Category: Basque society (page 1 of 4)

Special issue of SIBA about sport, identity and nationalism with a Basque accent

The Journal of Iberian and Latin American Literary and Cultural Studies SIBA highlights, among other sporting cultures, Basque sport and politics in its latest special issue, edited by CBS professor Mariann Vaczi.

From Marxism to fascism across the ideological palette, sport has engaged politics and power in diverse ways. Nationalism, nation-building and identity construction through physical culture has become a prominent research subject for social science.  Sport studies have integrated and complemented the most significant theoretical currents and conceptual toolkits of mainstream sociology, history, political science and anthropology. This special issue deploys these approaches in an Iberian and Latin-American context. The authors examine sport, nationalism and sub-national identities; colonialism and post-colonialism; race-relations and indigenous politics; sport in authoritarian regimes, and the use of sport to break with European roots in quest of South American nationhood and identities. The concept of “sport” is understood here quite broadly: activities that have competitive dimensions and/or involve strenuous, ritualized, rule-driven or choreographed physical activity. Crossbreeding sporting elements with other realms of culture such as art and ritual, as with the bullfight; or cognition and logic, as with chess; or folklore, as with human tower building, only yield more exciting and exact conclusions about their social and political embeddedness.

For the entire open access issue, see http://www.studia-iberica-americana.com/data/100172/assets/Issues/Siba2017@1518966639283.pdf

Here’s a brief review of the contributions that have Basque relevance in national and sub-national political contexts.

A Panther Among Lions: Iñaki Williams, Race and Basque Identity at Athletic Club de Bilbao

By Mariel Aquino (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Basques are a heavily ethnicized people due to their ancient, obscure, and insular origins: in his 1950s BBC series “Orson Welles Around the World,” the American director presents them as “the Red Indians of Europe.”

Never, however, had Basqueness been conceived in terms of Blackness until the first prominent black soccer player was signed by Athletic Club de Bilbao.

Aquino explores the integration of Iñaki Williams in the club, and how it produced the symbolic, if not necessarily real, inclusion of African immigrant communities within Basque identity. The integration of non-white players in European national teams has gained considerable media attention for the past decade, “signaling as it does,” Aquino writes in her analysis, “the destabilization of normative white European identity.” The case of Iñaki Williams is a particular breakthrough in a club where, because of its Basque-only philosophy, the discussion of player pedigrees in Bilbao actively constructs the boundaries between Basques and non-Basques. Aquino revisits some of the special chapters of defining Basqueness through player recruitment. Each case reveals a particular idea of ethnic identity in terms of birthplace, upbringing, genealogy and national belonging have variously established ingroup and outgroup boundaries. In all its variations, however, Basque identity was white until Iñaki Williams, whose eruption in the field provoked several race related commentaries Spain and Basque Country-wide, arguing that it should be perfectly natural that Blackness and Basqueness go together. This aggressive “rhetoric of colorblindness,” however, Aquino remarks, was ultimately just as “othering:” it was precisely this loud defensiveness that revealed that Black Basqueness, instead of quotidian, remains a major breakthrough.

 

A Basque-American Deep Game: The Political Economy of Ethnicity and Jai-Alai in the USA

By Olatz González Abrisketa (University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU)

At the height of its game in the late 1980`s,  jai alai was a 700-million-dollar business a year, with 14 active frontons throughout the United States, which would routinely fill with gamblers and aficionados of the “world`s fastest sport.” González revisits the two golden ages of the Basque sport in the United States: the 1950s-60s, and the 1970s-80s. The author argues that these two eras were also a generation gap not only in terms of age, but the political culture jai alai players brought with them. Overwhelmingly from the Basque Country, sport migrants in the 70-80s responded very differently than previous generations to what the game had to offer in the United States. While the first generation of Basque players were relatively content with the socio-economic opportunities sport migration offered them, the author argues that the emergence of ETA, considered revolutionary, left wing and socialist back then, had an impact on how Basque players viewed their situation in US capitalist culture.

The emergent Basque political culture lent ethos and vocabulary to US based jai alai players: an ethos of resistance and struggle, the strategy of hordago or all or nothing, and deeply politicized resistance strategies like hunger strikes were borrowed from their original Basque context and deployed in  the  American one.

These resistance strategies had great success in players` struggle for greater job security and fair treatment.

Football and politics in Spain: An empirical analysis of the social base of the main football clubs

By Ramón Llopis-Goig (University of Valencia)

Complementing qualitative and historical research, Ramón Llopis-Goig offers a quantitative analysis of soccer fandom and political sentiments with regards to the four most politicized and symbolic teams in Spain: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Athletic Club de Bilbao, and the Spanish national team. These teams have been major icons for Spanish, Catalonian and Basque identity construction throughout the twentieth century. Llopis-Goig explores the larger questions of regional nationalism, identity, and left vs. right political leanings through fans` self-identification, their following of the Spanish national soccer team, their preferences with regards to regional autonomy, and their left vs. right ideological orientation. According to this study based on representative sampling and a national survey, the fans of FC Barcelona are most left-leaning, and are most in favor of reforming the current state by increasing the autonomy of the region. This resonates with the larger social impetus of the current Catalonian sovereignty process.

The fans of the Basque Athletic Club de Bilbao have the strongest regional identification with their Basque heritage: fans identify as either only Basque or Basque and Spanish, but not exclusively Spanish.

The fans of Real Madrid are the most right-wing leaning, and most likely to define themselves as entirely or partly Spanish. Llopis-Goig`s research concludes that the symbolic import of these clubs remains important for political-ideological identifications, while radical, exclusive and homogenizing loyalties are not as prevalent as stereotypes would have us believe.

 

Pulling Up Stakes? Sport and Sub-National Solidarity for Catalonia`s Independence

By Mariann Vaczi (University of Nevada, Reno)

This contribution was inspired by an episode the author witnessed in Arrasate and Azpeitia in the Basque Country: Basques invited a Catalan human tower team, the Castellers de Barcelona, to build their breathtaking structures while Basque voted on a symbolic referendum about independence from Spain. This old traditional sport is an emergent symbol of Catalan nation building for the current sovereignty process, and the performance in the Basque Country expressed sub-national solidarity in Basque and Catalonian desires to vote about independence. The iconicity of tower building, and the sport`s ethos of cooperation express joint efforts in the pursuits of regional autonomy. The author takes the emblematic Catalan liberty song, Lluís Lach`s L`estaca (The Stake), which was performed at the event, as a metaphor for the agonic state-region relationships of Spain. During the Franco dictatorship, the stake was an image that tied people, and did not allow them to walk freely—a logic Basque and Catalan pro-independence actors argue they continue to feel. Pulling the stake from several sides, however, wears it out and eventually causes it to collapse.

Lluís Lach`s stake metaphor maps a particular political geography of Spain: the agonic relationship between the center (stake) and the periphery (pull away regions), as well as solidarity and united struggle among them. Sports have eminently contributed to this agonic relationship.

Vaczi examines how the two political peripheries have progressively conspired to “wear out” Spanish sovereignty through sport and physical culture, which are particularly apt to present these agonic interactions due to their physicality.

  

 

 

 

February 19, 1999: Inauguration of Euskalduna Conference Centre

Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera.

On February 19, 1999, the newly completed Euskalduna Conference Centre was inaugurated in Bilbao. Designed by architects Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios to resemble a ship under construction, because it stands on the site formerly occupied by the Euskalduna shipyard, the building won the Enric Miralles award for architecture at the 6th Spanish Architecture Biennial in 2001 and in 2003 the International Congress Palace Association declared it to be the world’s best congress center. It is without doubt one of the key emblematic sites–historical, cultural, and architectural–of Bilbao and a “must see” building for any visitor to the capital of Bizkaia.

Photo by Tim Tregenza.

The Euskalduna was a shipyard located in the heart of Bilbao that also came to specialize in the construction of rail and road vehicles. It operated between 1900 and 1988, when it closed in controversial circumstances due to downsizing. The famous “Carola” Crane, a symbol of the shipyard in its heyday, still stands and now forms part of the Ria de Bilbao Maritime Museum, which is located alongside the Euskalduna Conference Centre.

Photo by Tim Tregenza.

The Euskalduna is today home to both the city’s opera season and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, as well as serving as a multipurpose conference and event center with a 2000-seat auditorium, a 600-seat theater, conference rooms, meeting rooms, a press room, restaurants, an exhibition hall, an a commercial gallery.

Photo by Asier Sarasua Aranberri.

Check out the Euskalduna website here.

The Center has published several books on the transformation of Bilbao (and the Basque Country in general), a story in which the Euskalduna is prominent. See, for example, Joseba Zulaika’s award-winning That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of  a City as well as Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi and Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

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 Impact of Catalonia Crisis on Basque’s Bid for an Independence

 

The Basque region situated in the northern Iberian Peninsula possesses its unique language, culture and long history of self-determination. In 19th century the Spanish King took an oath under the Guernica tree that the Spanish Kingdom would honor the autonomy of Basque region. Nevertheless, the Basque right to autonomy was scraped in 1876 and had remained so until the brief period of the Spanish Civil War. For many Basques, autonomy was not genuine enough, which perpetuated militant group ETA which aimed at achieving full independence for Basque motherland. ETA, however, formally gave up its violence approach last year when the separatist group handed over weapons to French authorities. It is no surprise that many Basques naturally sympathize the with Catalan independence bid. Tens of thousands of Basques rallied in Bilbao the day before the Catalan referendum to show support for Catalan nationalists.  Nevertheless, the Catalan crisis has markedly increased Basque cautious approach to its own independence bid.

Following the aftermath of the Catalan independence referendum in October 2017, the opinion poll indicated that 63 percent of Basques were not interested in pursuing Catalan’s path to independence and only 22 percent were in favor. In addition, 44 percent of the participants demanded larger autonomy, and just 23 percent were interested in full independence. A Basque author who produces literature in Euskara (the Basque language), Kirmen Uribe argued that Basque citizens were exhausted after 40 years of separatist violence, thus, many plea for a timeout. Uribe added that there is fear that aggressive efforts to gain independence would split the Basque community again, further exacerbating the Basque approach to independence. While it does not end the dream that one day Basque will be an independent country, there is no need to rush the process, according to Andoni Ortuzar, the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party PNV..

For further reading please visit the following website:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/28/world/europe/spain-catalonia-basque-independence.html

 

Flashback Friday: December 5, 1976: Basque flag displayed before historic match between rival Basque soccer teams

Sunday, December 5, 1976, remains a momentous date in contemporary Basque history on account of the remarkable events that took place in Atotxa Stadium, Donostia-San Sebastián: a key crossroads moment of social, political, and sporting history.

That day, the local soccer team in Donostia, Real Sociedad, took on its main rival, Athletic Bilbao in the classic Basque derby game. However, the moment that really defined the match took place before a ball was even kicked. As the two teams took to the field, the respective captains—Inaxio Kortabarria of Erreala and Jose Angel Iribar of Athletic—led their players into the contest while jointly carrying an ikurriña, the Basque flag, which was at the time an illegal act in Spain.

The flag was sown by the sister of one of the Erreala players, José Antonio de la Hoz Uranga, who himself smuggled it into the stadium that day, even managing to hide the banned symbol from a police check on the way to the game. Having done so, Kortabarria went over to the Athletic locker room and suggested the idea of jointly taking the field by holding the flag, in an act aimed at calling for its legalization over a year after the death of Spanish dictator General Franco. In the end, both captains agreed that all the players competing had to agree with the idea—something, all of them local, agreed to without reservation. In the historic photo that marks that occasion, it is de la Hoz Uranga (who did not play that day) who appears covered by the flag walking between the two captains.

Erreala beat Athletic 5-0 that day, but more importantly, the act of carrying out the ikurriña did much to accelerate the legalization of the Basque flag by the Spanish authorities. Ultimately, its public display was finally legalized on January 17, 1977.

Sport in general, including a special focus on Basque sports, is addressed in the CBS publication Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grad Student News: Edurne Arostegui

 

Last time we checked in on me,  I was finishing up my first semester at UNR. During the spring, I went to the East Coast with Amaia Iraizoz, presenting at the Southern American Studies conference, as well as visiting with the diaspora in Washington D.C. and New York City. Later that month, I presented at the Northern Nevada Diversity Summit and gave a passionate speech for the Unity in Diversity event held by UNR’s GSA. My article, “Memoirs of Mobility and Place: Portrayals of Basque-American Identity in Literature of Nevada,” was published at the end of October by Eusko Ikaskuntza in the new book on Art and Diaspora.

After getting through the year at the CBS, I spent the summer working for the Center for Basque Studies Books, translating new entries for the upcoming edition of Basques in the United States. This semester, I’m still  coordinating the blog as well as the seminar series, having lectured in September on “Basque Women in the West: Bringing Migrants out of the Shadows.” I have also been a guest lecturer in Dr. Vaczi’s classes and am TAing for Dr. Ott’s “Basque Culture” class, focusing on diaspora. UNR also piloted a new program for grad students, ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practices, and I got the chance to participate, finishing up the course this week.

Much of my time has also been spent organizing the WSFH conference with Dr. Ott. After having attended many conferences, I finally realized the work that goes into it, but it was well worth the effort. Speaking of conferences, I’m organizing my schedule for next year, which is looking hectic. However, Dr. Ott has given me the chance to teach “War, Occupation, and Memory” next semester, so I’m looking forward to teaching.

Time flies during doctoral studies, but I’m  taking advantage of every moment I can get!

WSFH 45th Annual Conference

The Western Society for French History’s 45th Annual Conference was held on November 2-4 here in Reno, sponsored by our very own Center for Basque Studies and the Santa Clara University History Department. Dr. Sandy Ott led the local arrangements committee with help from numerous members of the CBS staff and students, dedicating countless hours to the conference’s success. There were around 150 speakers and attendees to the 35 panels on diverse topics such as “Imperial Mobilities: Labor, Goods, and Technology between Colony and Metropole” and “Nazism, Neo-Nazism, and Exile the French Basque Country.” To check out the program, visit the WSFH website. I will include a brief description of the conference, however, provided by the society:

The forty-fifth annual conference of the Western Society for French History will be held from November 2-4 in Reno, Nevada. The theme for this year’s conference is “Diasporas, Displacements, and Migrations,” and engages with diverse human experiences of relocation, both forced and voluntary, and invites reflection on large-scale human displacements, both past and present, and the long-term consequences they generate. Our keynote speakers will be Tyler Stovall (University of California, Santa Cruz) and Annette Becker (Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense).

The University of Nevada, Reno is the home to the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies, which is co-sponsoring the conference. The conference will highlight the Basques and their vibrant culture, and participants will be able to sample Basque cuisine at the Friday business luncheon. The Basque experience reflects the conference theme, and our aim is to bring aspects of Basque culture to the program so that participants can appreciate the historic importance of the Basque people in the Great Basin Region of the American West.

This year the conference organizers are introducing a new format: a linked Conference Plenary Roundtable and Conference Workshop.  Following on last year’s excellent discussion at the roundtable “Crisis in French History?” we have planned the roundtable “Addressing Structural Racism in French History and French Historical Studies,” followed by a related workshop in which we hope colleagues can explore in more depth pedagogical questions raised by the roundtable discussion.  If you are interested in exploring strategies for engaging with questions of race in your classrooms, please plan to attend this inaugural Conference Workshop.

As co-sponsorers of the event, we had our own books out and of course, Dr. Ott’s new Living with the Enemy. We also had a collection of posters from the Jon Bilbao Basque Library on display, which really livened up the space.  Numerous questions were asked about the Basques at the registration desk. One professor, although raised in Brittany, had Basque ancestors who had made their way into France. Another had visited the area in the late 1960s, who recalled his travels with much enthusiasm. The attendees seemed genuinely interested in learning more and got the chance to have a Basque-style lunch too. Food is always the best way to learn about a culture!

Yesterday’s post outlines the panel on “Nazism, Neo-Nazism, and Exile in the French Basque Country” and the presentations by Aurélie Arcocha-Scarcia, Mari Jose Olaziregi, and our own Ziortza Gandarias. Dr. Zulaika’s comments resonated with the present and the past of the Basques. Overall, it was a great success.

On a personal note, I had the chance to reconnect with a professor of mine after 10 years. I had seen his name on the program, Dr. Jonathan Beecher, but couldn’t put a face to the name. The moment he walked up to the registration desk, I immediately recognized him. He was on a panel entitled “Flaubert, Marx, and 1848,” with Biliana Kassabova and Dominica Chang, chaired by Naomi Andrews and commented on by Mary Pickering. I had a chance to attend the panel, and as I had read both Flaubert and Marx in Dr. Beecher’s class, “19th Century European Intellectual History,” I was brought back to the days that I began my studies in History. Back then, my focus was on Modern Europe, Germany to be exact. How things have changed! I am now in my sixth year studying Basque migration! Attending that panel made me reflect on my path as a historian, and the many professors and books that have influenced my studies. In that regard, the WSFH conference was a wonderful opportunity to hear different scholars and re-energize my own studies.

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.

 

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