Category: Basque Americans (page 1 of 10)

Reno Zazpiak Bat 50th Annual Basque Festival

This past weekend was the Reno Zazpiak Bat’s 50th Annual Basque Festival and it was packed with activities and Basque spirit. My weekend actually kicked off in Sparks, at the Thursday Night Marketplace event, which collaborated with Zazpiak Bat to have a Basque theme. Besides the farmer’s market, there was dancing by the Zazpiak Bat Basque Dancers and the public. Later in the evening, Errebal, a music group from the Basque Country, had their first performance. It was a great way to start the weekend!

Dancing in Sparks

Errebal

The official schedule of events began on Friday at the Santa Fe, with the President’s Dinner and subsequent performance by Errebal. After plentiful dining alongside merry Basques, Julen from Errebal helped us learn the different steps to euskal dantza. You could tell who had experience and who didn’t, although we all had fun! To end the night, Mercedes Mendive played the accordion accompanied by much dancing.

Aita Antton

Basque Mass

Winnemucca Dancers

Saturday’s events were held at Wingfield Park, by the Truckee river in Downtown Reno. Bright and early, Apaiza Aita Antton gave the mass. After a welcoming from the President of Zazpiak Bat, Joe Leonis, the Winnemucca Dancers performed, and it’s always a pleasure watching them. Throughout the day, there were different herri kirolak demonstrations, including harrijasotzaileak (weight lifters), aizkolariak (woodchoppers), and Txingas, a competition that was open to the public. There was dancing at all times, and of course, I can’t forget the food and drink. Accompanied by the warm weather, the festivities in the park made the day fly by.

 

But that wasn’t all. Saturday evening, Errebal had their final performance at Louis’ Basque Corner. It was packed! People danced, drank, and were merry! Overall, it was a great weekend and I can’t wait till next year!

Highlights from the 54th National Basque Festival

Just in case anyone out there hasn’t seen this, we’re posting this charming video showcasing the music and dance of the 54th National Basque Festival that took place recently, June 30-July 2, in Elko. As you’ll see, a good time was evidently had by all!

The Martin Hotel in Winnemucca

Somebody recently mentioned to me that the Martin in Winnemucca is one of the oldest restaurants in Nevada, so I decided to look into it. In fact, according to http://www.onlyinyourstate.com, the Martin is the oldest in the state, opening in 1898. As they put it:

The Martin was established as a rooming house for area cattle ranchers in 1898. Today this beloved family-style Basque restaurant continues to draw travelers and townfolk alike. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here’s a bit of the restaurant’s history, according to the Martin Hotel’s website:

A lithograph dated 1881 shows a residence on this property.  Sometime between 1898 and 1908 Alfonso Pasquale opened the Roman Tavern and Restaurant here.  In 1913 Augustine A. Martin and Elisee Henri Martin, both of France, acquired this building and the business was named The Martin Hotel.  In 1920, after a fire, the building was reconstructed with twenty-five rooms.

Rene Martin, Augustine and Elisee’s son, wrote in 1980, “My parents catered to the sheepmen and cattlemen.  Although they were not Basque, the sheepherders and stockmen  made the Martin their home when in town.  It was not unusual for a herder to come in from this long stay with the sheep, be paid off in full for his work and give the entire sum over to my father.  The herder would then stay at the hotel, eat in the restaurant, play cards, visit with friends and drink in the bar.  My father, keeping the account, would advance him pocket money when asked for and when the sheepherder’s money started to run out, father would tell them so and help them line up a new job.  Then off the sheepherder would go for another long stint with the sheep.”

During prohibition, the hotel and restaurant downstairs prospered while a speakeasy thrived in what is now the attic.  The story is told that when the revenuers found the whiskey, they dumped it all down Melarkey Street and people turned out with cups to sample it as it flowed by.

The Martin Hotel continued as a restaurant after Augustine Martin died.  It was owned and managed by Basque families stretching into the 1970’s; Yruetas, Bengoa, Bilboa, and Sil and Rosie Uriguen.

The Martin Hotel today is a internationally known Basque and American family style restaurant, still home to stockmen as well as a wonderful cross section of people from Winnemucca and around the world…and as always , “where friends gather”.

Now my point isn’t to make you hungry. Ever since moving to Reno, I have been struck by how so many people know about the Basques and frequent their establishments. Having grown up in California, I constantly had to explain my name, origin, etc. Here, everyone knows about Basques, loves picon punch, and has an opinion. When I visited Winnemucca for the Basque festival a few weeks ago, I was impressed by how many people from the greater community were part of the fun. So, besides recommending you to visit the Martin, this post is dedicated to the strength of Basque culture in Nevada!

Ogden’s Royal Hotel

The Basque Librarian recently shared an article with me about a unique hotel in Ogden (Utah), “Royal Hotel Served Basques and African Americans,” by Miriam B. Murphy. Published in the History Blazer in October 1996, it sheds light on the Basque community in Ogden and compelled me to look into it. I was surprised to find that the Royal Hotel is not mentioned in William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao’s Amerikanuak, Jeronima Echeverria’s Home Away from Home, or even Nancy Zubiri’s A Travel Guide to Basque America! However, all three books do mention the particular situation of Ogden in the Basque experience of the American West.

Douglass and Bilbao do refer to two hotels in the town, one French-Basque and the other Vizcayan. Ogden stands out as a site of transit for many Basques traveling West. It was there that “many Vizcayans changed to the spur line that curved northward into southern Idaho. Others continued on to northern and western Nevada and San Francisco” (373). The two hotels served these Basque migrants on their journeys and were centers of Basque community. According to Echeverria, “These Ogden ostatuak also became popular stopover spots for vacationing Great Basin Basques, places for local and regional Basque ranchers and sheepmen to conduct business, and the scene where young couples gathered with their families to conduct marriage ceremonies and the festivities afterward, as well as spend their honeymoon” (162). However, besides these remarks, Echeverria concludes that “No further information could be gleaned on these establishments” (162). It’s a good thing Murphy brought the Royal Hotel’s story to light!

Lastly, Zubiri mentions an amusing anecdote about the Basque community in Utah

…isolated within the vast Mormon population, the pockets of Basques in Ogden, in southeast Utah, and later in the Salt Lake City area developed almost unbeknownst to one another. When the current Basque club, based in Salt Lake City, filed its application with the state for incorporation in 1973, the group was surprised to learn that a Utah Basque club had previously existed in Ogden. “Nobody alive knew anything about it,” said Mary Gaztambide–not even the oldest Basques in the community. Her husband Jean kept a copy of the incorporation application of the earlier group, which had been filed in 1914! (465)

So without further ado, here’s the article from the Utah Division of State History’s website:

Hotel Served Basques and African Americans

ROYAL HOTEL SERVED BASQUES AND AFRICAN AMERICANS 
Miriam B. Murphy
History Blazer, October 1996

Built in 1914 at 2522 Wall Avenue, Ogden, the Royal Hotel has filled a unique role in the city’s history. A modest three-story masonry building, the hotel originally provided housing for blue collar railroad workers and travelers. Shops, cafes, and offices filled the front spaces of the street floor, and modestly priced hotel rooms on the second and third floors accommodated the needs of local working men and minorities. The original owners were John H. Maitia and John Etcheverry. In 1935 Sam Maruri, a hotel tenant, acquired the Royal. He and his family, immigrants from Spain, catered to fellow Basques who worked for the sheep industry locally. For many years both the wool clip and lambs were shipped by wool buyers and meat packing houses from Ogden by rail.

After the Royal’s construction in 1914 the area around Union Station became a center
of commerce, entertainment, and lodging into the 1960s. Several other hotels were constructed around the same time, including the Healy and New Brigham hotels on Wall Avenue and the Marion, Windsor, and Helena hotels on 25th Street.

Directly behind the Royal Hotel a comparably sized brick structure was built sometime between 1920 and 1930. Its main purpose was for the playing of jai-alai, a very fast court game for two to four players who use a long basket strapped to the wrist to propel a ball against a wall. The Basque immigrants no doubt saw this game as an important part of their heritage. This building is the only known structure in the state built especially for jai-alai and one of few that embodies the culture of the state’s small Basque population. In the early 1940s large trucks took over the transportation of sheep, bypassing the Union Station area, and the hotel’s association with Basques came to an end.

On May 5, 1943, the Royal Hotel was sold to Leager V. Davis, an Ogden woman originally from Louisiana. She and her husband, Alonzo, wanted a place to accommodate members of the local African American community, primarily the porters and waiters working for the railroads. At that time there were few places where they could stay in Ogden because of segregation and the lack of equal housing opportunities. Other than the Porters and Waiters Club, the Royal was the only hotel designated for the black community. During World War II a basement room in the hotel served as an office for African American MPs.

Leager Davis was very active in Ogden’s black community. During her ownership of the Royal she served on the Board of Directors of the YWCA and the Comprehensive Health Planning Commission and as head of the governor’s Anti-Discrimination Board.

She was also active in the Ogden Chapter of the NAACP, the United Fund, the League of Women Voters, and the Democratic Women’s Club. The Royal Hotel hosted the meetings of many of these community organizations. The NAACP named an achievement award in Davis’s honor. She died in 1973.

The Royal Hotel was recently rehabilitated by Kier Corporation, and the jai-alai building now serves as a parking area for apartment tenants. The Royal is part of the Lower 25th Street Historic District and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Source: Nomination Form, Lower 25th Street Historic District, National Register files, Preservation Office, Utah Division of State History.

Although I couldn’t pinpoint any information on John H. Maitia and John Etcheverry, Sam Maruri does appear in Basques in the United States.  Originally from Amoroto (Bizkaia), he was born on February 6, 1894, and arrived in the US in 1912, at the tender age of 18. He initially went to Boise and married Josefa Osa, from Mutriku, and together they had three children. By 1917, he had moved to Utah to work as a miner, but this was short lived since, by 1920,  he was managing the hotel. As the article states, he bought the Royal in 1935 and ran it until 1940. He died in Ogden in 1974, having received citizenship in 1925.

Lastly, in an interesting turn of events, the Royal Hotel now provides low-income housing for the Ogden community. Read more at: http://fox13now.com/2015/10/25/historic-hotel-turned-housing-for-low-income-residents-in-ogden-gets-new-name-and-new-look/

Harri mutil, an elephant, and “that was good sheep country”

This past spring your Basque Books Editor had the chance to climb Elephant Mountain, in the far northwestern corner of the Black Rock Wilderness Area, about 7 hours north of Reno by car. This wild and remote mountain, really just a foothill outcropping of the larger Black Rock Range, gets its name from its appearance, of being a elephant charging up the desert. Growing up in this corner of Northern Nevada I spent many days dreaming about that mountain, which in addition to it’s distinctive, imagination-shaping form also served as the edge of the horizon, so, as it were for a young boy riding a horse, it was the very edge of the world.

Elephant Mountain, seen from Leonard Creek Road near the intersection with Pearl Camp Road in northern Nevada

But it wasn’t until a recent weekend that I had the chance to actually scramble up it. On a overcast day we drove south and climbed up along one of its ears. We stopped for lunch in the saddle where ear turns into head and then continued upward. It was a short, steep climb until nearing the top it rounded out and the vast expanse of desert and mountain range after mountain range opened up before us. Loving to explore in the desert moutains, the expanse did not surprise me, but the presence of what was most likely a harri mutil (“stone boy”) did. On the crest, looking generally northward toward the Pine Forest Mountains and eastward toward the Jackson Mountains, and with the full sweep of the desert at its feet, was a large stone marker or, according to Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe in Speaking through Aspens, a “sheepherder’s monument.” These large stone cairns were made by the sheepherders to demarcate ranges, but may have had other uses as well.

The stone marker, looking west toward the Black Rock Mountains proper

The hiking crew, celebrating from where we have come and where we are going!

It was such a pleasure to find this marker, here at the edge of what was once my world, showing what went beyond. I recently had the opportunity to make an oral history interview with Frank Bidart (only 94 years young!) who also grew up in this area when they still ran sheep, and he had told me about trailing sheep down across the desert “almost to Lovelock” in the winter. They would have trailed them just below, maybe across, where I stood. “That was good sheep country,” he had said. Maybe he had climbed here and added his own stones to this harri mutil; maybe he had, as a young man, dreamed about what went beyond it.

Elephants in the Casino: John Ascuaga’s Nugget

For those of you in the Reno area, you should check out the Special Collections exhibit “Elephants in the Casino: John Ascuaga’s Nugget” on the third floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, open until July 28. As they put it:

Explore the history and legacy of John Ascuaga’s Nugget through the decades. View the Nugget’s transformation beginning with Dick Graves’ modest 1955 Sparks coffee shop, to the expanded casino-resort built and run by Ascuaga and his family for more than 50 years. The exhibit highlight materials from the newly available John Ascuaga’s Nugget Records.

 

John Ascuaga was born in Idaho to Jose, from Orozko, and Maria. His father had immigrated in 1914, followed by his wife. John and his twin sister Rose followed the older siblings Carmen and Frank. John entered the army and then received his Bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Idaho and then an additional degree in hotel and restaurant management from Washington State University.

John Ascuaga

After graduating from college, he moved to Sparks. It was at the Nugget’s Steak House that John met Rose Ardans, his future wife. They purchased and ran the Nugget Hotel and Casino from 1960 onward, along with their children. John had initially worked for Dick Graves in Idaho and followed him to Nevada. When Graves hoped to retire, John, at 34 years old, purchased the Nugget for $3,775,000, paying off the debt in seven years.  The Ascuagas truly made their way from the bottom up.

 

Michonne Ascuaga

Michonne R. Ascuaga, prominent member of Northern Nevada gaming family

Another prominent Ascuaga is Michonne, John’s daughter. She originally started working at age 13 as a front-desk clerk and continued to work her way up the family business, in the cage and credit arena as well as in marketing and sales for the casino, before becoming CEO in 1997–and only the second woman to run a major resort in Nevada–until its sale to Global Gaming & Hospitality in 2013. Together with her brother, Chief Operating Officer Stephen Ascuaga, she subsequently also served in an advisory role after the Nugget’s sale.

She is a graduate of Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, and earned an MBA degree from Stanford University. She has served on several boards, including the Santa Clara University Board of Regents, the Sierra Arts Foundation, the Nevada Women’s Fund, and the Forum for a Common Agenda, as well as the  Washoe K-12 Education Foundation.  She has also been chair of our Advisory Board since 2009.

In her own words, “When you live in a place and realize you’re going to live in a place for the rest of your life, you want to see things prosper and improve . . . When I see where I can help, I get involved” (quoted in “Women we love” by Carli Cutchin, Deidre Pike, and Adrienne Rice, for the Reno News & Review).

For more on John Ascuaga, see: Voices from Basque America and “Hard Work and Family Key to John Ascuaga’s Nugget” by Colleen Schreiber.

 

The Comforts of Home: A Basque Sheep Camp

The Basque Library has set up a new exhibit at the Sparks Museum and Cultural Center.

From June 20 to August 10, 2017, The Comforts of Home: A Basque Sheep Camp showcases Dominique Laxalt’s sheep camp from Marlette Lake. Dominique purchased over a hundred acres of grazing lands high in the Sierras in the early part of the twentieth century, two thousand feet above the eastern shores of Lake Tahoe. Dominique herded sheep in the mountains above Carson City, Nevada, for decades, operating out of his base camp at Marlette. He took his sons with him and this made an indelible impression especially on Robert Laxalt, who later wrote of those experiences in Sweet Promised Land.

The materials from the camp were boxed up and in storage for decades. Upon the closing of the offices they were stored in, these items were found and donated to the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies and the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

Preparing a camp for themselves, the sheepherder had to be a jack-of-all-trades. Setting up the tent, hunting and fishing for food, cooking, and keeping track of supplies were the domestic side of their time outside tending the flock. All they had to survive on for many weeks at a time were the supplies they carried with them. Pack mules or horses carried the building blocks of creature comforts. As time went on, they would be resupplied by the ranch managers or owners. Early on this would be with other pack animals, then wagons, and finally trucks. Improvised fishing poles from branches, pot racks from belts, and improvised gadgets were all pressed into service. Not just double duty, many of the materials they carried had to be multifunctional.

Alone for weeks at a time, Basque sheepherders sometimes only had their horses, dogs, and sheep to talk and took to leaving tree carvings to express themselves. Aspen trees scarred up beautifully to leave a lingering glimpse into their thoughts. Women, animals, home, their names, and dates, all feature as themes in the carvings. This art emerged from solitude is wonderfully showcased by the Mountain Picasso: Basque Arborglyphs of the Great Basin exhibit, also at the Sparks Museum. Sponsored by the Nevada Arts Commission and the Nevada Historical Society, this exhibit is curated by Jean and Phillip Earl, a couple that has been collecting tree carvings for 50 years.

On June 30,  the museum is holding a reception for the Basque exhibits on display. You are all invited to enjoy refreshments from 4 to 6 p.m.

Post by Shannon Sisco and Iñaki Arrieta Baro.

Winnemucca Euskaldunak Danak Bat Basque Club Scholarship 2017

39th Annual Basque Festival in Winnemucca

While looking through the program for the Winnemucca 2017 Basque Festival, I discovered that the Euskaldunak Danak Bat Basque Club has a yearly scholarship for graduating seniors, going back to 1981. This year, the sisters Tiana Marie and Amaya Michon Herrera have received the award for their studies at UNR. We look forward to a visit from them to the center! Here’s a bit of information on the ahizpak from the program:

Photos from the Festival Program

Tiana Marie Herrera and Amaya Michon Herrera have been dancing with the Winnemucca Irrintzi Dancers since they were three. They have thoroughly enjoyed each and every year of dancing and hope to continue dancing in the years to come at the University of Nevada, Reno. They have enjoyed all of the people that are involved with the Winnemucca Club–their instructors, everyone who has been at a festival or a Christmas Party or a Summer Picnic. They have really enjoyed working with the younger kids on different dances. They will both be attending UNR in the fall, Amaya will be majoring in History and Tiana will be majoring in Elementary Education and hope to pursue a master’s degree in Counseling. Tiana and Amaya are extremely grateful for this scholarship and all of the support they have received from so many people involved with the Winnemucca Euskaldunak Danak Bat.

Zorionak, neskak!

 

 

Lagunak Tour

Today, a small group of Basque-Americans will leave to the Basque Country to reconnect with their roots. I recently spoke to Florence Larraneta Frye, who organizes the Basque Women’s Luncheon I wrote about a few months back, about the trip.  Each laguna (friend) first had a family tree put together by Lisa Corcostegui (check out her website), and the itinerary was then designed around it. They will travel to their ancestral homes to visit their roots from the source. As Frye noted, “They see, and know they are indeed Basque, with pride that they can validate.”
The tour itself is composed of all things Basque, flexible within the 10 days they’ll be abroad on this intensely personal trip. Frye commented on the initiative:
As our Lagunak luncheon grew in size, it was not surprising to me that I realized how comfortable and bonded these women were–almost like joining a family reunion of relatives for the first time.  The noise and chatter was deafening, a Basque tradition I remember always, when Basques meet Basques!

I also sadly noticed some women feel only slightly Basque and not worthy to even to come to our luncheon as they are, say, 1/8th Basque… but all women of Basque decent are welcome to our luncheon.  We have name tags, they write their names, and also their Basque names, they always know that, and feel a great sense of pride for their Basque (grandfather, etc) name. We are a very proud culture, our blood line is diluting, and will be more so as time goes on…this diaspora is “falling between the cracks.”

What a life changing gift for many that only felt Basque because someone told them, now they have a picture in their minds and know they are indeed Basque. This first tour will be an experiment of what we will change in the future for our ladies.  My friends from Euskadi make me feel like I belong, and I hope to accomplish this for my lagunak.

We look forward to hearing more about the trip. Sorte eta bidaia on!

 

Winnemucca Basque Festival

Continuing on our summer Basque Festival tour of the West, some of us at the CBS and Jon Bilbao Basque Library had the chance to visit Winnemucca and attend its 39th Annual Basque Festival. Once again, we got up early (but thankfully not as early as the weekend before) and set off east toward Winnemucca. On the way there, we had a lovely breakfast in Lovelock!

Cowpoke Cafe in Lovelock

Mmm…breakfast

Once in Winnemucca, we watched the Basque Festival Parade. Many of the dance groups and clubs had floats parade down Winnemucca Blvd. The local fire and police department were also present. It seemed as if all of the town had gone out to watch the parade, and the children were giddy with excitement over the candy being thrown to them from all of the participants.

Parade

More parading!

Next up, we headed to the convention center. Right outside, on the Nixon Lawn, festival goers had set up for the picnic, and everywhere you looked, you could see young boys and girls dressed in their traditional outfits ready to have fun.

Txiki dancers

Inside the convention center, everyone was buying tickets for the lunch and merriment. The Boise Basque Museum had set up a table with various gift items and souvenirs. Our Basque Books Editor was also present with a display of our many publications and eager buyers.

Inside the Convention Center

Our Basque Books Editor!

Before the eating began, the national anthems were sung and dance performances kicked off the event. Throughout the day, various groups danced and competitions were held. Among them, dance-offs and weight lifting competitions. A professional wood chopping display was the highlight for me. Stephanie Braña did a great job! To learn more about her, see the following article in Euskal Kazeta.

Dantzaris

Wood-chopping

Lunch was delicious! We had salad, beans, lamb stew, and steak, accompanied by wine and bread. Hats off to the cooks! We then had the chance to watch more performances but left before the concerts began. Too bad we couldn’t stick around!

Lunch!

Once again, these Basque festivals and picnics do not disappoint! Not only was it a lovely day in the sun, but we were surrounded by fun people and entertainment. Can’t wait till the next one!

Nothing like the Nevada views

Photo credits: Edurne Arostegui, Iñaki Arrieta-Baro, and Irati Urkitza.

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