Category: Basques in New York

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.

 

Agirre Congress New York this Thursday, June 9

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The Agirre Congress will be held this Thursday, June 9, at the Teachers College of Columbia University. The program is an integrative approach to José Antonio Agirre’s (1904-1960) legacy, a modern reflection on the European and universal dimensions of the first democratically legitimized president of the Basque Country, his personal and institutional relationships as well as his political, social, and cultural convictions.

2016 represents the 75th anniversary of Agirre’s arrival in Germany during his long and hard exile. Taking this as a starting point, the academic congress will serve as grounds for analyzing the legacy of Agirre’s Government in exile and its relation to the construction of a democratic Europe.

This event is co-organized by the Etxepare Basque Institute, Universität Leipzig, and the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. It is also supported by Agirre Lehendakaria Center, Mikel Laboa Chair (Univ. of the Basque Country), and MHLI Research Group (Univ. of the Basque Country).

 

THE INTERNATIONAL LEGACY OF LEHENDAKARI JOSÉ A. AGIRRE’S GOVERNMENT

June 9, 2016
Columbia University –Teachers College-
525 W 120th St, New York, NY 10027

09:30 Presentation
Mari Jose Olaziregi (University of the Basque Country & Etxepare Basque Institute)
Amaia Agirre (Agirre Lehendakari Center)

09:45  Euskal kasua. Giza garapen iraunkorra

Juan Jose Ibarretxe (Agirre Lehendari Center-University of the Basque Country)

10:45 Lehendakari Agirre

Amaia Agirre (Agirre Lehendari Center-University of the Basque Country)

11:45 Transnational nationalism. The Basque exile: Barcelona-Paris-New York (1938-1946)

Ludger Mees (University of the Basque Country)

14:15 Lehendakari Agirre and Europe’s Political Construction

Leyre Arrieta (University of Deusto)

15:15 Lehendakari The Growth of the International Legacy of Lehendakari J. A. Agirre’s Government through Academic Cooperation.
Andrea Bartoli / Borislava Manojlovic (Seton Hall University)

19:00 Concert: Amaya Arberas (soprano) and Ainhoa Urkijo (piano) – Riverside Church- 10 T Hall

For more information, please contact the Delegation of Euskadi at usa@euskadi.eus.

Gregorio Salegui, the St. Francis ice-cream maker

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The St. Francis Hotel kitchen. Gregorio is the second from the left.

We have had an amazing response to our series of stories from the 2-volume work, Basques in the United States, with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, and with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. We’d like to thank everyone who’s gotten in touch with us and remind anyone out there with a story to tell from their own family history to visit the special site we’ve set up (details below at the end of the post).

This week, just to show you that there are many, many more such stories to tell, we’re delighted to introduce a guest post, written by Koldo San Sebastián himself, featuring a someone who didn’t make it into the first edition of this monumental work, but will certainly feature in future editions. So many thanks to Koldo for sharing this with us, and let this be an inspiration to those of you out there with your own family stories to tell!

St Francis

The emblematic St. Francis Hotel on Union Square, San Francisco. Opened in 1904, it immediately gained a reputation as one of the most fashionable places to stay in the city.

The St. Francis on Union Square in San Francisco is one of the most famous hotels in the world, because of both its history and its guests, and, of course, its cuisine.  Its guests once included the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Sinclair Lewis, and Isadora Duncan, as well as US presidents who stayed there while visiting the city. The St. Francis gained a global reputation for its cuisine thanks to its legendary French chef, Victor Hirtzler, whose extravagant recipes were published in The Hotel St. Francis Cookbook (1919). The deserts and ice creams on the St. Francis menu were equally famous and included fruit salad in iced water as well as nectarine, peach, banana, pineapple, vanilla, and coffee ice cream, together with “fancy ice cream,” “orange souffle glace,” “biscuit glace,” and many more. And into this world of opulence and ice cream, in which he left an important mark, came a burly carpenter from Deba, Gipuzkoa, Gregorio Salegui, after a long odyssey full of contrasts.

Gregorio was born in Itziar on February 14, 1889. He was the fifth of the six children of Francisco Salegui and Francisca Urain, both from Itziar. Another two sisters had died shortly after being born. As custom dictated, he was expected to help out at home and, while still a child, he was sent to nearby Mendaro to study carpentry. However, he didn’t take to the trade and, on the point of being called up for the Spanish military draft, he decided–like many other Basques–to “head for the Americas and make his fortune.”

As a matter of fact, Gregorio Salegui’s American adventure began in an ice-cream parlor in Manhattan, having arrived in New York in 1909. He had crossed the Atlantic with José Uruazabal and his family. Uruazabal was from Usurbil, Gipuzkoa, and owned a fruit shop on 7th Avenue. Gregorio moved in for a while into the Uruazabal home, lodging there with a number of cooks, waiters, and other hotel employees in the neighborhood. One of these was the landlord’s brother, Frank Uruazabal, who was an ice-cream maker, and Gregorio soon found employment as a waiter in the ice cream parlor where Frank worked.

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The river steamer and its crew.

In the meantime, his sister Concepción, who was married to a friend of his from Mendaro, Eufemio Lizarzaburu, had arrived in the US. Eufemio worked aboard a river steamer on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, known for possessing the greatest flow of any North American river draining into the Pacific. And in 1911, Gregorio left his job in the ice-cream parlor to head west and settled in Portland, Oregon, with his family there. Through his brother-in-law he got a job aboard the Beaver, a ship owned by the Clatskanie Transportation Company. And thereafter he worked as a deckhand, kitchen assistant, and cook for five years, before trying his luck in California.

Ocean Park

The lively Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica.

In 1917 he was working at the celebrated Symmes Café in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, CA, which, what’s more, also included a renowned ice-cream parlor. There at the Symmes he improved his ice-cream making skills, but this was interrupted when he was called up to serve the US during World War I.

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Gregorio in uniform, 1918.

In 1918 he joined the 2nd Light Infantry Regiment as a cook, although a few months later he was discharged on medical grounds. While in boot camp he began the naturalization procedure to become a US citizen.

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Gregorio in later life.

In 1920, having married Berta Clark from Kansas, he was working as a cook in San Diego. He was later employed as a cook at the Clifford Hotel before getting a job in the kitchen at the St. Francis. In 1928, he married again, this time to French-born Marie Therése Mesplou with whom he had three children: Jean François, Eugene, and Genevieve. He died in San Francisco on March 31, 1957.

We intend for this work 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.

Prominent American Women of Basque Descent: Nina Garbiras

Born in 1964 in New York City of Basque descent, actress, singer, and businesswoman Nina Garbiras has enjoyed an eclectic career.

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Nina Garbiras

Garbiras grew up in both New York and northern California, majoring in psychology at the University of Santa Clara. She later studied dramatic art at the L’Ecole de Claude Mathieu in Paris, France, where she also appeared in several small theater productions. She then moved to London, acting in fringe theater roles, before returning to the US.

She is perhaps best known for her TV work, especially in the role of Alexandra Brill in Fox Television’s series The Street (2000), Beth Greenway in the Showtime series Leap Years (2001), and Andrea Little in NBC/DreamWorks’ Boomtown (2002). But she has also appeared in a variety of movies such as the short French-language Swiss film Fin de Siècle (1998), You Can Count on Me, with Matthew Broderick (2000),  Bruiser (2000), and The Nanny Diaries, with Scarlett Johansson and Alicia Keys (2007).

In recent years, Garbiras has become a successful businesswoman. She runs FIG, a boutique and design firm described by Christopher Bollen of V Magazine as “The perfect mix of Evelyn Waugh gone rock and roll and staying up late.” According to the company website, “FIG began on New York’s Lower East side as a richly curated gallery with a blend of vintage European pieces that spanned several centuries (18th century to 1960’s). Inside the studio was an eclectic mix of French gilt mirrors, English leather sofas, early-Italian oil paintings, Turkish rugs, Chinese art deco and refined American Industrial design. In addition to its historic pieces, FIG also carried contemporary photography along with lush textiles and one-of-a-kind antique jewelry. The modern-day atelier was an ever-shifting emporium that reflected a contemporary aesthetic with a soulful collection.”

 

William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies hosts start of major International Congress on Jose Antonio Agirre

Agirre Congress

On the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of Lehendakari (Basque president)Jose Antonio Agirre’s passing through Berlin on his odyssey to flee fascism in Europe,  the Center is proud to announce its participation in a major new congress on his legacy that starts here this weekend.  This is the first step in a three-part congress, “The International Legacy of Lehendakari Jose Antonio Agirre’s Government,” running through March and June, to be held successively at UNR, Humboldt University in Berlin, and Columbia University in New York.

The congress has been jointly organized by the Center and the Etxepare Basque Institute, with the help and participation of  the Agirre Lehendakaria Center for Social and Political Studies and the Basque Government’s General Secretariat for Foreign Affairs, with the collaboration of the Mikel Laboa Chair at the University of the Basque Country.

The Center will host the first part of the congress, March 26-28, which will focus on the international contribution of Agirre, with talks by faculty members Xabier Irujo, Joseba Zulaika, and Sandra Ott, together with visiting guest speakers Ángel Viñas (Complutense University, Madrid) and Julián Casanova (University of Zaragoza). Details of the Reno gathering are as follows:

March 26, Sparks Heritage Museum, 2 pm: Xabier Irujo, “The Bombing of Gernika.”

March 28, Basque Conference Room, 305, third floor, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 4 pm: Ángel Viñas, “The English Gold: British Payment of Multi-million Pound Bribes to Franco’s Top Generals.”

March 28, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 5 pm: Julián Casanova, “Francoist repression.”

March 29, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 4 pm: Joseba Zulaika, “From Gernika to Bilbao.”

March 29, Basque Conference Room, Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, University of Nevada, Reno, 5 pm: Sandra Ott, “Occupation of Iparralde (1940-1944).”

Then on June 1, Humboldt University in Berlin will host the second installment, addressing the exile of Agirre and other Basques as well as the formation of a united Europe, with talks by Paul Preston (London School of Economics), Carlos Collado Seidel (Phillips University Marburg), Joan Villarroya (University of Barcelona), the writer and journalist Nicholas Rankin, historian Hilari Raguer i Suñer, and Xabier Irujo.

Finally, on June 9 Columbia University will host the third and final part of the Congress, with talks by former lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe, Ludger Mees, Mari Jose Olaziregi, Jose Ramon Bengoetxea, Izaro Arroita, and Amaia Agirre of the University of the Basque Country, as well as Leyre Arrieta of the University of Deusto.

Besides the academic gathering, the Basque Club or Euskal Etxea of Berlin will also organize a program of cultural events through May and June to commemorate Agirre’s legacy. Titled “Agirre in Berlín 1941-2016. Das Baskenland mitten in Europa” (Agirre in Berlin 1941-2016: The Basque Country in the heart of Europe), this program will pay specific attention to the effects of the civil war and Basque exile from different artistic perspectives, including publications, lectures, concerts, and other diverse events.

See the full program of the Agirre Congress here.

Prominent American Women of Basque Descent: Jauretsi Saizarbitoria

Born in 1971 in Miami, Jauretsi Saizarbitoria is a digital strategist and curator, writer, consultant, DJ, and filmmaker. Fleeing Franco’s Spain, her grandfather, Juanito Saizarbitoria, from Mutriku (Gipuzkoa), and his wife Carmen founded the Centro Vasco restaurant in Havana, Cuba, which, besides being a meeting place for other Basque exiles, also became a famous hot spot for visiting US celebrities in the 1950s (read about Jauretsi’s visit to the Centro Vasco in Havana here). When the business was nationalized following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the family moved to Miami and the Centro Vasco was re-established there in 1963, with Jauretsi’s parents, Juanito Jr. and Totty, ultimately taking over the business, which also attracted famous figures from the entertainment industry and beyond. Read about her family history in this great interview here.

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Jauretsi Saizarbitoria

Raised in the entertainment world of Miami, she later moved to New York where she worked for magazines like Paper, Details, and Jane, and, after a decade in the publishing industry, she directed her first feature, East of Havana (2006), a documentary about hip-hop music in Cuba. She now curates media for a wide range of digital clients. See her profile here.

Saizarbitoria is an ambassador for Oxfam America‘s “Sisters on the Planet Initiative,” which  brings together prominent women in the US who advocate support for US policy that responds to the needs of the most vulnerable, both at home and abroad. And she is also a board member for the WIE (Women, Inspiration, Enterprise) network, which seeks to connect women leaders and help them create valuable networks.

And in case you were wondering, yes, she is related to the famous Basque novelist, Ramon Saizarbitoria, Check out some pictures from a visit she made to the Basque Country here.

 

Prominent American Women of Basque Descent: Norma Kamali

American Fashion’s Greta Garbo, Norma Kamali: Born Norma Arraez in New York City in 1945, in her own words, quoted in Kim Hastreiter’s article and interview here, “my mother was Lebanese and my father was Basque — fiery, crazy people — so I’m used to being around people who are intense and big.” But as Hastreiter also points out, Kamali is “a self-admitted hider,” someone who “has grown her brand without integrating the showbiz-PR-designer-as-celebrity aspect that many designers build into their lines these days in order to succeed.”

Norma Kamali

Norma Kamali

She graduated from Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology in 1964 and in 1968, together with her then husband, Mohammed (Eddie) Houssain Kamali, opened a basement boutique on Manhattan’s East side. Her designs were based mostly on the vintage look of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, and some of her early customers included Diana Ross, Bianca Jagger, and Cher. Nowadays, she counts Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga among her clients.

Best known for her “sleeping bag” coat, garments made from silk parachutes, and versatile multi-use pieces, she also designed the iconic red one-piece bathing suit worn by Farrah Fawcett in a 1976 publicity shot for the TV show Charlie’s Angels (the poster of which sold over 12 million copies worldwide), an item which was ultimately donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2011. Kamali was also the first designer to create an online store on eBay, has won multiple awards, and received a plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York City. Some of her work is, moreover, included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Check out the designs at her website here. And for short biography click here.

Flashback Friday: Safe and Sound

On November 6, 1941, Jose Antonio Jose Antonio Agirre Lekube (1904-1960), lehendakari or president of the Basque Country, arrived in Philadelphia and met his friends Manuel Maria Intxausti and Manuel de la Sota. On May 8, 1940, Agirre had departed from Paris (France) to Brussels (Belgium) along with his wife and children to visit relatives living there. Immediately after their arrival, the Agirre family was caught unaware when, on May 10, Adolf Hitler’s forces invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Thereafter, they struggled to escape from Europe to America. Eventually in August Agirre exiled safe and sound to Brazil. On November 4, after receiving a residence permit from the US Government, he arrived in Miami, before passing through Argentina. After his short visit in Philadelphia on November 6, Agirre went to New York and settled there, where he found a large Basque immigrant community. In the city of New York, then, he headed the reorganization of the Basque government-in-exile.

A short film documentary of 1942 about Jose Antonio Agirre and the Basque government-in-exile delegation in the city of New York:

Source: Basque Film Library.

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Portrait of Jose Antonio Agirre. Source: Jon Bilbao Basque Library, UNR

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Members of the Basque government-in-exile in New York. From left, Antonio de Irala, Telesforo Monzon, Santiago Aznar, Manuel de la Sota, Ramon Aldasoro, Jose Antonio Agirre, and Gonzalo Nardiz.


The remarkable story of Agirre’s escape from Europe is told in his own words in Escape via Berlin: Eluding Franco in Hitler’s Europe.

On related topics, see Expelled from the Motherland: The Government of President Jose Antonio Agirre in Exile, 1937-1960, by Xabier Irujo; A Basque Patriot in New York: Jose Luis de la Lombana y Foncea and the Euskadi Delegation in the United States, by Iñaki Anasagasti and Josu Erkoreka; and War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott.

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.