Category: Basques in Mexico

Cecilia García de Guilarte: The First War Correspondent on the Northern Front

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Cecilia García de Guilarte (1915-1989). From ‘Un barco cargado de…’ [A Boat Laden With…], a blog devoted to her life.

It’s a real pleasure to come across the life stories of people who don’t typically make it into the history books, as happened recently when I discovered the figure of Cecilia García de Guilarte. Born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, in 1915, she was the first journalist to cover the Northern Front after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

García de Guilarte was the oldest of four children born into a working-class family originally from Burgos. Her father worked at the paper mill in Tolosa, one of the most important companies in the town. Indeed, she also started her working life in the mill. There, influenced by her father’s labor union activities for the CNT, the confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, she took to writing for union publications. Her facility for writing led her, at age 20, to publishing articles for a Madrid weekly, Estampa, signing her name, as she would do thereafter, “Cecilia G. de Guilarte.”

With the outbreak of the war, she continued her work as a journalist, writing for the union’s official publication CNT Norte and becoming the de facto first correspondent to cover the Northern Front (Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, Santander, and Asturias), between 1936 and 1937. During this time she secured exclusive stories, such as her interview of the German pilot Karl Gustav Schmidt, who had crashed after the aerial bombardment of Bilbao by Nazi planes in the service of Franco in January 1937. At the same time she met and married Amós Ruiz Girón, the former chief of municipal police in Eibar, Gipuzkoa, who was at the time in the Cuerpo Disciplinario de Euzkadi, a policing force created by the Basque government during the war.

Following the fall of the Northern Front to Franco’s rebel forces, García de Guilarte escaped to Catalonia, from which fled fled to France in 1939 after it, too, fell. While in exile in France she wrote briefly for the newspaper Sud-Ouest before crossing the Atlantic to escape World War II and settling in Mexico with her husband. There she embarked on a productive career in journalism, writing for several journals and newspapers, including many connected to the community of Basque exiles. She was also editor of El Hogar and Mujer. She combined all this with a similarly active political life as a member of the Izquierda Republicana de Euskadi, and she also taught classes in art and theater history at the University of Sonora. As well as all this, she also published voraciously: novels, essays, biographies, and plays.

She was able to return to Tolosa in 1964, although she would have to wait over another decade, and the death of Franco in 1975, before he husband could rejoin her in the Basque Country. Back home, she became the theater critic for the Voz de España, a newspaper published in Donostia-San Sebastián, until it closed in 1979. She died in 1989, having taken an active part in the social and cultural life of Donostia both before and after Franco’s death.

Sources

See the bilingual Spanish/English blog Un barco cargado de…’ [A Boat Laden With…], which covers all aspects of her life and includes numerous photos and interviews: https://unbarcocargadode.wordpress.com/

See, too, an excellent blog post about her life at the following site: http://monografiashistoricasdeportugalete.blogspot.com.es/2014/02/celia-g-gilarte-periodista-de-guerra.html

Further Reading

War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott. This multi-authored work traces the impact of both the Spanish Civil war and World War II on people’s everyday lives, with a special focus on (but not limited to) the Basque Country. This work is available free to download here.  

Expelled from the Motherland, by Xabier Irujo. This is a book that, while taking as its central subject matter the life and work of the exiled Basque president or lehendakari, Jose Antonio Agirre, also explores the stories of many other Basque exiles in Latin America and beyond.

The First Basque Thanksgiving

Acknowledging, slightly tongue-in-cheek, our “six degrees of separation” complex when it comes to all things Basque, today we’d like to share a story about the first feast of Thanksgiving by Europeans in what would eventually be the US, which, in the words of Steve Bass, “occurred on April 20, 1598 in the area of present day El Paso, Texas. The feast was led by the Basque Juan de Oñate during his expedition north from San Gerónimo, Mexico to colonize New Mexico.”

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Statue of Juan de Oñate, Oñate Monument Center, Alcalde, NM. Picture by Advanced Source productions, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Surrounded by Basque relatives and friends, Oñate’s expedition set off in January 1598 and, after a grueling three-month journey at the point of which the colonizers were fast running out of food and water rations, they came across the Rio Grande, which offered abundant fresh water and game to replenish them. Hence, their first Thanksgiving feast.

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Texas Historical Marker for Don Juan De Oñate and El Paso Del Rio Norte. Photo by Pi3.124, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Amerikanuak (p.78), William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao also observe that:

Unlike previous efforts, which were comprised largely of soldiers and missionaries, the Oñate force included colonists and livestiock. In this fashion Oñate introduced the first sheep flocks into what would later become territory of the United States (a fitting early forerunner of massive Basque involvement in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century development of the sheep industry of the American West).

Oñate’s expedition forged ahead, reaching the southern area of present-day Kansas, before returning, ultimately, to his home province of Nueva Vizcaya in present-day Mexico.

For a full description of this story, see Steve Bass, “Basques hold the First Thanksgiving in America ” Astero, at http://www.nabasque.org/Astero/thanksgiving.htm

Have a great Thanksgiving from everyone at the Center!

CBS students presenting at the Galena Creek Visitor Center: Don’t miss out!

Join CBS students Amaia Iraizoz, Kerri Lesh and Edurne Arostegui at the Galena Creek Visitor Center (http://www.galenacreekvisitorcenter.org/) this Sunday, October 16, from 10-11AM,  as they present on various aspects of Basque migration, return and diaspora. The event is open to the public and will give attendees the chance to not only learn more about the Basques, but also get an inside look into three of the Center’s graduate students’ research.

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Arostegui will kick off the presentation, talking about Basque migration in general, but focusing on the Basque experience in the West and how they got there. Iraizoz will then speak about certain cases of return migration to the Aezkoa Valley, in Navarre. Lesh brings the presentation to the present, discussing aspects of cultural maintenance in the diaspora through Basque gastronomy. All three bring their expertise on these subjects, as they are pursuing them for the doctoral dissertations.

For more information, please visit: https://allevents.in/reno/the-history-and-culture-of-basque-sheepherders-in-the-great-basin/303664853352059

September 26, 1565: Basque-run ship completes historic voyage

On September 26, 1565, a Basque-run ship, the San Pedro, docked in the vicinity of California’s Cape Mendocino after having sailed 11,160 miles cross the Pacific Ocean without a landfall—the longest continuous oceanic voyage to that date in the age of European exploration. This remarkable crossing is yet another in a long line of significant Basque maritime exploits – all described in fascinating detail by Bill Douglass in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (pp. 118-22).

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Andrés de Urdaneta (1498-1568). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As part of an initial plan to bring the Philippines within Spain’s orbit on the orders of King Philip II, a Basque-dominated expedition, led by two Gipuzkoans, Andrés de Urdaneta from Ordizia and  Miguel López de Legazpi from Zumarraga, reached Samar in February 1565. Thereafter, a permanent settlement was established in Cebu, which in the words of Douglass, was “the initial outpost of Spanish hegemony in the islands and one that would endure for more than three and a half centuries.”

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Miguel López de Legazpi (c. 1502-1572). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As well as establishing an imperial outpost there, however, Legazpi was also charged with finding the elusive easterly return route from the Philippines to Nueva España (present-day Mexico). The Portuguese held the monopoly over the westward sea lane between Asia and Europe, making it impossible to establish trade with the Philippines, let alone a settled Spanish colonial presence there, without violating the Treaty of Zaragoza; hence the importance of discovering this easterly route. Douglass continues:

Urdaneta’s previous experience in the Moluccas had sensitized him to the seasonal shift in the region’s prevailing winds. Furthermore, his relationship with Gerónimo de Sanesteban in Mexico City doubtless gave Urdaneta detailed knowledge of the Villalobos expedition’s two failed attempts to return to Nueva España from the Moluccas via a southern route. On June 1, 1565, Urdaneta left the Philippines in the San Pedro, which was under the command of Legazpi’s young (sixteen-year-old) grandson, Felipe de Salcedo. It seems likely that Urdaneta was the actual commander. Other Basques on the vessel included Friar Andrés de Aguirre; the boatswain, Francisco de Astigarribia; the ship’s mate, Martín de Ibarra (all Bizkaians); and the scribe, Asensio de Aguirre. About one-third of the crew were Gipuzkoans.

Once in the northern latitudes, the San Pedro picked up the summer months’ prevailing northeasterlies and reached the American mainland on September 26 that same year.

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“Urdaneta’s Route” across the Pacific. Image by Jrockley, United States Army. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Basques have a reasonable claim, then, to yet another significant maritime historical record, besides being in charge of both the first (Elkano) and second (Urdaneta) global circumnavigations.

 

Tales from Basques in the United States: Gregorio de Ajuria’s Role in Nineteenth-Century Mexican History

Today’s story from our series of snapshot biographies of immigrant Basques in the US is taken from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States. It would be misleading to call this a minor anecdote in the history of Basque immigration in the US; we think this more approximates a significant slice of US and Mexican political and economic history in the nineteenth century, in which our Basque immigrant to the US took a center-stage role.

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Rafaela Cota de Temple, Gregorio de Ajuria, and Jonathan Temple, c. 1855

Born in Bilbao in 1818, Gregorio (Francisco Lorenzo) de Ajuria Arria emigrated first to Mexico in 1838 and then later to California in 1845, living initially in Monterey and later in LA, where he set up as a successful merchant. It was there, too, that he met and married California-born Francisca Borja de Jesus Temple in the City of Angels in 1848. This alone could have served as the basis for our story today, with de Ajuria becoming a key figure in the early development of LA, but we’re going to focus on another side of his own fascinating story.

Francisca was the daughter of Jonathan Temple (1796-1866), the first member of the Temple and Workman families to live in LA and after whom present-day Temple Street in the city is named. He had left his native Reading, MA, sometime in the first half of the 1820s and relocated to Hawaii, which had, in 1819, been opened up to American missionaries and merchants from Massachusetts. Temple’s stay in the Islands as a merchant was brief, however, and in 1827 he moved to California, arriving in San Diego that summer. The following year he became the second American or European (after Joseph Chapman) to settle in LA and opened the pueblo’s first store. Temple’s success in LA was rapid and he became the owner of a significant section of the pueblo that would later become downtown LA and what is now the site of City Hall. He also owned the 27,000-acre Rancho Los Cerritos, encompassing most of Long Beach and surrounding areas, and amassed other significant landholdings. Intriguingly, however, through his contact with de Ajuria, Temple would also lease the national mint of the Republic of Mexico, which he obtained in 1856. The story melds with a larger one of the seemingly annual parade of revolutionary movements and political and military strife that engulfed Mexico in that period; and interestingly for our purposes here, it directly involves Temple’s son-in-law, Gregorio de Ajuria.

Temple and his wife, Rafaela Cota, a Santa Barbara native, had one child, Francisca (b. 1831), who, as noted, married Gregorio, an up-and-coming merchant with many contacts in Mexico, in 1848. While the couple remained in LA, living with the Temples through at least the 1850 census (actually taken in early 1851), the de Ajurias moved to Mexico City and then relocated to NYC and Paris several times over the years. They had five children and de Ajuria’s personal wealth, estimated be $10,000 in the 1860 census, was not insignificant.

Indeed, it was his financial position that brought him into contact with Ignacio Comonfort, a military officer and politician from Puebla, Mexico, who had designs on the presidency of the Republic of Mexico. Comonfort was a military commander in the state of Guerrero in the 1830s who was elected to the Mexican Congress in 1842 and 1846, though both times the body was dissolved by the federal government. After fighting against the US in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Comonfort was elected as a senator and appointed the customs administrator for Acapulco. In 1854, he joined the Revolution of Ayutla, an attempt by Juan Álvarez to unseat Gen. Antonio de Santa Anna as president of Mexico. Comonfort traveled to SF and then NYC seeking funds for the revolution and had little luck until he landed in the latter and met with de Ajuria.

De Ajuria was not only a friend of Álvarez but his mercantile company had an office in Acapulco when Comonfort was the city’s administrator (incidentally, Jonathan Temple also held significant land interests between Acapulco and Mazatlán, perhaps due to the assistance of his son-in-law). For a loan of 60,000 pesos, which came in the form of cash and weapons, de Ajuria was promised 250,000 pesos in return if the revolution was a success. With the cache of weapons that Comonfort obtained, thanks to de Ajuria, the revolt moved forward and Santa Anna resigned his office in early Aug. 1855. Álvarez then assumed the presidency of Mexico and Comonfort became the Minister of War, though within months Álvarez resigned and Comonfort took his place as the leader of the country.

Upon assuming power, Comonfort issued a manifesto the Mexican nation noting that, among the debts that had been contracted in service to the revolution, the first repayment was to be sent to D. Gregorio de Ajuria, who had provided funds for the revolutionary movement in the South. While it is true that this business had been significantly beneficial to the lender, Comonfort noted, it was important to underscore the fact that, without the assistance he provided, it would have been impossible to sustain the revolution, which was in immediate danger of losing capital. Comonfort, however, went on to state that while he was on principle opposed to leasing the country’s mint, the government lacked the funds to manage it itself, and had succumbed in this case, as in some others, to the law of imperative necessity.

The “imperative necessity” was arranging for Jonathan Temple to assume the lease by a cash payment, said to have been $500,000, an enormous sum for the era, especially from a small-town merchant. There was a precedent, however, because from 1847 on the Mexico City mint had been leased to foreigners. as a result, in addition to the advance payment, de Ajuria (and, perhaps, Temple) made loans of almost $270,000 in 1856 to the government. Temple’s lease of the mint was on a 10- year contract and was managed initially by Alejandro Bellangé, another supporter of the Alvarez-Comonfort coup, and then by José Mendizabal. Ultimately, Comonfort was unseated in yet another revolt in early 1858 and fled to the US (he did, though, return to Mexico as a general in the fight against the French invasion and died in the fall of 1863).

Meanwhile, de Ajuria also became an exile in Paris, where he died in 1864. Although the French Empire in Mexico sought to annul the lease, Temple was able to override this by more loans to the new government. After Jonathan Temple died in the spring 1866, an
extension was signed with his daughter and de Ajuria’s widow, Francisca, as the leaseholder. The Mexican government rescinded the contract a couple of years later, but chronic financial shortages led it to reverse its policy after Francisca Temple de Ajuria came up, in 1871, with a substantial loan of $130,000 to the government. For two decades, the lease stood, presumably on 10-year agreements, but Mexican president Porfirio Diaz finally stepped in and demanded the return of the mint to the government.

In 1892–93, Antonio de Ajuria, Franciscoaand Gregorio’s son and Jonathan Temple’s grandson, acted as the agent on behalf of his mother, then living in Paris, and worked out an indemnity of some $75,000. With this, the mint reverted to Mexican government ownership in Feb. 1893 after almost forty years in the hands of the Ajuria Family. Francisca passed away in Paris in 1893.

We intend for Basques in the United States to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

 

More lauburu sightings…in the Yucatán, Mexico (and some thoughts on the Basque presence in Latin America)

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The original entrance gates to Hacienda San Francisco Teacalha just outside of Dzidzantun. Photo by Byron Augustin (with permission).

A few months ago we published a post on surprising sightings of the lauburu, and we were recently made aware of a series of great articles, at the Yucatan Living website, about further sightings of this iconic Basque symbol outside the Basque Country.

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Hacienda Santa Maria with Ron and Dee Poland standing between the lauburu-adorned gate posts. Photo by Rebecca Augustin (with permission).

Guest writer Byron Augustin, a retired university professor who lives in Valladolid, Mexico, authors the fascinating three-part “Ancient Symbols in the New World,” which includes some great lauburu photos taken in the Yucatán, Mexico. Click on the links below to read the article and see many more lauburu images:

http://www.yucatanliving.com/history/ancient-symbols-in-the-new-world-part-i

http://www.yucatanliving.com/history/ancient-symbols-part-ii

http://www.yucatanliving.com/history/ancient-symbols-in-the-new-world-part-iii

By part III of this series, the focus actually shifts to the Basque presence in Latin America more generally and here at the Center we’d like to encourage our readers to check out these fascinating stories and we congratulate Byron for his outstanding contribution!

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Hacienda Yaxcopoil. Photo by Byron Augustin (with permission).

In author Byron Augustin’s own words (via a personal communication): “My wife, Rebecca, noted that in Mexico we are sure that we have passed lauburu and did not even know it.  For example, we have lived in Valladolid for eight years, and the last lauburu we sighted was on a colonial house we drove by practically every day of the year.  As she pointed out . . . it is like hunting for wild mushrooms, you have to be really focused to find the lauburu.  However, we are convinced that we have only scratched the surface of finding lauburu and that is just in the Yucatan.  Basques played a significant role in many regions in Mexico especially in mining towns, so I am convinced they are out there.  In addition, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries had major Basque influence and I am sure there are lauburu in those countries too.  I really just stumbled on to the research and was amazed at the role the Basques played in opening the New World to settlement.  I doubt that ninety-nine percent of Mexicans have any knowledge of the importance of the Basques in the development of their country. Unfortunately, many lauburu in Mexico are most likely being lost because of a lack of awareness regarding their historical significance.”