrument or that just want to know more about it. My hope is to connect everybody who is interested in the alboka and to spread knowledge about it as much as I can. I have also started the website Albokak.com (https://www.albokak.com) that has many links to good information and learning material on the internet, as well as all the albokas and accessories I have available.

 

 

Gramera Berria

Euskal Erria publishing house in Montevideo, Uruguay, will soon release a new critical edition of Gramera Berria, edited by Alberto Angulo, Jon Ander Ramos, and Óscar Álvarez from the University of the Basque Country, along with Miren Itziar Enecoiz from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada. This book was originally published in 1860 to help Basque migrants in Río de la Plata (Argentina and Uruguay) learn Spanish.

Gramera Berria, which had two editions, has some peculiar characteristics that make it extremely interesting. On the one hand, its publication is directly linked to emigration, since it was published in Buenos Aires; but above all – although the second point – because it is a manual for learning languages, but as opposed to the present, so that Basque speakers would learn Spanish, not vice versa! The subtitle—Gramera Berria ikasteko eskualdunec mintzatzen espanoles—that is, New grammar to teach the Basques to speak Spanish, makes its aim clear.

It was intended for emigrants, especially from Iparralde, who came to Argentina or Uruguay and needed to learn the Castilian language. The book is basically what we would call today a “conversation guide,” where you can find lists of words – grouped by subject – and useful phrases, such as: I am hungry, how much does this cost, etc … The edition, as far as we know, was paid for by one of the agencies in charge of taking Basque emigrants to Buenos Aires.

The William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies 50th Anniversary

Photo credit: Josu Zubizarreta

During the darkest days, when we were denied our language, our culture and our identity, we were consoled by the knowledge that an American university in Nevada had lit one small candle in the night.

-Lehendakari Jose Antonio Ardanza, March 1988

Photo Credit: Iñaki Arrieta-Baro

Last week, on November 8, the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies celebrated its 50th anniversary with CBS faculty, students, and staff as well as countless members of the Basque community and supporters of the Center. Held at the Jon Bilbao Basque Library, the space was packed quickly. There was food and drink and a wonderful atmosphere. People reconnected with old friends and new ones at the lively event. Here’s some background on the CBS ‘s History and Mission:

History

Originally called the Basque Studies Program, the Center was created in 1967 as part of the Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada, Reno. At that time, the DRI was creating new programs to reach various aspects of the Great Basin’s inhabitants and history. The idea for studying the Basques was proposed since Basque-Americans have long formed a prominent minortiy in the region and have contributed a great deal to its development. Bill Douglass served as the Program’s director from 1967-1999, when he retired to become Professor Emeritus in Basque Studies. The Basque Studies Program was renamed the Center for Basque Studies as a result of a program review conducted in 1999.

CBS Mission

The primary mission of the CBS is to conceive, facilitate, conduct, and disseminate the results of interdisciplinary research on the Basques to a local, regional, national, and internation audience, and by extension to draw attention to the human experience of small ethnic groups. The Center seeks to maintain excellence in all its endeavors and to achieve its goals through high quality research, publications, conferences, active involvement in scholarly networks throughout the world, as well as through service and teaching.

Channel 2 News was present and recorded a short news video on the event, available online. In it, they interview Xabier Irujo, the CBS director, and Dr. Sandy Ott, one of our professors. The video definitely captures the mood of the event.

Photo Credit: Iñaki Arrieta-Baro

President Johnson of UNR was given the word first, and he spoke of the history of the CBS and its impact on the UNR campus. He has taken a few trips to the Basque Country with the advisory council and genuinely enjoys our culture! Next up came William A. Douglass, our namesake and one of the founders of the CBS, as well as a pioneering researcher on Basques in the U.S. Douglass reflected on the center’s history and his own place within it. Dr. Irujo then spoke about both the CBS and Basque Studies in a global context, providing jokes and anecdotes. We were then honored by Jesus Goñi’s bertsoak celebrating the Center’s place in Basque history.

Photo Credit: Iñaki Arrieta-Baro

Photo Credit: Gemma Martín Valdanzo

Overall, it was a great event that gathered so many voices from the Basque community and academia. To 50 more years of the CBS!

 

 

 

 

 

Grad Student News: Ziortza Gandarias Beldarrain

Ziortza Gandarias Beldarrain arrived from Galdakao (Bizkaia) in January from her fieldwork abroad and is in her last year of the Ph.D. program. She is currently writing her dissertation, focused on the analysis of the Basque cultural magazine Euzko-Gogoa, the emblematic leader of the press in the Basque language. As a student, she has presented her papers at numerous conferences in the US and Europe throughout the years and presented this November on a panel for the Western Society for French History’s 45th Annual Conference.

The panel, entitled “Nazism, Neo-Nazism, and Exile in the French Basque Country,” was chaired by Robin Walz from the University of Alaska Southeast, with comments provided by our own Joseba Zulaika. First off, Aurélie Arcocha-Scarcia from the University of Bordeaux spoke of Jon Mirande’s “poetic imaginary and the origins of his neo-Nazism.” Next, Mari Jose Olaziregi from the University of the Basque Country presented “The Nazis, a Contested Site of Memory in 21st century Basque Fiction.” Ziortza finished off the panel with her presentation on Eresoinka, the Basque dance, art, and music group formed in 1937. For Lehendakari Aguirre, it was a cultural embassy to share Basque culture throughout Europe. Ziortza’s presentation was entitled “A Basque Cultural Embassy in France: Exile as a Fantasy Space” and it definitely brought another side of exile into the picture.

Ziortza also presented at our own CBS Multidisciplinary Seminar Series in October. In this case, she gave us a look into one of her dissertation chapters, “Transoceanic-Will.” During the lecture, Ziortza focused on the transatlantic history of Euzko-Gogoa, and how the magazine itself could be considered a symbol of transnationalism. Her work on Basque diasporic identity helps us to understand the common history and collective memory of the Basques as presented in Euzko-Gogoa, and its lasting impression in the world of Euskara, elevating the language to what we understand it as today.

We look forward to Ziortza’s dissertation, which she is studiously and laboriously working on. Zorte on!

Grad Student News: Amaia Iraizoz

This year, Amaia Iraizoz has been writing her dissertation, which she will defend this December. She has also participated in several conferences. In March 2017, she attended the Southern American Studies Association’s biennial conference Migrations and Circulations in Williamsburg, Virginia. There, she presented the paper “Bringing Modernity to the Homeland: The Hybridization Process in Aezkoa Valley’s Socioeconomic Practices.” That same month, she participated in the Northern Nevada Diversity Summit, presenting a paper on a Basque studies panel.

As we come close to saying goodbye to Amaia, we leave you, our loyal readers, with her own words on her research. Amaia’s impressive work has been possible thanks to the Campos family generous funding. Eskerrik asko, Amaia, Tony, eta Juliet!

I was born and raised in Aritzu, a small rural town in northern Navarre. My family household’s history and personal experiences of migration led me to apply to the Ph.D. program in Basque Studies here at UNR, an institution that is pivotal in the study of Basque migration. I am part of the 5th generation of my household to come to the Americas, and because of this longstanding trajectory of migration, I came with a clear intention of what to study: the influences of migration in my homeland, a topic in Basque migration literature which had yet to be studied.

I was raised listening to the stories of my ancestors’ migratory experiences: uncles, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and so on. My family spread throughout the Americas, from Cuba to Argentina, Mexico and in-between.  Many of them ended up returning to their native household after long periods overseas. Therefore, I turned my focus to the influences of these departures, the prolonged absences of family members and their eventual return, along with the effects these situations had on local rural communities.

Emigration, characterized by transnational encounters and interactions between different cultures and practices, has produced both changes in destination societies as well as in the homeland. My dissertation addresses the influences that these transnational encounters produced in Navarre, concretely in Aezkoa Valley and the surrounding areas. In this context, both emigration and return changed the everyday lives of the people in these rural communities. In that regard, new social realities emerged as a consequence of both emigrants and returnees. The society in the northern Navarrese valleys had to confront new problems, for example the adaptation to the relative’s absences and returns, which not only affected the social relationships inside households but also these communities as a whole.

This research also highlights the relationships among the returnees and the development and modernization of the area. The economic circumstances before mass migration, as well as what happened when those emigrants returned to their hometowns provides a context for the study. I analyze the ideas that they brought from the Americas and how these in turn influenced the economy of their hometowns, through the projects they carried out, such as renovating and improving infrastructure such as transportation (roads, etc.), education (schools), and industrializing the area by creating business that brought wealth to the inhabitants of the area. Returnees should no longer be seen as failed migrants but instead as leading figures of the revitalization and transformation of their rural birthplaces, as pioneers in the industrialization and modernization of Navarre.

None of my research would have been possible without the generous donation to the Center for Basque Studies by Tony and Juliet Campos, establishing a graduate student assistantship for the study of Navarrese migration. I want to give special thanks to them for making this project possible, not only academically, but also by giving me the chance to experience the absence and separation from my family and hometown, which drew me closer to the experiences that many of these emigrants and my relatives faced and lived through.

Esker mile aunitz Tony eta Juliet!

Flashback Monday: Ellis Island’s 125th anniversary

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the opening of Ellis Island, which closed 63 years ago on Sunday. Over 12 million immigrants passed through its doors for inspection before entering the United States, and Basques were no exception. From February to May 2010, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum held an exhibition on the Basques, entitled “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques.” Here’s an excerpt from the website, with photos from the exhibit:

“Hidden in Plain Sight” was an interactive exhibit that presented opportunities for all ages to discover the unique origins, language, and history of the Basque people; the factors that pulled them away from their homes; the legendary tales of colorful immigrants; Basque contributions in the United States and the world; and the unprecedented cultural connection with their homeland.

Basques have rarely been recognized for their historic contributions or cultural distinctiveness. Similarly, as they passed through Ellis Island, their nationality, names, and heritage were often disregarded by otherwise well-meaning officials. In many cases they were simply listed as Spanish or French.

Today, even though Basque politicians, scientists, sports figures, business executives, artists, and movie stars may be prominent throughout the US and in many nations around the world, they are still often overlooked as being Basque, perpetuating them being “Hidden in Plain Sight.”

This exhibition was organized by the only museum in the United States devoted to preserving Basque culture and history, The Basque Museum & Cultural Center, in conjunction with and supported by the Basque Autonomous Government.

“Hidden in Plain Sight” opened on February 6 with a special ceremony in the Great Hall at Ellis Island with performances by the Biotzetik Basque Choir, the Oinkari Basque Dancers, and soloist Amaia Arberas. The ribbon cutting was performed by Patricia Lachiondo, President of the Basque Museum & Cultural Center and Guillermo Echenique, General Secretary of Foreign Action of the Basque Government. Performances by the Biotzetik Basque Choir followed. The Oinkari Basque Dancers also performed at Liberty Island later in the afternoon.

Looking at Ellis Island from an international perspective, the New York Times recently profiled it in its Daily Briefing, with links to articles:

Back Story

Ellis Island, the gateway to the U.S. for more than 12 million immigrants, is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its opening this year. Sunday marks the day it closed in 1954.

Many Americans are descended from immigrants who passed through Ellis Island in a wave of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Upon arrival by ship, steerage passengers were transported to the island for inspections. (First- and second-class passengers skipped that step.)

Those found to have serious contagious illnesses or deemed unemployable could face deportation.

Nearly 70 percent of arrivals didn’t speak a word of English, but language was never an issue, said Doug Treem, a National Park Service Ranger.

Interpreters translated scores of languages — they were required to speak at least four each, other than English. Many were immigrants or children of immigrants.

“I doubt if anyone working as a translator at the U.N. right now could have gotten a job at Ellis Island,” said Mr. Treem.

One translator, the child of European immigrants and a veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, worked in Italian, German, Yiddish and Croatian, while attending law school at night. That was Fiorello LaGuardia, who went on to be a three-term mayor of New York City.

I’m guessing language was an issue for Basques, for I wonder if any inspectors spoke Euskara! What we do know is what awaited these migrants once they were in New York City.  As Douglass and Bilbao note in Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World:

Elderly Basques residing the American West today still retain vivid memories, spanning more than half a century in some cases, of getting off the boat in New York City filled with trepidation, only to hear the welcome words, “Euskaldunak emen badira?” (“Are there Basques here”). pg. 374.

These words often came from Valentín Aguirre’s agents at the Casa Vizcaina, a hotel and travel agency of sorts for Basques in New York. Aguirre sent employees to meet every ship that arrived from Europe. Once the Basque immigrants met up with these agents, they were taken to the hotel where they were welcomed with familiar food in their native Euskara environment. Some may have even played a few games of pelota at the hotel’s fronton. Aguirre would help them reunite with family or find employment in the West. He would purchase their tickets and give them instructions for their second journey across the States, at many times pinning their names and tickets onto their lapels so that they would safely arrive at their destinations.

Although there are many stories of Ellis Island, the horrible conditions and foreign-ness of the place, it was the port of entry for many of our relatives here in the West. With its 125th anniversary, we remember the long journeys our ancestors took to find their new place in the United States. “Euskaldunak emen badira?” Yes, we are here and will remain.

 

“Bringing Women out of the Shadows”

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.

 

Frank Bergon: Adventures of a Basque American Novelist

The Center for Basque Studies Multidisciplinary Fall Seminar Series has begun with a bang. We had the pleasure of having the acclaimed novelist and professor Frank Bergon give our inaugural lecture, held on September 20 in the beautiful Leonard Room at UNR’s Knowledge Center. There was a terrific audience, much bigger than we would have ever expected, and Bergon’s presentation inspired us all in different ways.

After an introduction by Professor Zulaika and myself, Bergon talked us through his research for his novels, weaving in his own personal narrative. A native of Ely, Nevada, who then grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Bergon’s maternal grandparents were from Bizkaia, while his paternal ones from Bearn. He describes himself, above all, as a Westerner, although his work has explored the presence of Basques in the West.

His lecture was beautifully combined with photographs of his family and the many places he has traveled to for research and writing. Along the way, he spoke of the many Basque characters in his work, as well as the way he finds inspiration for future novels from past characters he has created. He is now working on non-fiction by describing “America’s True West. For Bergon, Western history and literature is not myth vs. reality: it is the complicated lives of people that go beyond stereotypes, from the Marlboro Man to the small rancher.

The audience was attentive to his talk, especially due to his gift of storytelling and charismatic nature. For me personally, having the chance to meet one of my literary heroes was an experience I will never forget. He inspired me to think about new angles and perspectives of the West, as well as helping me to reflect on the writing process. Eskerrik asko, Frank Bergon, and we truly thank you for your participation and warm spirit.

Ahaztu Barik: Remembering Basque Ancestors

By Marsha Hunter

In 1997, Liz Hardesty began a three-year project to identify about 120 Basques that rest without grave markers in the St. John’s Section at Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise, Idaho.  Dorothy Bicandi Aldecoa generously provided the funds to install markers for those who Liz and her team identified. In addition, Mrs. Aldecoa provided a plaque to honor those Basques known to be buried at Morris Hill, but who didn’t have specific burial plot information. The monument bears the names of those not yet located, with the statement: “You are not forgotten.”  Twenty years later, Basques in Boise, such as Meggan Laxalt Mackey continue the quest with Ahaztu Barik, Phase Three of the Hardesty-Aldecoa project.  Ahaztu Barik promotes the lives and memories of those Basques whose burial sites are confirmed, with more detailed information, which may include Basque Country birthplaces, parents, death dates, causes of death in America, and plot locations.

Basque eguzkilore symbols marked the gravesites of 59 persons confirmed by the Ahaztu Barik project.

According to Meggan, we have now confirmed 59 Basque burial sites, marked and verified. There are still another 60+ whose burial locations have not been found and there are little to no records on these people. However, we did find four persons who were originally identified as Basque but were not – they were mostly from Italy or Mexico. This information will be accessible soon on a special webpage that will be linked to the Boise Basque Museum’s new website. Meggan hopes that their work will encourage other western communities with Basque populations to do the same.

A memorial ceremony was held earlier this summer. Here are a few photos from the event. Keep up the good work!

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, Basque Government director of Communities Abroad Gorka Aramburu, Aita (Father) Antton Egiguren, and the Ahaztu Barik team (Celeste Landa, Meggan Laxalt, and John Ysursa) remember Basque ancestors at the St. John’s section at Morris Hill Cemetery July 28, 2017.

Ahaztu Barik burials will be accessed online through a dedicated website at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center for searches by name, burial plot, and death date, which prompts the viewer to gain more information if it was confirmed (birth date, birthplace, parent names, cause of death).

Boise’s Biotzetik Basque Choir sang for the memorial ceremony at the Morris Hill Cemetery.

Information provided by Meggan Laxalt Mackey.

This ancestral project is sponsored by the Basque Government, Office for the Basque Community Abroad; Boise State University’s Basque Global Collaborative; and the Basque Museum & Cultural Center.

 

 

  

Reno Zazpiak Bat Basque Club’s Fall Picnic

It is always a pleasure to attend any of the Zazpiak Bat Reno Basque Club events, and the Fall picnic was no exception. A few of us from the CBS and Jon Bilbao Library had a great time, not only eating (this is a Basque event after all), but meeting new people, playing mus, and dancing.

The picnic was held on Sunday, September 17 at the Rancho San Rafael. The weather was fantastic, and we all had a few drinks and chatted before the lunch was served. It was a relaxing afternoon of food, drinks, and of course, friends. While children played, the adults took the time to catch up with old friends and new.

The BBQ menu consisted of Basque beans, veggies, salad, bread, cheese, and wine, with the main course of BBQ lamb. The brownies served for dessert completed a perfect meal. Of course, there was a bar with beers and cocktails, including, of course, Picon Punch and Kalimotxo!

 

While the adults played mus, many of the girls danced. Overall, it was a great time spent among lagunak and familia! Till next year!

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