Tag: Basque-American women (page 1 of 2)

A tale about “Tales from Basques in the United States

Over the past few months we have been featuring selected stories the monumental 2-volume work, Basques in the United States with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. On the dual occasion of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, celebrating Basque culture in all its forms, and the impending publication of an additional volume of Basques in the United States, we’d like to take some time out to recap some of the amazing stories we’ve come across these past few months.

Basques in the US vol 1

 

As we mentioned at the outset, we always intended for this groundbreaking work to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we wanted 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. In that regard, we’d first and foremost like to thank each and every one of you there who have commented on the posts, either on the blog itself or via our facebook page.

Basques in the US vol 2

What’s been really interesting to see, we think, is the extraordinary variety of individual life stories we’ve been able to share; so for every tale of immigrant success, as in the cases of Jean Etchebarren and Santiago Arrillaga, there have been more sobering accounts, as for example in the stories of Txomin Malasechevarria or Domingo Aldecoa. We have been treated to uplifting stories, like that of the woman sheepherder Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, and other tales of resilience and drive, as in those of the women of the Basque boardinghouses. We’ve met Basque moonshiners, bootleggers, and outright scammers; but whatever they put their hand to, Basques certainly earned a reputation for hard work, as recalled in the truly extraordinary case of Antonio Malasechevarria. And if all that were not enough, Basques were even responsible for saving the Paiute cutthroat trout!

So here’s to all those Basques that in their own way contributed to what is the life story of the United States itself. We’re going to be scaling down on the frequency of these posts for a while, just until we can adapt some of the tales from the forthcoming volume 3 of the work. But you can be sure there are plenty more surprises in store from this new batch of anecdotes!

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. We’d encourage you to share your own family stories with us, by clicking here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

Alive-After-Five Festival on Basque Block, Boise, Idaho

Life-After-Five on Basque Block

The Basque Block in Boise Idaho will host the “Alive-After-Five” popular concert series this summer. The Alive-After-Five is a free event that opens to the public between 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM on Wednesdays. However, in the case of severe weather condition, the event will be relocated to the Liquid Lounge at 405 South 8th Street #100. In order to show their support, local businesses on the block have made some special preparations ahead of the events to welcome the anticipated gatherings. Annie Whitehead, manager at the Leku Ona restaurant, said: “We are super excited, and we’re going to have some beer kegs out here, we’re going to have a delicious buffet with chorizo, paella, some good foods like that so everyone can have time to stop and eat.” A Boise resident, Kara McGee, commented, “It will make this area more crowded, but I think it will be great for these businesses, I bet it will be terrific.”

The Basque Block in Boise has been the site for several events in the city including the five-yearly event Basque Jaialdi, which is dubbed as the world’s biggest Basque festival.

For more information about the Alive-After-Five please visit the following websites:

http://www.aliveafterfive.com/index.html

http://kboi2.com/news/local/alive-after-five-kicks-off-wednesday-on-basque-block

May 15, 1849: Basque pioneers Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen arrive in US

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The Hotel Vasco (or “Aguirre Hotel”) in San Francisco, built by Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen in 1866.

On May 15, 1849 two of the most influential early Basque immigrants to the US arrived in San Francisco: Juan Miguel Aguirre (b. Etxalar, Navarre, in 1813) and Maria Martina Labayen (b. Areso, Navarre, 1816). Juan Miguel had fought on the losing Carlist side in the First Carlist War (1833-39). In 1845 he emigrated to Montevideo, Uruguay, where he established a successful hide and tallow business.

On hearing of the discovery of gold in California, they headed there in 1849, but instead of Juan Miguel seeking his fortune in the mines like most other forty-niners, the couple stayed in San Francisco. He made a living there by supplying much needed water to the ever-expanding city, transporting this valuable commodity by burro from a spring at the Presidio and peddling it, door-to-door for a dollar a bucket, to businesses and residents in old downtown San Francisco. As the business expanded, he employed fellow Basques to help him meet the growing demand. Today the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, in charge of the city’s water supply system, acknowledges Aguirre as one of the first entrepreneurs to recognize the importance of supplying fresh water to residents in the city.

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“San Francisco.” Engraving from The United States Illustrated by Charles A. Dana (New York, 1855). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The couple then used the profits of this business to invest in real estate, buying a lot at the intersection of what is now Grant Avenue and Ashburton Place, on which they built a fronton. Then, in 1866, they built one of the city’s first Basque hotels at 1312 Powell St., just off Broadway, a modest two-storey wooden building. And they also helped establish Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church on Broadway, which served as a point of reference for many Basques.  By the 1870s, the Aguirre, as it was known popularly, had also become a kind of employment agency for newly arrived Basques in San Francisco, as the following contemporary description of the establishment (quoted in Jeri Echeverria’s wonderful Home Away from Home, p. 69) demonstrates: “There was a Basque hotel in the center of town, where California rancheros in need of help were sure to find quiet gentle men from the Pyrenees.”

Interestingly, the Basque forty-niners formed a specific group within this growing Basque community in the Bay Area, regarded and revered as the veterans or pioneers of their compatriots. And a dinner in their honor was held in 1893, at which both Juan Miguel and Maria Martina were present, and at which several bottles of champagne were consumed according to the local Basque-language newspaper California’ko Eskual-Herria.

Juan Miguel died in 1897, but Maria Martina and their three children continued to run the hotel. By the turn of the century, the Aguirre had become the premier meeting point (and “marriage mill”!) for Basques living in San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma, and San Jose counties. It was even a vacation destination for other Basques visiting from further afield in the West. This all came to an end, though, when it burned down in the San Francisco fires of 1906.

Juan Miguel Aguirre and Maria Martina Labayen can rightly be credited as key figures in establishing the Basque community in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Further Reading

Douglass, William A., and Jon Bilbao, Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World.

Echeverria, Jeronima. Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses.

Oiarzabal, Pedro J. Gardeners of Identity: Basques in the San Francisco Bay Area.

San Sebastián, Koldo, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. Basques in the United States, vol. 2.

Zubiri, Nancy. A Travel Guide to Basque America: Families, Feasts, and Festivals.

Tales from Basques in the United States: Constancia Bengoechea and the only house in the US whose address was written out in Basque on the front door (probably)

This week’s story from Basques in the United States, adapted from volume 1, is about the only house in the US (probably) whose address was written out in Basque on the front door… and yet another remarkable Basque women who lived there: Constancia Bengoechea (also spelled Bengochea).

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A photo of Constancia taken on her wedding day in 1916.

Born in 1895 in Nabarniz, Bizkaia, Constancia married Daniel “Dan” Gabica of Ereño, Biz. (b. 1883) in 1916, before coming to the US in December 1918 with their daughter, Felicia, born that same year. Dan had first come to the US in 1910. She arrived at Rock Creek Ranch near Orovada, Humboldt Co., NV, owned by Dan, in the dead of winter. The temperature was below zero and the ranch house was still not finished, the windows covered with blankets in an attempt to keep out the freezing cold. “Nora etor naz ni, ba?” (Where on earth have I come?) she would say and right then and there Constancia vowed never to go short of money again. But after WWI the armed forces quit buying lamb meat and wool and prices plummeted, with the result that the couple lost all their sheep.

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The Winnemucca Hotel, where Constancia worked for over forty years. Picture by Finetooth, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This setback didn’t deter them, however, and following the births of Raymond (b. 1921), Joe (b. 1923, killed in WWII in 1944), Dan Jr. (b. 1925), and Mary (b. 1927), by the 1930s Dan was one of the most prosperous sheepmen in Northern Nevada, working in Rebel Creek, Humboldt Co. In 1931 he joined the board of directors of Humboldt Co. Farm Center. The couple then moved into the hotel business, running a motel on East Winnemucca Blvd. in Winnemucca. Life for Constancia was work and more work; then, after a few hours of rest, back to more work. Dan died in 1960, and Constancia went on to work at the famous Winnemucca Hotel for over forty years, always with a smile on her face. Felicia also worked alongside her mother for many years in the 60s and 70s.

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“Beŕeun da Oguei, Ekera Binemuḱa Zeraitz”** (Two Hundred Twenty, East Winnemucca Boulevard). Photo by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe.

Famously, Constancia owned a house on main street in Winnemucca, the only house (probably) in the US that had the address written entirely in Basque, mixing Iparralde and Bizkaian dialects. She died a centenarian in 1995 in Winnemucca (or “Binemuka” as she would say all her life).

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.

**The rendering of the address in Basque is the best we could make out from the photo. If it was spelled any differently, just let us know and we’ll change it accordingly.

Tales from Basques in the United States: The importance of Basque women in the world of boardinghouses

Although the sheepherder is often regarded as the iconic personification of Basque immigrants in the West, it is worth remembering that the Basque boardinghouse–perhaps the quintessential institution serving as the foundation of Basque social networks–would have been nothing without the many women who made the long trip across the Atlantic, sometimes (as we can see below) at a very young age, to work in this key institution and set an example of what hard work, effort, and dedication really meant. As Monique Laxalt recalls of her own grandmother, who ran a Basque boardinghouse in Carson City, NV, in the wonderfully evocative The Deep Blue Memory: “for eighteen hours a day, she cooked, cleaned, and washed.”

Today, then, in our continuing series of stories from Basques in the United States, this time adapted from volume 1, we celebrate two Basque women who forged new lives for themselves in the US by starting out in the tough, and sometimes uncompromising, world of the Basque boardinghouse.

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Anastasia Arriandiaga Gamecho Arteaga.

Anastasia “Ana” Arriandiaga Gamecho Arteaga was born in 1892 in Elantxobe, Bizkaia. She arrived in New York in 1907 and went to Boise where her sister Escolastica (b. ca 1890) lived. Ana was 14 when her parents sent her to Boise to serve as a maid in Benito Arego’s boardinghouse. They had reached an agreement with Arego (b. 1872), who was also from Elantxobe, whereby she would be paid $5 a month to meet the expenses of the trip ($150) that he had covered. The working conditions were harsh and furthermore, as Ana told her sister, she was treated badly. As a result, the girl’s brother-in-law, José or “Joe” Alastra (b. 1871, and who owned the Howell Spring Valley Ranch), met with Arego to try and reach an agreement that would allow Ana to quit the job, but Arego refused and the case ended up in court. The young woman feared that such a scandal would harm her parents, but in the end the court ruled that she should be allowed to leave her work, after the amount owed Arego was paid in full (Idaho Statesman, Nov. 1908). On Dec. 24, 1909 she married Marcelino Aldecoa (born in Natxitua, Ea, Biz. in 1886) in Boise, and they had 5 children: Luis, Fermín, Domingo, Alfonso, and Carmen who were all born in Boise.

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Luciana Celestina Aboitiz Goitia (Lucy Garatea).

Our second story concerns Luciana Celestina “Lucy” Aboitiz Goitia. Born in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, in 1905, she arrived in New York in 1920 and traveled with an uncle, Ignacio Barandica (b. 1892 in Muxika, Biz.), and a cousin, Visitación Arriaga, to Boise, ID. Their reference was another uncle, Francisco Aguirre “Zapatero” (b. 1878 in Segura, Gipuzkoa), who was married to Gabina Goitia (b. 1890, in Lekeitio), her mother’s sister, who managed the Star Hotel in Boise. For a while she worked in her uncle and aunt’s hotel as a maid. She did everything: cleaning, laundry, ironing, as well as taking care of her little cousins. Her work paid for her room and board and the passage.

This was part of a deeply rooted practice in the Basque Country, the so-called morroiak (live-in menial workers). Large families saved themselves having to feed their sons and daughters by sending them to the homes of relatives or neighbors, through the custom of tripa truke (food for work). And this practice was transferred to the US. Sometimes, the sheepherders who lodged in the boardinghouse also asked her to wash and take care of their clothes while they were in the mountains with the sheep. That was the only money earned that she was able to keep for herself. She had only 2 free hours a week, on Sundays. That’s when she would get together with Felisa Gamecho Achabal. Young Basque men invited her to the movies, to dinner at some Chinese restaurant, or to dance at the Anduiza Boardinghouse.

In Feb. 1922, Felisa and Lucy, along with Julia Lizundia (from Mendata, Biz., who later married Cipriano Barroetabeña, b. 1899, from Markina-Xemein, Biz.) and Maria Uberuaga (b. 1883, Lekeitio) participated in a festival organized by the Americanization School of Boise. They danced the jota and the porrulsalda accompanied by Julián Ecenarro (b. 1897, in Abadiño, Biz.) on guitar and Miss Lizundia on the pandero or Basque tambourine (Idaho Statesman, Feb. 19, 1922). One day, one of the young men, Esteban Garatea (b. 1895) from Nabarniz, invited her to the movies and Lucy no longer wanted to date anyone else.

They married Feb. 3, 1923, and for their honeymoon, they went to Nampa, ID in a taxi cab, spending the night at the famous Dewey Hotel. Esteban bought Lucy her wedding gown, shoes, and, what’s more, he had to pay her uncle the expenses of her trip and her room and board for the last 2 and a half years … as if Luciana had done no work! Ultimately, this sort of “buy-out clause” came to an end at some point by ruling of the state courts. The newlyweds settled down in Barber, CA, where Esteban had a job in a sawmill. They had 4 children, and life was good to them. In Aug. 1935, along with other families, they moved to Emmett, ID., but in Nov. that same year Esteban died from a work-related accident.

In 1940, together with Cipri Barroetabeña and Julia Lizundia (with whom she maintained an old friendship), Jon Bilbao (b. 1914, Cayey, Puerto Rico), the subdelegate of the Basque government-in-exile in Idaho and future co-founder of the Basque Studies Program at UNR, and José Villanueva (b. 1895, Greater Bilbao) and his wife María Teresa López (b. 1905, also from Lekeitio), formed the first group of Basque dancers in Idaho, in Emmett. Lucy had danced with the Lekeitio batzoki dance group in her youth and she was a good dantzari (dancer) as she showed whenever she had an opportunity. She lived in Emmett until 1948, when she moved to Burns, OR, after she bought the Plaza Hotel. She ran this ostatu (boardinghouse) there for 17 years, when she sold it to Bernardo and Maite Andueza in 1965 and returned to Boise. In Aug. 2009, she went to live in a residence. In 2010 she was a centenarian, thus becoming the amuma (grandmother) of Idaho. She died Nov. 15 of that year.

If you’re interested in these stories and you haven’t already done so, check out Jeri Echeverria’s delightful Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses. See, too, Robert Laxalt’s classic The Basque Hotel.

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.

 

Tales from Basques in the United States: Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the Woman Sheepherder

Welcome to another post about the (sometimes extraordinary) lives of ordinary Basques who came to the United States in search of a new and hopefully better life. These are all stories adapted from our 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.

Today we’re going to recall the remarkable life of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, who we honor as a pioneering woman sheepherder (adapted from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States).

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Juanita Mendiola Gabiola. A true pioneer.

Born Jun. 24 1901 on the Ziortza-Beitze baserri (farmstead) in Ziortza-Bolibar, Bizkaia, as a child Juanita Mendiola Gabiola went to live on the Karrietorre baserri in Markina. She married Cipriano Barrutia (b. 1891) of the Patrokua baserri in Xemein, Bizkaia–who had first emigrated to the US in 1911–in 1921 and that same year they traveled across the Atlantic to start their new life together. They arrived in Mountain Home, Idaho and she worked alongside her husband, for the Gandiaga Sheep Company, in the desert and the mountains herding sheep and cooking. Although the majority of sheepherders’ wives stayed in town while their menfolk were up in the mountains, Juanita wanted to accompany her partner and husband. Her first month in Idaho she spent on horseback, trailing sheep, and spending nights in a sleeping bag under the stars. Her first home was a sheepherder’s tent, and this lifestyle lasted six years. Indeed, the couple’s successful partnership meant that in 1927 Cipriano was able to launch his own business, the Yuba Sheep Company.

Gus Bundy.

Women were no strangers to life in the sheep camps. Photo by Gus Bundy. Photo from Jon Bilbao Basque Library Archive.

Juanita adjusted well to the new and very different lifestyle in the desert, where she gave birth to their 5 children (although 2 died at birth). Ralph was born in 1929, John in 1931, and Richard or “Dick” in 1935. When the 3 children came of school age, they rented a house in Mountain Home and she stayed in town with them. The couple established a ranch, where they spent summers and a lot of the year with the sheep, and Juanita acquired US citizenship in 1938. When it came to life outside work, she used to visit the Bengoechea Hotel in Mountain Home to socialize with other Basque women. Cipriano died in 1966 and Juanita continued on, active as always, and competing in several contests for seniors. At age 92 she participated in the Third Age Olympic Games in Boise, Idaho and won several races. In 2001 she was still living alone on her ranch, caring for animals, and was very interested in politics and the Church. She died a centenarian on Oct. 1, 2001.

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.”

 

March 8: In Honor of Basque Women on International Women’s Day

Here at the Center, on the occasion of International Women’s Day–whose theme this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”–we’d like to take the opportunity to honor Basque women through the ages by sharing with you some of the posts we’ve done this past year on Basque and Basque-American women, and to look ahead to the future.

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World renowned rock climber Josune Bereziartu

In the past few months we’ve looked at the lives of an eclectic group of Basque women, from figures of historical significance like the swashbuckling Lieutenant Nun, Catalina de Erauso, one of the first Basque photographers Eulalia de Abaiatua, and pioneering physicist and meteorologist Felisa Martín Bravo, to contemporary sportswomen who enjoy international renown such as Edurne Pasaban and Josune Bereziartu as well as Basque chanteuse Anne Etchegoyen.

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The remarkable Yolande Betbeze  Fox (1928-2016)

On the other side of the Atlantic, our attention has switched to an ongoing series devoted to prominent American women of Basque descent, which to date include the recently deceased “Basque spitfire” Yolande Betbeze Fox; fashion icon Norma Kamali; philanthropist extraordinaire Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen; all-round renaissance woman Jauretsi Saizarbitoria; talk show host supreme Cristina Saralegui; and eminent academic Jeri Echeverria.

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We’ve also reviewed some of our own publications that explore women’s themes in many different and complex ways, such as the moving biography My Mama Marie and innovative anthology Ultrasounds: Basque Women Writers on Motherhood as well as the novels The Hammer of Witches and Zelestina Urza in Outer Space. The female voice and memory, meanwhile, permeate Arantxa Urretabizkaia’s novel The Red Notebook. And don’t forget that one of our textbooks, Basque Gender Studies, is free to download (just click here).What’s more, many other stories of Basque women are included in the 2-volume work, Basques in the United States with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. And we hope to share some of these stories with you in the months to come.

Prominent American Women of Basque Descent: Jeri Echeverria

Dr. Jeronima “Jeri” Echeverria: Professor and Provost Emerita, California State University, Fresno, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer, California State University System (ret.).

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Jeri Echeverria, inspiring leadership and promoting Basque Studies

Born in 1946, Echeverria grew up on a sheep ranch in Brea Canyon, California, the daughter of Basque immigrants, and earned a BA in history and humanities from the University of California, Irvine, where she also completed a teaching credential. After teaching social studies at the secondary school level for twelve years, she earned her doctorate in history at University of North Texas, with research focusing on Basque-related topics.

In 1988, she joined the Department of History at California State University, Fresno, and later served as Chair of the Department, as Associate Dean of the College of Social Sciences, and as Associate Provost before being appointed Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. As provost, she played a leadership role in strategic and academic planning, expanding graduate and joint doctoral programs, supporting student success initiatives, addressing gender and equity issues and diversity hiring, planning for instructional technology, and developing systems to expand grant and contract activity.

Appointed Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs in 2009, she participated in the national movement to increase graduation rates in higher education, championed a statewide initiative to improve the experience of students transferring from community colleges to four-year universities and colleges, as well as advocating for the quality of academic programs offered to the largest cumulative student body in the United States, the CSU.

Home Away from Home

She currently offers a Leadership Course to doctoral students in two of California’s doctoral programs for educational leaders.  Her goal is the transformation of education and educators, and she focuses her current efforts in California.  Another of her current commitments is leading Lecole: A Learning Community for Ontological/Phenomenological Education, a group of faculty who are committed to introducing the Leadership Course and its distinctions to higher education. For more information on this, as well as an introductory video featuring Jeri herself, click here.

Among her publications are: Home Away From Home: A History of Basque BoardinghousesPortraits of Basques in the New World (edited with Richard W. Etulain), and  Home Off the Range: Basque Hotels in the American West.

We at the Center are also proud to say that Jeri serves as Vice-Chair of our own Advisory Board.

Prominent American Women of Basque Descent: Cristina Saralegui

Born in Miramar, Cuba, in 1948, journalist, broadcaster, and entrepreneur Cristina Saralegui, whose family later moved to Miami, is the most famous talk-show host of all time on Spanish-language TV in the United States.

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Cristina Saralegui during her show at the Beacon Theatre, New York City, March 31, 1992. Photo by José Oquendo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Her own background, recounted in detail in her autobiography Cristina! My Life as  a Blonde, is a fascinating example of how preserving a Basque sense of identity was crucial to her family.  Her grandfather, Francisco Saralegui Arrizubieta from Lizartza, Gipuzkoa, originally went to the Americas at age seven with virtually nothing to his name. Eventually, he became the foremost entrepreneur in the paper industry in Cuba, earning the nickname “the Paper Czar.” With the money he earned, he was determined his own children should not forget their roots and besides a mansion in Miramar, outside Havana, he also set up home in Donostia-San Sebastián for his family. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the family was left stranded in the Basque Country. Francisco, who was in Cuba at the time, could not return because he was a Basque nationalist, and he had to arrange for them to be smuggled out of the country.

Eventually, the family business in Cuba expanded to include broader publishing interests, and Cristina’s father, Bebo Saralegui, was also involved in running the firm. Following the Cuban Revolution, the family–made up of her mother, Terina Santamarina, as well as younger siblings Vicky, Patxi, and María Eugenia–relocated to Key Biscayne, Florida, where her youngest brother, Iñaki, would later be born. Cristina went on to study journalism at the University of Miami and enjoyed a successful career in print journalism, becoming editor of the Spanish-language version of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1979. In 1989 she launched El Show de Cristina (The Cristina Show) on the Univisión channel, which enjoyed an unprecedented run until its final broadcast in 2010.

She has won 12 Emmys and is also a successful entrepreneur, running both lifestyle brand Casa Cristina and media company Cristina Saralegui Enterprises. In August 2005, she was named one of the “25 Most Influential Hispanics in America” by Time Magazine and in October of the same year, she became the first Latina to be inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. She has received the Valor Award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in recognition of her pioneering efforts in educating her viewers on gay and lesbian issues as well as AIDS awareness and education; the ADCOLOR Award’s All-Star Honoree celebrating outstanding achievements by diverse professionals in advertising, marketing, and media; as well as the Raúl Julía Award of Excellence by The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. Together with husband Marcos Ávila (a former member of the band the Miami Sound Machine) she also established the Arriba la Vida/Up with Life Foundation in 1996 to educate the Hispanic community in the US about AIDS prevention.

Cristina Saralegui has never hidden her Basque heritage. In her own words (from Cristina! My Life as  a Blonde), “if we Cubans are supernationalistic even though we have been a nation only since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Basques have had that characteristic for a thousand years. I am not a direct product of the tropics… My family is only second-generation Cuban. In fact, we are Basques on all four sides.” She continues: “To be Basque is to be argumentative, complex, unique … Theirs is a reverse society in which the men also cook, the women are stubborn and hard as stone, and everyone survives through obstinacy and pure tenacity.” And for her, Basques are “half savage, half saint–a truly wondrous people.”

Find out more about Cristina Saralegui here.

 

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