Tag: Basques in the U.S.

Flashback Monday: Ellis Island’s 125th anniversary

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the opening of Ellis Island, which closed 63 years ago on Sunday. Over 12 million immigrants passed through its doors for inspection before entering the United States, and Basques were no exception. From February to May 2010, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum held an exhibition on the Basques, entitled “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques.” Here’s an excerpt from the website, with photos from the exhibit:

“Hidden in Plain Sight” was an interactive exhibit that presented opportunities for all ages to discover the unique origins, language, and history of the Basque people; the factors that pulled them away from their homes; the legendary tales of colorful immigrants; Basque contributions in the United States and the world; and the unprecedented cultural connection with their homeland.

Basques have rarely been recognized for their historic contributions or cultural distinctiveness. Similarly, as they passed through Ellis Island, their nationality, names, and heritage were often disregarded by otherwise well-meaning officials. In many cases they were simply listed as Spanish or French.

Today, even though Basque politicians, scientists, sports figures, business executives, artists, and movie stars may be prominent throughout the US and in many nations around the world, they are still often overlooked as being Basque, perpetuating them being “Hidden in Plain Sight.”

This exhibition was organized by the only museum in the United States devoted to preserving Basque culture and history, The Basque Museum & Cultural Center, in conjunction with and supported by the Basque Autonomous Government.

“Hidden in Plain Sight” opened on February 6 with a special ceremony in the Great Hall at Ellis Island with performances by the Biotzetik Basque Choir, the Oinkari Basque Dancers, and soloist Amaia Arberas. The ribbon cutting was performed by Patricia Lachiondo, President of the Basque Museum & Cultural Center and Guillermo Echenique, General Secretary of Foreign Action of the Basque Government. Performances by the Biotzetik Basque Choir followed. The Oinkari Basque Dancers also performed at Liberty Island later in the afternoon.

Looking at Ellis Island from an international perspective, the New York Times recently profiled it in its Daily Briefing, with links to articles:

Back Story

Ellis Island, the gateway to the U.S. for more than 12 million immigrants, is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its opening this year. Sunday marks the day it closed in 1954.

Many Americans are descended from immigrants who passed through Ellis Island in a wave of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Upon arrival by ship, steerage passengers were transported to the island for inspections. (First- and second-class passengers skipped that step.)

Those found to have serious contagious illnesses or deemed unemployable could face deportation.

Nearly 70 percent of arrivals didn’t speak a word of English, but language was never an issue, said Doug Treem, a National Park Service Ranger.

Interpreters translated scores of languages — they were required to speak at least four each, other than English. Many were immigrants or children of immigrants.

“I doubt if anyone working as a translator at the U.N. right now could have gotten a job at Ellis Island,” said Mr. Treem.

One translator, the child of European immigrants and a veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, worked in Italian, German, Yiddish and Croatian, while attending law school at night. That was Fiorello LaGuardia, who went on to be a three-term mayor of New York City.

I’m guessing language was an issue for Basques, for I wonder if any inspectors spoke Euskara! What we do know is what awaited these migrants once they were in New York City.  As Douglass and Bilbao note in Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World:

Elderly Basques residing the American West today still retain vivid memories, spanning more than half a century in some cases, of getting off the boat in New York City filled with trepidation, only to hear the welcome words, “Euskaldunak emen badira?” (“Are there Basques here”). pg. 374.

These words often came from Valentín Aguirre’s agents at the Casa Vizcaina, a hotel and travel agency of sorts for Basques in New York. Aguirre sent employees to meet every ship that arrived from Europe. Once the Basque immigrants met up with these agents, they were taken to the hotel where they were welcomed with familiar food in their native Euskara environment. Some may have even played a few games of pelota at the hotel’s fronton. Aguirre would help them reunite with family or find employment in the West. He would purchase their tickets and give them instructions for their second journey across the States, at many times pinning their names and tickets onto their lapels so that they would safely arrive at their destinations.

Although there are many stories of Ellis Island, the horrible conditions and foreign-ness of the place, it was the port of entry for many of our relatives here in the West. With its 125th anniversary, we remember the long journeys our ancestors took to find their new place in the United States. “Euskaldunak emen badira?” Yes, we are here and will remain.

 

Tales from Basques in the United States: If you ever needed reminding that Basques had a reputation for working hard…

Today’s story in our series of tales from Basques in the United States is adapted from vol. 1 and concerns the amazing feat of record-breaking Antonio Malasechevarria, brother of the more tragic “Txomin” covered in a previous post.

Jan eta lo, potolo (“The Devil makes work for idle hands,” literally: “Just eating and sleeping makes you fat”)

 Lan onak, uzta ona (“Good work, good harvest”)

Gus Bundy.

Long, lonely days on remote mountains were the norm for newly arrived Basque sheepherders. Photo courtesy of Gus Bundy, from the Basque Archive.

Born Apr. 22, 1890 in Gizaburuaga, Bizkaia, he arrived in New York City in 1910 and went straight to Winnemucca, NV, to meet up with his brother, Juan, who was working in Paradise Valley. He became a sheepherder and, after stints in Humboldt Co., NV, he ended up working for Jay H. Dobbins in southern Idaho and Oregon. In 1918 the media reported that he had broken a record that was difficult to match: He had worked a straight 38 months and 5 days or 3 years, 2 months, and 5 days, without taking a single day off! What’s more, he didn’t receive a single penny for any of this mammoth work shift until it was over, and he went into a town only when passing through. In the end, he received a check for $2,018. Antonio was one of the five “Bascos” contracted by Dobbins in the spring of 1915. Another compatriot, José Arriaga, had also worked 2 years straight without rest (Oregonian, Jul. 7, 1918).

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.

Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World 40 YEARS!

Amerikanuak (1975), by William A. Douglas and Jon Bilbao, is a cornerstone in studies of Basque emigration and diaspora. Although in the last four decades a lot of research has been carried out on this topic, this book is still essential today.

From October 14 and until December 9, different universities in the Basque Country are honoring this landmark work by holding inter-university seminars on topics related to the book titled “The Basque Country and the Americas: Atlantic Links and Relations.”

October 14: at the University of Navarre, Iruñea-Pamplona: “Navarre and the Americas.”

October 15-16: at the University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz: “Recovering the North: Companies, Capitals, and Atlantic Projects in the Imperial Hispanic Economy.”

October 23: the University of Pau, in conjunction with Eusko Ikaskuntza (the Basque Studies Society), at the Basque Museum of Baiona: “Research on Basque emigration.”

December 9 at Mondragon University, Arrasate: “The Image and Representation of Basques.”

William Douglass will be in the Basque Country collaborating in these inter-university seminars. For more information about these seminars (in Spanish) click here.

The Center for Basque Studies has more books written and edited by William A. Douglass that you may find interesting, such as: Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, Death after Life: Tales of Nevada, (edited with Carmelo Urza, Linda White, and Joseba Zulaika) The Basque DiasporaGlobal Vasconia, Essays in Basque Social Anthropology and History, and (with Joseba Zulaika) Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives (free to download here).

There is even a candid and vivid biography by Miel A. Elustondo, William A. Douglass: Mr. Basque, which will be of interest to anyone who has followed Bill’s work over the years.