As part of the ongoing celebrations held in conjunction with the unique experience that is the annual Durangoko Azoka, the Basque Book and Record Fair held in Durango, Bizkaia, the prestigious Argizaiola Award is presented to people who, in the bleakest of moments, have managed to bring light and warmth to Basque culture; to keep the culture going, in other words, when the chips are down. In 2013, for example, our very own Bill Douglass received the award.
Five of the recipients of the 2016 Argizaiola Award, L to R: jaime Albillos Arnaiz, Kepa Mendia Landa, Carmen Belaza, Jose Ramon Zengotitabengoa, and Justo Alberdi Artetxe. Image taken from the Durangoko Azoka website.
This year, the award has been given to six people to represent the hundreds of individuals who have over the years carried out inurri-lana (literally “ant work”) in favor of Basque culture. In sum, this is public recognition for the often overlooked tireless efforts, long hours, and great personal investment of so many people to keep Basque culture alive and thriving. The six individuals were chosen to represent specific geographical areas – five in the Basque Country itself: Kepa Mendia Landa (Araba), Justo Alberdi Artetxe (Bizkaia), Jaime Albillos Arnaiz (Gipuzkoa), Patxika Erramuzpe (Iparralde), and Carmen Belaza (Nafarroa); and one to represent the Basque Diaspora: our great friend Jose Ramon Zengotitabengoa, whose son Sam now represents the family on the Center’s Advisory Board.
Examples of an argizaiola, or “board of wax,” a kind of coiled ornamental candle. In many traditional cultures, any light-giving source, anything to keep darkness at bay, holds a special place in the human imagination. Photo by Juan San Martin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Jose Ramon, a Bizkaian born in Zaldibar in 1938 and raised in the Durango district, has certainly had an eventful life involving much traveling. At age fifteen he left home to pursue his studies. He went to university in Liège, Belgium, for five years before moving to England, where he lived and worked for nine years, followed by a two-year stay in Germany. Eventually, he moved to the United States, where he enjoyed a successful thirty-five-year business career in Chicago as well as raising a family before retirement. Through his and others’ efforts, the Society for Basque Studies in America was established, which served as a catalyst for numerous academic initiatives to promote and study Basque culture in the US. He also played a prominent role in establishing Nestor Basterretxea’s Basque Sheepherders’ Monument in Reno and served on the Center’s advisory board for many years.
Zorionak, Jose Ramon, and all the other “ants” who have done so much for Basque culture over the years!