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Frank Bergon: Adventures of a Basque American Novelist

The Center for Basque Studies Multidisciplinary Fall Seminar Series has begun with a bang. We had the pleasure of having the acclaimed novelist and professor Frank Bergon give our inaugural lecture, held on September 20 in the beautiful Leonard Room at UNR’s Knowledge Center. There was a terrific audience, much bigger than we would have ever expected, and Bergon’s presentation inspired us all in different ways.

After an introduction by Professor Zulaika and myself, Bergon talked us through his research for his novels, weaving in his own personal narrative. A native of Ely, Nevada, who then grew up in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Bergon’s maternal grandparents were from Bizkaia, while his paternal ones from Bearn. He describes himself, above all, as a Westerner, although his work has explored the presence of Basques in the West.

His lecture was beautifully combined with photographs of his family and the many places he has traveled to for research and writing. Along the way, he spoke of the many Basque characters in his work, as well as the way he finds inspiration for future novels from past characters he has created. He is now working on non-fiction by describing “America’s True West. For Bergon, Western history and literature is not myth vs. reality: it is the complicated lives of people that go beyond stereotypes, from the Marlboro Man to the small rancher.

The audience was attentive to his talk, especially due to his gift of storytelling and charismatic nature. For me personally, having the chance to meet one of my literary heroes was an experience I will never forget. He inspired me to think about new angles and perspectives of the West, as well as helping me to reflect on the writing process. Eskerrik asko, Frank Bergon, and we truly thank you for your participation and warm spirit.

Ahaztu Barik: Remembering Basque Ancestors

By Marsha Hunter

In 1997, Liz Hardesty began a three-year project to identify about 120 Basques that rest without grave markers in the St. John’s Section at Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise, Idaho.  Dorothy Bicandi Aldecoa generously provided the funds to install markers for those who Liz and her team identified. In addition, Mrs. Aldecoa provided a plaque to honor those Basques known to be buried at Morris Hill, but who didn’t have specific burial plot information. The monument bears the names of those not yet located, with the statement: “You are not forgotten.”  Twenty years later, Basques in Boise, such as Meggan Laxalt Mackey continue the quest with Ahaztu Barik, Phase Three of the Hardesty-Aldecoa project.  Ahaztu Barik promotes the lives and memories of those Basques whose burial sites are confirmed, with more detailed information, which may include Basque Country birthplaces, parents, death dates, causes of death in America, and plot locations.

Basque eguzkilore symbols marked the gravesites of 59 persons confirmed by the Ahaztu Barik project.

According to Meggan, we have now confirmed 59 Basque burial sites, marked and verified. There are still another 60+ whose burial locations have not been found and there are little to no records on these people. However, we did find four persons who were originally identified as Basque but were not – they were mostly from Italy or Mexico. This information will be accessible soon on a special webpage that will be linked to the Boise Basque Museum’s new website. Meggan hopes that their work will encourage other western communities with Basque populations to do the same.

A memorial ceremony was held earlier this summer. Here are a few photos from the event. Keep up the good work!

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, Basque Government director of Communities Abroad Gorka Aramburu, Aita (Father) Antton Egiguren, and the Ahaztu Barik team (Celeste Landa, Meggan Laxalt, and John Ysursa) remember Basque ancestors at the St. John’s section at Morris Hill Cemetery July 28, 2017.

Ahaztu Barik burials will be accessed online through a dedicated website at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center for searches by name, burial plot, and death date, which prompts the viewer to gain more information if it was confirmed (birth date, birthplace, parent names, cause of death).

Boise’s Biotzetik Basque Choir sang for the memorial ceremony at the Morris Hill Cemetery.

Information provided by Meggan Laxalt Mackey.

This ancestral project is sponsored by the Basque Government, Office for the Basque Community Abroad; Boise State University’s Basque Global Collaborative; and the Basque Museum & Cultural Center.

 

 

  

Reno Zazpiak Bat Basque Club’s Fall Picnic

It is always a pleasure to attend any of the Zazpiak Bat Reno Basque Club events, and the Fall picnic was no exception. A few of us from the CBS and Jon Bilbao Library had a great time, not only eating (this is a Basque event after all), but meeting new people, playing mus, and dancing.

The picnic was held on Sunday, September 17 at the Rancho San Rafael. The weather was fantastic, and we all had a few drinks and chatted before the lunch was served. It was a relaxing afternoon of food, drinks, and of course, friends. While children played, the adults took the time to catch up with old friends and new.

The BBQ menu consisted of Basque beans, veggies, salad, bread, cheese, and wine, with the main course of BBQ lamb. The brownies served for dessert completed a perfect meal. Of course, there was a bar with beers and cocktails, including, of course, Picon Punch and Kalimotxo!

 

While the adults played mus, many of the girls danced. Overall, it was a great time spent among lagunak and familia! Till next year!

Monday Movies: “One Too Many” by Borja Cobeaga

We are starting the Monday Movies series to present Basque short films and contemporary cinema! Most of these short films have gained international recognition thanks to the Basque distribution program Kimuak, and they are part of our upcoming book Kimuak Short Films: Seeds of Basque Cinema. Enjoy!

“And she left just like that?”

“Looks like it.”

“Without leaving a note?”

“I don`t know.”

What is a man to do when his wife has had enough and left? Joaquín and his son Fernando seek out the long-forgotten grandma in a nursing home with an ulterior motive. Gran is a marvelous cook, and the two men are more than pleased to have found another woman who takes care of them. But is granny really who they think she is? And if not, does it really matter, once she makes the finest chuletas and tortilla patatas?

To watch the video, click on the link to open it on Vimeo:

 

 

One Too Many by Borja Cobeaga, co-screen writer of the 2014 box office hit Ocho Appelidos Vascos (Spanish Affair) is a portrait of extreme selfishness when men see themselves overcome by loneliness. From the moment of her arrival, grandma takes charge of cleaning the house, which by now is a pigsty, and prepares exquisite meals for the two slackers who do not lift a finger to help her. One day, however, during a phone conversation with his estranged wife, Joaquín discovers that the woman who lives with them is in fact not Lourdes. She is an elderly woman who was so desperate to leave the nursing home that she was ready to become slave to these two egoistic idlers in order to escape her reclusion. Joaquín is at the point of confessing the truth to his son, Fernando, but when he seas the T-bone steaks the impostor has just brought for lunch, he decides to let the sham continue. Grandma, sensing that she was about to be discovered, shots a look full of fear and uncertainty towards the men, and holds up a succulent steak, the only weapon of seduction she has. One Too Many is a bitter sweet comedy about selfishness and the vulnerability of the elderly

 

Borja Cobeaga said this about how he first thought of making this short film:

“I was a little disillusioned, I was never happy with what I was doing, which is why I decided to apply the typical formula of writing about what you know. I grew up with a 70-year-old person, Agustina, the family cook all our lives. She was part of the family; she nourished me! I found a lot of inspiration in her. Elderly people can be very extreme persons with childish behaviors, like jumping the line in supermarkets, but in turn, they are also people with experience. These extremes seemed very good for a comedy. In the end, contrast is the most important element of comedy. Since I decided to write about what I know and started to do things that I most liked, I felt more identified, and I realized that the cliché was true. All the persons that Mariví Bilbao plays in my short films are inspired in Agustina. In conclusion, it`s about taking a real situation, exaggerating it, and putting forth a question: and what if this happened to this character? For example, the question that we formed in One too many was: What would happen if a father and a son were abandoned by the mother?”

 

 

September 24, 1596: Royal Provision leads to 200-year-long dispute over mining rights in Bizkaia

On September 24, 1596, a Royal Provision (a measure or proclamation falling somewhat short of a law but more important than a mere regulation) awarded two individuals, Domigo Olabe and Santiago Madariaga, the exclusive right to exploit the whole territory of Bizkaia for the mining of gold, silver, lead, tin, and copper. The Seigniory of Bizkaia, through its own government, opposed the measure on the grounds that it breached the Fuero or Law of Bizkaia, the legal codification that established the basis on which the Seigniory retained jurisdiction over a wide range of matters and formed part of the Castilian political orbit. In turn, the Seigniory took legal action against the decision in a case that lasted just short of 200 years! In November 1791 the case was settled in Bizkaia’s favor.

Information taken from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos, p. 102.

For more information on the intricate system codified in the Fuero, check out Gregorio Monreal Zia, The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452): Introductory Study and Critical Edition.

An Interview with Marsha Hunter, New Ph.D. student at the CBS

It’s my pleasure to introduce the latest addition to our graduate student cohort, Marsha Hunter. After receiving her M.A. in History, Marsha moved from Boise to Reno to start her Ph.D. in Basque Studies. We are glad to have her around and hope to share her interests with you!

What drew you to apply to the Ph.D. program at the CBS?

  • Quality of faculty and staff.

Tell me a bit about your Master’s thesis?

  • This research examines the life of José Villanueva de Amezketa, an urban Basque nationalist who immigrated to southern Idaho in the early 1920s. The majority of first-generation Basque immigrants in this area came from a concentrated rural location of Bizkaia, which normally generated an apolitical attitude toward Basque national politics. The goal of this research is to show how Villanueva, as an immigrant outlier, maintained his Basque nationalist political identity through his international network. This study in a biographical format used the preserved correspondence received by Villanueva, oral history interviews by his family members, and secondary scholarly publications to examine the cultural and political characteristics of the area’s Basque immigrants. A compare and contrast exercise between Villanueva and the general Basque community was used. It identified a transnational immigrant community that maintained and developed a sliding scale of social and political relationships between the homeland and their host country.  The research suggested that the presence of Basque nationalist activity in southern Idaho was larger than suggested by previous scholarly research.

What are your research interests?

  • Exploration of the development and expression of beliefs and activities of different cultures.

What makes your research special? How does it contribute to Basque Studies?

  • Artifacts at the Basque Museum provide information on a larger extent of Basque nationalist activity in the area than previously reported.

What classes are you taking?

  • Basque culture and politics

How does it feel to be at a new university?

  • The faculty and staff have made me feel very welcome.

Has the Center for Basque Studies helped you in any way (library resources, people)?

  • Yes, quality of resources/people is exceptional.

Basically, what’s your impression of the Center?

  • First rate.

Are you enjoying Reno?

  • Yes, but I continue to get lost in areas that I should avoid.

What have you missed the most since you’ve been here?

  • Friends in Boise.

I’m sure we will hear more from our new student and look forward to the progression of her research. Ongi etorri, Marsha!

How the Basque Country provides intriguing solutions to some of the world’s thorniest challenges

 

The Democratic Party’s Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders took inspiration from Denmark when he proposed a 60 percent income tax increase in exchange for public services. However, American voters apparently did not welcome a candidate who wanted to increase taxes. Had Mr. Sanders taken inspiration from the Basque Autonomous Government instead of northern Europe, he may have had a better chance of gaining support from American voters.

The Basque Country, with a total population of 2.2 million, is the richest and most advanced economic region in Spain. According to an article by Sami Mahroum in the National, “it is among Europe’s top 20 percent of regions in wealth.”It also has the highest percentage of employment for medium to high-tech manufacturers in Europe. Many regard the Basque Country as a robust competitor to the advanced manufacturing regions in Germany. However, the greatest achievement of the Basque Country is how it has overcome local terrorism, globalization, and leadership challenges rather smoothly compared to both the Spanish state and the European Union.

Mr. Sanders could have also learned from the Basque Cooperative economic model. 60 years ago, Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta formed the Mondragon federation of cooperatives. Today, Mondragon is Spain’s largest cooperative group, providing employment for more than 75,000 people and contributing 12 percent of the region’s GDP. Mondragon owns subsidiaries in 125 countries around the world. The Mondragon cooperative model is unique, as it has a cap on the CEO’s salary, limiting it to six times the lowest salary offered at the cooperative. Employees put aside 6.5 percent of their earnings toward a foresighted fund as a part of their pensions and contingencies.

The Basque Country’s unique cooperative model provides an inspiration in innovation for the world’s poverty and inequality issues. This model echoes the sentiments of American voters well, who are dissatisfied with globalization, rambling capitalism, big government, and high taxes. The Mondragon model serves as a mutual-capitalism or democratic capitalism model rather than the “invisible hand.”

For further reading: https://www.thenational.ae/opinion/how-the-basque-country-provides-intriguing-solutions-to-some-of-the-world-s-thorniest-challenges-1.623572

An Interview with our new CBS Professor, Mariann Vaczi

It is my great pleasure to introduce our new faculty member, Dr. Mariann Vaczi. As a graduate of the CBS, she already knows her way around and has brought great energy to the department.

 

Tell me a bit about yourself.

  • My academic specialization includes cultural anthropology, sociology, sport, physical culture, and cultural performance genres. My geographical focus includes the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Spain. I was born and raised in Hungary in a very sporty family, and I played basketball in the first division of that country. When I was twenty, I was given the opportunity to play and coach in Germany, where the American players of the club told me, why don`t you apply for an athletic scholarship in the USA? That is how I ended up in a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, where I became acquainted with anthropology, which later became my main field.
  • It was also there that I won a scholarship to study abroad in the Basque Country, which was my first encounter with this culture. I did my MA at Central European University, in Budapest, already working on topics related to Basque culture. At UNR and the Center for Basque Studies, I decided to specialize on the anthropology of sport, and more particularly on the Athletic Club and the social, cultural and political dimensions of its soccer madness. I published this book with Routledge in 2015, and I am now arranging for its translation and publication in Spanish.

What have you been up to since you finished your Ph.D. ?

  • I was based in Catalonia for almost two years. After my book was published on Basque soccer, I wanted to diversify and research Catalonian soccer from a comparative perspective, especially in light of the current sovereignty process. In the meantime, I got acquainted with an old traditional sport called human towers, and I did fieldwork on this practice for the book project I am working on now. I was a human tower performer for two seasons in Catalonia. Besides this fieldwork project, I also taught classes at the University of Dunaujvaros, Hungary.

What have you done since you got to the CBS this summer?

  • I have edited a special issue for the Journal of Iberian and Latin American Literary and Cultural Studies with the title “Sport, Identity, and Nationalism in the Hispanic World.” Besides writing my own chapter and the Introduction, I convoked, coordinated and edited the work of twelve sport sociologists, anthropologists, and historians. I am pleased to have got some of the finest experts in the field on board, and I look forward to the release of the special issue in December 2017. I have also revised and/or published two research articles on Basque and Catalonian sport and community formation in Anthropological Quarterly and Ethnos, which are top journals in the field of anthropology. Very importantly, I have started to prepare the publication of my work on Basque soccer in Spanish in both article and book form, and I can`t wait for the Basque fan community to be able to read it.

What are you teaching this semester?

  • I am teaching Basque Transnationalism in the United States. It is a class that revolves around culture, identity, ethnicity and politics in the changing landscapes of the home and host countries of Basque migration. My experience with American students is very positive: they know little about Basques in the USA, but they are very engaged and responsive.

What are your current research interests?

  • Currently, I am working towards the publication of my book on Basque and Catalonian sport and physical culture in the current phase of Catalonian nationalism and sovereignty process. After this project, I`d like to work on a book about Basque sport and physical culture, including traditional sports.

How are they different or similar to your previous research?

  • This work will draw upon much of my previous work on Basque soccer, but it will be complemented by Catalonian perspectives, and it will go beyond soccer and modern sports in order to focus on traditional sports as well.

What makes it unique?

  • This will be the first work to have discussed the political dimensions of sports for the current Catalonian sovereignty process, and the first book in English to engage with the traditional sport of human towers.

Have you attended any conferences or published anything recently?

  • In the last year, I have published a research article on Catalonia`s human towers in American Ethnologist, and a chapter on Basque and Catalan soccer in Spain in the Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics. In the past couple of years, I gave invited talks at great European universities in Cambridge, Loughborough, Southampton, Toulouse, Bilbao, and Valencia. I am now preparing to give a talk at the annual meeting of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport in November 2017.

Are you happy to be back in the States?

  • Very much! I have lived in this country ten years, on and off, and it`s like coming home.

What have you missed the most since you’ve been here?

  • I miss the great city of Budapest, and of course my family.

 

We are so happy to have you around, and can’t wait to read your forthcoming work. Ongi etorri, Mariann!

 

Monday Movies: “Syntony”

 

We are pleased to announce that we are starting our Monday Movies series to present Basque short films and showcase contemporary filmmakers. The short films presented here have gained international recognition thanks to the Basque Government`s distribution program Kimuak, and they are part of the CBS`s upcoming book publication Kimuak Short Films: Buds of Basque Cinema. Enjoy!

“Shall I be honest? I think I`ve fallen in love.”

“Come on María, you barely know him.”

“It doesn`t matter. You just feel it. I think we have tuned in to each other, and that`s it!”

Sometimes it`s not a question of long conversations, or living together. Sometimes a particular situation or encounter is enough to connect with someone. “Syntony” (Sintonía) by Jose Mari Goneaga is a romantic comedy where a Basque man, stuck in a traffic jam on the highway, tries to call the attention of a woman sitting in another car. He wants to warn her that her scarf is stuck outside of the door. She doesn`t see him, however; she is absorbed, singing. He starts to tune in to radio channels, until the music`s lyrics finally match those on the woman`s lips. He calls the radio program to warn her about her scarf.

The man, timid and incapable of dealing with the woman face to face, lacks the social skills to approach her in person, but he finds a way to connect with her over the radio. The fear of failure, of rejection, paralyzes our spontaneity, and “Syntony” is about taking risks when we stand before the unexpected opportunities that life offers us. Watch the short film, only available in Spanish for now:

Goneaga, who has directed well-known feature films such as 80 Days and Flowers, said this about his short film:

I am not a great friend of metaphors but, when I structured the script, I considered the cars on the highway as metaphors for people. And the people who are inside are like our real “I.” Even though we live surrounded by people, we have difficulty connecting, tuning in with someone, and to reach their interior. We see people talking on the radio and the phone, but we don’t see anyone directly approaching another person. Also, there is a reflection on the incapacity that we sometimes have to open ourselves towards others. This shyness… I didn’t intend this as something specifically cultural, but I have been repeatedly told that the male character is very “Basque.” What happens is that in the end you are Basque, you put your personality into your character in a certain way, and the result is that they tell you that it is very “Basque.”

 

(source: www.kimuak.com)

 

September 22, 1588: Miguel de Oquendo’s ship catches fire and kills many in failed Armada expedition

In the late summer of 1588 one of the most important naval confrontations in European history took place.  On the orders of Philip II a fleet of 130 ships sailed from Spain, in principle to escort armed forces from the Spanish Netherlands that had been amassed with the purpose of invading England and overthrowing the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. Significant parts of the Armada were led by two prominent Basque admirals: Juan Martínez de Recalde Larrinaga from Bilbao and Miguel de Oquendo y Segura from Donostia-San Sebastián. However, the fleet delayed attacking the English, then became unstuck in unfavorable weather conditions. Harried by the counter-attacking English fleet, the ships of the Armada were forced away from the southern English coast.

Miguel de Oquendo y Segura (1534-1588)

One of the tactics used by the English and their Dutch allies was to set empty ships alight and send them into the anchored counterparts of the Armada, and in doing so numerous ships caught fire. One of those was the Capitana, Oquendo’s own ship, which fell victim to the attack, killing many of the crew. While it was claimed at the time that Oquendo managed to return to the port of Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, in another ship on September 24, it seems more likely that he died at sea on September 22. Recalde suffered a similar fate, although he did manage to return the port of A Coruña in Galicia, where he dies from wounds sustained at sea.

Basque involvement in global maritime history is discussed in some detail by William A. Douglass in his Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean.

 

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