The Center for Basque Studies and the Basque Library organized an extremely successful conference on March 13-14 honoring the work of Basque American author Frank Bergon.
How does the work of a Basque-Nevadan author and professor relate to both his Basque heritage and Western American literature? How has his writing changed over time, confronted the struggle between fact and fiction, and dealt with the nuclear apocalypse? The title of the conference was “Visions of a Basque American Westerner.”
The conference gathered ten scholars and writers from the United States and Europe to discuss Frank Bergon’s novels, essays, and critical works from multiple perspectives. Participants included William Heath (Mount Saint Mary’s University), Monika Madinabeitia (Mondragon University), Joseba Zulaika (UNR), Sylvan Goldberg (Colorado College), Zeese Papanikolas (San Francisco Art Institute), Iñaki Arrieta Baro (UNR), David Rio (University of the Basque Country), Nancy Cook (University of Montana), David Means (Vassar College).
The two-day event also featured book presentations, music recitals and dance performances, all open to the general public.
James Barayasarra has won second prize in the 2018 Basque Literary Contest for his manuscript “Seven Wagons and a Half”, a hilarious and touching tale about growing up as the middle child of Basque immigrants Nemesio and Victorina Barayasarra.
“…[M]y parents did not have a high level of education, they were self-taught, were proud of their Basque heritage and American citizenship. They experienced many hardships, including poverty and discrimination, and yet they survived. It was tough, but I wouldn’t trade any of the events for all the towers in the world. I mean we were poor, discriminated against, but we made it through and I can live to tell about it. I have taught my offspring about my heritage and hope they will appreciate their Basque heritage and sacrifices of immigrants like Nemesio & Victorina Barayasarra,” Barayasarra said when asked about his inspiration for “Seven Wagons and a Half”, “The story is about the attempt to record the contributions of an immigrant family, such as Nemesio & Victorina. Even though they had challenges and struggled at times, they survived the hardest times. It is about appreciation of their hard work and to honor them for their sacrifices.”
Since his teaching days at high school level in Idaho and Nevada, teaching as well at SUNY Alfred State and Chesapeake College, having received a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and Master’s of Education from the College of Idaho, as well as a Masters in Natural Sciences from the University of Idaho; and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Biology from Saint Bonaventure University, Barayasarra has “ taken approximately 40 hours of theatre, creative writing, and art…[and has] 9 unpublished work plays, one that has been performed on stage, thank you very much”.
Photo credit: Mariann Vaczi
Last week, Kerri Lesh returned from presenting at the 117th American Anthropological Association‘s annual meeting in San Jose, California. Her presentation titled “Size (and Shape) Matters: Creating Value with the Basque Language through Wine, Cider, and Font” illustrated the value of using language in its form and content for marketing gastronomic products. Kerri was delighted to present alongside scholars such as Martha Karrebӕk, Kathleen Riley, Richard Wilk, and Chelsie Yount-André in their panel “Food, Money, and Morals: Semiotic Reconfigurations of Value.”
Kerri is a member of the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) as well as a member of the Culture and Agriculture groups that are part of the larger AAA. Amongst attending other events and speakers, Kerri attended the SAFN meeting where Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of Food First, was the keynote. Eric is of Basque and Puerto Rican heritage and grew up milking cows and pitching hay in Point Reyes, CA, where he learned that putting food on the table is hard work. After studying rural education and biology at the University of Oregon and Evergreen State College, he traveled through Mexico and Central America, where he was drawn to the simple life of small-scale farmers. He is the editor of the Food First book Food Movements Unite! Strategies to Transform Our Food Systems; co-author of Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice with Raj Patel and Annie Shattuck; and author of the book Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America’s Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture and of many academic, magazine and news articles.
Kerri has the pleasure of meeting Eric as the SAFN/Culture and Agriculture reception where Kerri and Daniel Shattuck were presenting Basque wine and Italian olive oil tastings. Three txakolinak were served in addition to the olive oil, both demonstrating the importance of culture in the development of taste and terroir.
Photo Credit: Mark Anthony Arceño
If you like txakoli as much as everyone at the reception did, stay tuned for a piece on Academic Minute and NPR podcast where Kerri provides food for thought on this Basque beverage.
Photo Credit: Mark Anthony Arceño
The Center for Basque Studies had the pleasure of hosting the Ardi Baltza Kontalari from Lamoille, NV in early November. As a contemporary Basque dancing group, Ardi Baltza combines the concepts of tradition and innovation in their mission to preserve and educate about Basque culture.
During their first day at the CBS, Ardi Baltza demonstrated Basque dancing to the Basque Culture and Basque Transnationalism classes. Before each dance, their director, Kiaya Memeo, explained the meaning behind the dances and answered questions from the audience. The students were then invited to learn two dances, Sorgin Dantza, a comical dance where the women (taking on the role of witches) turn the men participating in the dance into women, and Pitx, a children’s dance. Their performance provided many of the students their first up close experience with Basque dance and culture.
See them perform a contemporary version of Makil Dantza here:
The next evening the Ardi Baltza Kontalari performed Etxea: Memoirs of Gernika. The show educated the audience about the fateful day of April 26, 1937, when the Condor Legion and the Italian Air Force, acting on the orders of Franco, dropped 31-46 tons of bombs on the Basque market town of Gernika. The dancers, using a combination of the traditional Basque and contemporary steps, illustrated the experiences of the Basque people before, during, and after the bombing, while Kiaya Memeo narrated the eyewitness accounts of survivors. Their performance served as a reminder about the importance of our history and honored the memory of the people who were in Gernika that day.
From Left: Jennifer Obieta, Amanda Shields Kerr, Franci Mendive Wilkinson, Kiaya Memeo, Olivia Memeo, Olivia Rice, & Hannah Hill
Eskerrik asko to the ladies of the Ardi Baltza Kontalari for traveling to Reno to perform for our students and the Reno community!
A couple of months ago, I came across a few videos on the Nevada Arts Council website highlighting Basque culture in Nevada.
Nevada Stories is an online video series focusing on folk and traditional artists, specific local traditions, and Nevada’s landscape. An outreach activity of the NAC Folklife Program, it supports the Nevada Arts Council’s mission to provide folklife education to all age groups and to highlight the individual folk artists, traditional communities, and cultural sites that make Nevada distinctive. Filming and production are funded through Folk and Traditional Arts grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
I’ll share the Basque ones here, but be sure to check out the website for more on the many cultures that comprise Nevada!
The Basque Chef: Asier Garcia
Visitors to the 34th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko (2018)–themed “Basques and Buckaroos”–saw firsthand that Basques know how to have fun! A popular social pastime in the Basque Country involves bar hopping while sampling the pintxo (pronounced “peen-show”) or bite-sized snack specialties of the house. Our guest chef Asier Garcia hails from Bizkaia and is now a resident of Boise. Asier leads a workshop group through the intricacies of creating a dozen different pintxos, deconstructing this artful tradition to enhance their culinary repertoires and satisfy their appetites.
Basque Cooking With Jean Flesher
Utah bandleader, contractor, Basque personality and cook Jean Flesher presents Basque cuisine in traditional fashion with a northern Basque country (French influenced) flavor. The workshop features classic dishes and cooking techniques. Participants learned new recipes (included in the video) and left with satisfied appetites and a full serving of Basque joi de vivre. This film was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and partnerships between the Western Folklife Center, Nevada’s Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, and the Nevada Arts Council.
Hunting the Mountain Picassos
For more than half a century, Jean and Phillip Earl of Reno have used clues from old maps, letters, and books to hunt for and document “Mountain Picassos,” distinctive figures carved into aspen trees found in the high country meadows of the Great Basin. These figures– along with names, dates, and sayings– were carved by Basque sheepherders in the early to mid-20th century.
Euskal Jaiak: Celebrating Basque Culture – the 50th Annual National Basque Festival, Elko
For the last 50 years, Basque families from throughout the American West have gathered in Elko, Nevada on 4th of July weekend to celebrate their culture and the opportunities afforded them in the USA. Filmed over the three days of the 2013 National Basque Festival, “Euskal Jaiak: Celebrating Basque Culture” offers the viewer an all-embracing view of this multi-faceted event.
To learn more about Basque’s in Nevada, go to, Home Means Nevada 1896: Folklife in Nevada Historic Radio Series
Paul Laxalt, born in Carson City, Nevada, on August 2, 1922, died on August 5, 2018 at the age of 96. Laxalt served as both the Governor of Nevada (1967-1971) and a United States Senator (1975-1987), and was involved in politics throughout his life, serving also as a chairman of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns and working with Reagan to clean up Lake Tahoe.
Laxalt went to college at Santa Clara University in California, then enlisted in the Army in World War II as a medic. Under the G.I. Bill, he went on to the University of Denver to earn his law degree. In 1950, Laxalt was elected Ormsby County’s (in northwestern Nevada, which contains Carson City) district attorney and served for one term. Laxalt was elected lieutenant governor in 1962.
10/6/1983 President Reagan Nancy Reagan Paul Laxalt, Bob Michel, Corrine Michel, and Carol Laxalt watch the Performance by Oak Ridge Boys during the Barbecue for Members of Congress on the South Lawn by Reagan Presidential Library via Wikimedia Commons
Laxalt was the brother of Robert Laxalt, who was the author of Sweet Promised Land, a groundbreaking novel for Basque culture in the United States, and the grandfather of Nevada’s Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt, who is now running for Governor of Nevada.
The very first Diaspora Day was held last Saturday, September 8th, a date designated by the Basque government because the date coincides with the first global circumnavigation in 1522 by Juan Sebastian Elkano and his crew.
The day focuses on the Basque diaspora and different Basque organizations and communities would each find a way to celebrate. The idea is to bring more attention and celebrate the Basque diaspora. The Reno diaspora decided to do a walk from the Basque Sheepherder Monument to the Sheepherder Exhibit. To learn more about Diaspora Day and how it came into being, check out the blog post by Kate Camino on the new holiday: https://bit.ly/2CH80Tn.
Photos by Inaki Arrieta Baro