Tag: Argentina

Old European culture and language finds new home and thrives thousands of miles across the Atlantic: Does this sound familiar?

Do you know the name of a small stateless nation in Western Europe with a vibrant and distinct old culture and language (which predates later languages like English, French, and Spanish), has a flag composed of the colors red, white, and green, and from where people left in the nineteenth century to settle an inhospitable landscape in the Americas, while today their descendants celebrate their cultural heritage by maintaining many of the customs and the language of their forbears?  Got it? Yes… it’s Wales!

The flag of Wales. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

We’ve posted before on the cultural and historical links between the Basque Country and Wales, and we think this is yet another great story that will resonate with people with Basque connections. In 1865, a group of Welsh people settled in Patagonia, Argentina, developing the inhospitable landscape to forge what is today Chubut Province. The capital of Chubut is Rawson (from the Welsh ‘Trerawson’) and other Welsh place names include Puerto Madryn (‘Porth Madryn’ in Welsh), Trelew, and Trevelin. Interestingly, these were all Welsh-speakers, and the settlement was a planned effort to try and establish a new Welsh-speaking community 7,000 miles away from home. Its founders were worried that, with the growing emphasis placed on English, the Welsh language would die out in Wales and thus embarked on this extraordinary journey. To this day, and despite many ups and downs, Welsh exists as a language of everyday use in this part of Argentina, in the area known as Y Wladfa (the Colony), and is strongest in the coastal towns of Gaiman and Trelew, and the Andean settlement of Trevelin. Today, estimates vary on there being anywhere between 5,000 and 12,000 native Welsh-speakers in this area, with a further 25,000 speaking it as their second language. After a number of years through the twentieth century when official Argentinian government policy sought to establish a Spanish-only society, in the last few decades Argentina has embraced what it sees as the general benefits of a multicultural and multilingual society. This has led to a flourishing of the Welsh language, with schools full of learners and newspapers like Y Drafod (established in 1891) and the newer Clecs Camwy (2011).

The flag of Puerto Madryn, representing the Welsh-Argentinian experience. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If you have a spare hour, check out this amazing documentary, in English, Welsh, and Spanish (with subtitles!), made by the BBC Cymru/Wales, about this community.

So what of the Basque connection? Well, apart from the obvious similarities in the immigrant experience as a whole, as we all know, Basques also settled in Argentina. There is a Basque community in Chubut as well, represented by the Centro Vasco Etorritakoengatk in Puerto Madryn and the Centro Vasco del Noreste del Chubut in Trelew. And we know that both the Welsh- and Basque-Argentinians have taken part together in many multicultural events.

While such stories may be somewhat anecdotal to the great “narrative” of the history we are taught more generally, footnotes at best within larger, supposedly more important stories, I do think they are valid examples of the triumph and endurance of the human spirit; of how we as groups cherish our cultures, our minority (and minoritized) languages, and the lengths we go to in order to maintain and extend our community ties via these cultures and languages. And there are many lessons to be learned here for Basque-Americans. Cautionary tales do abound, of course, such as that of the Scottish Gaelic-speaking community in Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, which numbered around 200,000 people in 1850–helping make Gaelic, in both its Scottish and Irish varieties (the latter found principally in Newfoundland) the third most spoken language in Canada after English and French at the time–but today stands at around 7,000. That said, the Government of Nova Scotia did establish an Office of Gaelic Affairs to support and promote the Gaelic language there and current efforts to revitalize the language include literature and even movies in Gaelic.  Check out the following short documentary movie about the Gaels (Gaelic-speakers) in this regard:

If you’re interested in this topic, you may like our multi-authored work, Language Rights and Cultural Diversity, edited by Xabier Irujo and Viola Miglio. This work addresses the themes of language rights and language protection, and how minority languages contribute to enriching the lives of all those around them (something that is explicitly made clear toward the end of the BBC Cymru/Wales documentary).

 

Basques abroad

It is hard to believe I am finally here in the Basque Country.  I’m tempted to say that I’ve waited a long time to get here to Euskalherria to start my fieldwork, but that wouldn’t be a completely accurate statement.  I could even say with some certainty that this year’s work and life in the Basque Country will represent both a reduction and culmination of my life’s interests and experiences, however, that would be limiting to the extensions of those same interests which lead me here:  languages, culture, wine, travel, food, diversity, and making connections with people around the world.  So, before sharing the amazing experiences I’ve already had while studying here, I would like to highlight those which were had before my arrival to the Basque Country this January.

Knowing I would be conducting fieldwork here for a whole year, I wanted to take advantage of the time and opportunity to travel to South America with my father.  In 2014, I spent an amazing time learning about the production and wine-making process in Casablanca, Chile.  With so much Basque heritage there, I was delighted to discover that the Basque diaspora still held its roots firmly planted in this South American country.  Finding the popular Basque wine called Chacoli was an adventure I won’t forget (see previous blog to read more about Chacoli in South America), discovering the ways in which a culture can change and be maintained across the globe.  But before returning to Chile, my dad and I checked out some Basque culture in Argentina.

I had come to know of a Basque restaurant from a man who had wandered into the Center for Basque Studies  before my departure.  He told me about his family and how one of them had started a restaurant in Buenos Aires.  I mentioned I’d be heading there soon, so he gave me the information to find Leiketio.  The food and drink which combined aspects of both Basque and Latin American cuisine were amazing. However, the most satisfying part of the meal was being able to use the little Basque I had acquired from the previous summer to speak to a server who had recently moved from the Basque Country.

My second encounter with Basque culture in South America happened after my dad had returned to the US, and I had moved on for my second visit to Chile.  I was in the beautiful, historic town of Valparaiso, listening to music and enjoying the warmer weather when a couple had passed me speaking Basque.  I started talking to them and found out they were the band Niña Coyote and Chico Tornado (and very well known I might add in the Basque Country! See below for a clip of their music).  Also turns out the family of one of the members lived on the same street that I currently live now here in Euskalherria!

Just goes to show that si, el mundo es un pañuelo! Hau bai mundu txikia! It’s a small world!

I hope to keep making these cross-cultural connections over the next year here.  Stay tuned for more adventures in fieldwork from here in Euskalherria!

 

January 20, 1940: A Milestone in Basque emigration to Argentina

On January 20, 1940, Argentinian president Roberto Marcelino Ortiz and minister of agriculture José Padilla signed into law a decree authorizing expanded Basque immigration into that country and allowing the immigration of Basques from Spain and France “with the documentation that they possess.”

emigracion-vasca

Basque emigrants to Argentina

Xabier Irujo writes about this decree in his Expelled from the Motherland: 

On August 30, 1939, the Basque government delegation in Buenos Aires established the Pro-Basque Immigration Committee. Through this committee, Basque refugees managed to persuade Argentina’s President Ortiz to sign immigration decrees on January 20 and July 18, 1940; Vice President Ramón S. Castillo signed another decree on August 12. According to the decrees, all Basque refugees—without distinction, including those without documents—could enter Argentina without undergoing quarantine, which was obligatory for all other immigrants, and after two weeks they would obtain full Argentine citizenship. There was only one condition: the committee had to verify that the refugees were Basques. (p. 106)

This decree was an important recognition and in the words of Basque president José Antonio Aguirre (as quoted in José  Manuel Azcona Pastor’s Possible Paradises: Basque Emigration to Latin America) the decree meant “the recognition of honor, as men and as a people, for the Basques” (p. 400).

NOTE: Unfortunately (for us!) graduate student Iker Saitua is nearing completion of his dissertation in history so will no longer have the time to share his great “Flashback Friday” posts with us, but we congratulate him on his progress and thank him for sharing so much historical knowledge with us and we will continue in his tradition every sharing a “this week in Basque history” every Friday.

Flashback Friday: The Wheelbarrow Basque

On November 27, 1885, Guillermo Isidoro Larregui Ugarte was born in Iruñea, Navarre. In 1900, at the age of fifteen, he emigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina. He first began working as a merchant sailor. Later on, he moved to Uruguay, where he worked and prospered on a hog farm. Then he went southward to Patagonia and worked for an American Oil Company in the province of Santa Cruz. One day in 1935, Guillermo met another Basque immigrant. The two Basques started yelling at each other over a bet that one could walk northward to Buenos Aires with a wheelbarrow. Without thinking twice and while everybody laughed at him, Guillermo Isidoro Larregui Ugarte grabbed a wheelbarrow and prepared it with the essential things he needed to survive. Thus began his long journey from Santa Cruz to Buenos Aires.  In reality, he wanted to start traveling through and exploring the Latin American landscape. Since he had no other means of travel, he embarked on this curious adventure with a wheelbarrow. His story soon began to appear in newspapers and people from different corners of the country increasingly followed his footsteps. Furthermore, people supported him on every stage of the journey, especially from the Basque immigrant community. After his great feat, Larregui never claimed his winnings from the bet. Later on, Guillermo made a further three more trips with his wheelbarrow. He came to be known as “the Wheelbarrow Basque” or even “the One Wheel Quixote.” On June 9, 1948, Larregui passed away at the age of seventy-nine in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina. 

vasco-de-la-carretilla

Guillermo Isidoro Larregui Ugarte holding his wheelbarrow

carretilla1

Front page of an Argentinian newspaper La Nacion of May 25, 1936


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