Interview with Michelle Petitte, Winner of the 2018 CBS Literary Contest

The Center for Basque Studies is pleased to announce the winner of our 2018 Literary Contest is Michelle Petitte, with her story Etxe Roxenia! 

Michelle Petitte

CBS Graduate Student Callie Greenhaw interviewed Michelle to find out more about her and her work.

Please tell us about yourself.

I was born in the French Hospital in Los Angeles and grew up feeling I was French Basque as much as I was American. I visited the Pays Basque with my Amatxi for the first time when I was thirteen and felt the pull of the culture and people. Retirement from my job as an educator two years ago has given me the time and opportunity to explore my cultural legacy and to begin writing Amatxi’s stories.

I live in Southern California and am married with two grown children.

What is Etxe Roxenia about?

Etxe Roxenia tells the true story of Arroxa Caminoa Bidegain, a young Basque girl born in 1864. She grew up in the enclave of Bosate, Spain; her Aita was the town miller. A serious childhood injury set Arroxa’s life on an unexpected path, one that would require espiritu indarra, strength of heart and spirit.

Arroxa was my great-grandmother. The story is written from my memories of the events as told by my Amatxi Lina, as well as notes kept by my mother, Renée. I also researched Basque culture and history, then tried to envision how each scene might have unfolded.

What was the inspiration for your work?

My Amatxi, Lina Bidegain Tauzin, was Basque. She grew up in Urepel, a small village in the Pyrenees mountains in France. She was a story teller. From her favorite spot on the corner of the couch, she shared with her eight grandchildren a lifetime of tales; crossing the Pyrenees on foot at age four, growing up in the village, traveling alone by ship to America at age nineteen. As a child, she was poor in possessions, but rich in family and love, and had a sense of adventure. Her grandchildren loved her stories. Now I am attempting to capture on paper her indomitable spirit, the beauty of her Basque heritage, the changing world that shaped her life.

Please tell us about your other projects.

I have always loved to write. Etxe Roxenia is my first complete narrative story, but I continue to write about Lina’s life. I recently traveled to Montana with my sisters and cousins. We met the family of John Etchart from Aldudes and visited their Stone House Ranch where Lina immigrated to work as a cook for Basque sheepherders in 1916. This is another wonderful chapter of her life, filled with Basque people and experiences.

In order to record Lina’s stories for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we created an online blog called The Lina Project, and invited the family to share. It includes Lina’s Legacy pages with information about the Basque culture and historical context, along with Amaxti’s Story pages, short drafts of my memories of her storytelling. My sisters, Kathleen and Tonya, have contributed their own memories to the blog.

Is there anything else you want our readers to know?

Writing my Amatxi’s stories has become a journey of discovery. The more I learn about the Basque culture and people, the more I want to know. Along the way I have met so many interesting and gracious people; they share their own stories and support my aspirations. It has been a wonderful, inspiring experience and has deepened my connection to my Basque heritage

Zorionak, Michelle! Keep a look out in the Center for Basque Studies Bookstore for Etxe Roxenia, coming in May 2019.

3 Comments

  1. Gretchen Skivington

    January 16, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Congratulations Michelle Pettite!

  2. Michelle is my aunt! So proud of her!!

  3. Jennifer Robinson

    February 27, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Michelle is my Aunt too and I am so proud of her! 🙂

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