Tag: basques in the united states (page 1 of 7)

Some Basque Christmas customs from the Center’s books

Last year, we did a post on several end-of-year traditions in Basque culture and with the holiday season just around the corner, we thought it would be nice to share some other Basque Christmas customs as described in a few of the great books we publish.

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First let’s take a look at what Julio Caro Baroja, in his classic work The Basques, has to say about the holiday season in Basque culture, and particularly about traditional customs in the area between northern Gipuzkoa and Navarre:

The Christmas holidays show different characteristics according to the zones. The name Gabon, which is very widespread, seems to be a simple translation of Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). More interesting are the names Eguberriak (new days), which seems to allude to the days surrounding the winter solstice rather than to any Christian notion; xubilaro (season of the log), reported in Lower Navarre; and Olentzaro, typical of the northeast of Gipuzkoa and some towns of the Navarrese Bidasoa, which in another time belonged to the diocese of Baiona. The custom, very widespread through all the west and southern Europe, of putting a great log on the fire on Christmas Eve, a log whose ashes are believed to kill vermin, or that is only partly burned and kept to be put on the fire quickly in a storm, is the reason behind the Lower Navarrese name.

The name of Olentzaro is more enigmatic at first glance, but I believe I have shown that it can be translated as “time of the Os,” alluding to “Les O de Nöel” [a set of nine antiphonies all beginning with “o” —trans.], which were sung in different parts of France and for which the days around Christmas there were called les oleries. However, it is interesting to note that a mythical person bears the same name (which has variations in each place), a charcoal burner with reddish eyes, sometimes brutal and menacing, other times grotesque and drunk, who is said to come down the chimney of peasant homes bearing his sickle, to warm himself at the yule log, and who is represented by a child, a boy, or a rag doll that is traipsed around during the collection that takes place on Christmas Eve. This character appears in the songs as an ambassador, herald of the birth of Christ, but on the other hand is related to those that in different countries of Europe are said to come down to Earth around the winter solstice, completely unattached to any Christian idea.

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In Philippe Veyrin’s The Basques: of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditionsmeanwhile, the focus shifts to Iparralde:

The Basques’ poetic repertoire is composed of a great number of lullabies and nursery rhymes, a mere handful of songs for different trades, and countless love songs and satires. Finally, a few songs of religious and moral inspiration seem to be in a less directly popular vein. One interesting category from a folkloric point of view—one that has its own flavor—is that of the aubades or “daybreak songs,” a tradition that has not been entirely lost. This genre is still performed in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Ziburu (Ciboure), and Urruña (Urrugne) during the nights of Christmas and New Year’s Eve; in Larraine (Larrau) in Zuberoa on the last Saturday in January; and in many other villages for Candlemas. The theme is always developed in a similar way. There are a few traditional season’s greetings, such as:

Dios te salbe: ongi ethorri       God save you: welcome.
Gabon Jainkoak digula eta     May God grant us good night and
Urte onean sar gaizela            Grant us a good year.

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Wilhelm von Humboldt, who enjoyed a prolonged stay in the Durango area of Bizkaia, writes in his Selected Basque Writings: The Basques and Announcement of a Publication:

The love for the national customs and entertainment is so strong that only few of the many carpenters, that is, those that work far away, even if as far as twenty or twenty-five miles, fail to return to their place of birth for the sole purpose of dining with their wives, children, and friends on Christmas Eve and to fill the town with music for a part of the night.

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And in Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, avialable free to download here, our very own William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika include a description of coastal traditions in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, at this time of the year:

[The schoolchildren of the village] took with them bread baked on Christmas Eve. They cut a cross into each loaf with a knife. Each child then kissed the cross and recited an “Our Father.” The bread was broken into pieces, which were thrown into the sea, along with oil from the lamps of the hermitage of San Juan. In gratitude, the cofradía [fishermen’s brotherhood or association] sponsored a festival for the children on the feast day of Saint Andrew, at which time each child was given bread and cheese.

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Finally, let’s share some wonderful reminiscences about traditional Basque-American family life at this time of year, as recounted in the late Joan Errea’s evocative My Mama Marie:

In the autumn, when the sheep were trailed down toward the ranch, the herders would come for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas, for the big feasts that we held. Of course, the fete would go on until early morning and then each sick man came around for a big plate of bahachuri sopa, or garlic soup, which was known to cure hangovers.

Each year at Christmas, every herder was given a present of two pairs of Levis or overalls, two shirts, four pairs of socks (although some never wore socks, preferring to wrap their feet in gunny sacks), two pairs of shoes, and a hand-knit sweater that Mama made during the course of the year.

Don’t forget, our Holiday Sale is still good through Tuesday, December 27 … 35% off book orders … don’t miss out!  Click here for details.

Some Basque-American traditions during the Holiday Season

With the holiday season here, most of you out there will know that this is a time typically embraced by Basque-Americans to have a good old time, Basque-style, with plenty of eating, drinking, dancing, and general bonhomie. One only need check out Astero to get a flavor of all the events going on during the holiday season, but it’s worth recalling that all these Christmas parties, the lunches and dinners, as well as the New Year’s celebrations, are rooted in a long tradition stretching back many years. This custom–which in academic terms we could say was based on a drive to cement community and cultural ties, to keep those bonds strong, and maintain and pass on traditions, often in the face of adverse wider social conditions–has in recent years changed significantly, but I think it’s interesting to consider how and why these gatherings came about.

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For those that could, Christmas was one of the few opportunities for Basque-Americans to let their hair down a little. Picture from the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

As Bill Douglass and Jon Bilbao point out in Amerikanuak (p. 386), such events were in former times typically less public than they are today. In their words, as regards the winter events (p. 388):

These Basque get-togethers all shared the characteristic of being closed ethnic affairs. With the exception of the Boise Sheepherders’ Ball, they were unheralded, inconspicuous events on the local social calendar. They were often held at some distance from the local population centers. None of this is surprising when we consider that the dates coincide with the periods of tension between the Basques and their neighbors … In such a climate, the Basques were not prone to display their ethnic identity publicly. If the Basque hotel and the private picnic or dance served as an ethnic refuge, where the immigrant could enjoy Basque cuisine, conversation, and company, he attempted in his dealings with the wider society to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

Even the origins of the famed Sheepherders’ Ball, perhaps the most famous of all Basque winter social events, recall an altercation between different Basque insurance groups in the late 1920s. As John and Mark Bieter note in An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho (p. 100):

Both organizations scheduled Christmas dances for herders in town on the same night. The influential sheepman John Archabal mediated the controversy and convinced the two sides to organize one dance with a lamb auction for charity. Both parties agreed, and the annual Sheepherders’ Ball became a mainstay in Boise and, later, in other southern Idaho towns.

The Sheepherders’ Ball became known as an “apron and overalls” dance, because admission required sheepherder garb or traditional Basque costumes. Sometimes a stand was set up near the door, where any partygoers who arrived inappropriately dressed could buy jeans on the spot. Although it was reserved for Basques and their guests, the Sheepherders’ Ball attracted the attention of the general public. On December 19, 1936, the Boise Capitol News wrote: “Black-eyed sons and daughters of the Pyrenees danced their beloved ‘jota’ with snapping fingers and nimble feet Friday evening at the annual Sheepherders’ Ball held at Danceland, to the music of Benito Arrego’s accordion and pandareen.”

Nowadays, these holiday season get-togethers are more open affairs, with everyone welcome, as noted in our recent post on the Basque Ladies’ Lagunak Christmas Luncheon in Reno. But it’s good to see that this great tradition of holiday season lunches, dinners, and dances continues to bind the Basque-American community together.

Besides these events, there is also a tradition of Basque-American participation in Christmas parades, as Nancy Zubiri writes in her invaluable book, A Travel Guide to Basque America:

On Christmas Eve for several years local Basque Children traveled down the usually snow-lined main street of Gardnerville in  hay-wagons, displaying the Nativity scene, signing gabon kantak (Christmas carols) and playing instruments–an Old Country tradition. Their procession would end at the Overland, where they received gifts and [Elvira] Cenoz served them the traditional hot chocolate. But the custom ended when the number of children dwindled.

Nowadays, the Garnerville Basque Club, Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba, usually takes part in the town’s annual festive Parade of Lights.

Christmas was also an occasion for family gatherings of course, as the stories collected in Portraits of Basques in the New World, edited by Richard W. Etulain and Jeronima Echeverria, testify to. For example, Ysidra Juanita “Jay” Arriola Uberuaga Hormaechea, born in Boise in 1908, recalled the holiday season of her youth (pp. 194-95):

We never knew what Christmas was until I was grown up, went to work, and earned some money. I brought in a fresh Christmas tree to our home at 310 Grove, in Boise. It was the first tree that our family ever had. Christmas day for us people was shared big suppers, dancing, and enjoying ourselves, in that way … Maybe, a little package for the kids. That was it … That’s the way it was when I was a girl.

Similarly, and in the Old Country tradition, Marjorie Archabal remembered (p. 91) Christmas Eve meals at which some thirty people gathered, women on one side of the table, men on the other, with the Archabal family patriarch and matriarch at the head. These meals took days to prepare, with the menu consisting of tongue, tripe, and codfish, among many other dishes. Meanwhile, growing up in a Basque home in northeastern Montana in the 1940s and 1950s, Rene Tihista recalled a blend of Basque and American traditions, with turkey making appearance at the family table (p. 121):

When I was a kid all the holiday gatherings with my uncles and cousins were held at our place. Mom raised a huge turkey for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Dad played the accordion and violin and sang Basque songs. Of course wine flowed freely during our get-togethers. I would sit on dad’s knee and sing “Uso Zuria,” a song he taught me about a white dove that travels to Spain. It was the only Basque song I knew, but it must have been a hit because the grown-ups made me sing it over and over.

And no doubt many of you out there, if you are part of a Basque-American family, will be enjoying similar kinds of celebrations this holiday season.

If you do have any stories you’d like to share with us about your own Basque-style holiday celebrations, we’d be pleased to hear from you!

 

 

 

Prestigious award for great friend of the Center

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

The First Basque Thanksgiving

Acknowledging, slightly tongue-in-cheek, our “six degrees of separation” complex when it comes to all things Basque, today we’d like to share a story about the first feast of Thanksgiving by Europeans in what would eventually be the US, which, in the words of Steve Bass, “occurred on April 20, 1598 in the area of present day El Paso, Texas. The feast was led by the Basque Juan de Oñate during his expedition north from San Gerónimo, Mexico to colonize New Mexico.”

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Statue of Juan de Oñate, Oñate Monument Center, Alcalde, NM. Picture by Advanced Source productions, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Surrounded by Basque relatives and friends, Oñate’s expedition set off in January 1598 and, after a grueling three-month journey at the point of which the colonizers were fast running out of food and water rations, they came across the Rio Grande, which offered abundant fresh water and game to replenish them. Hence, their first Thanksgiving feast.

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Texas Historical Marker for Don Juan De Oñate and El Paso Del Rio Norte. Photo by Pi3.124, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Amerikanuak (p.78), William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao also observe that:

Unlike previous efforts, which were comprised largely of soldiers and missionaries, the Oñate force included colonists and livestiock. In this fashion Oñate introduced the first sheep flocks into what would later become territory of the United States (a fitting early forerunner of massive Basque involvement in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century development of the sheep industry of the American West).

Oñate’s expedition forged ahead, reaching the southern area of present-day Kansas, before returning, ultimately, to his home province of Nueva Vizcaya in present-day Mexico.

For a full description of this story, see Steve Bass, “Basques hold the First Thanksgiving in America ” Astero, at http://www.nabasque.org/Astero/thanksgiving.htm

Have a great Thanksgiving from everyone at the Center!

Basque bread, and some beloved neighbors, featured in the John Deere Furrow

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Abel making his delicious french fries for camp visitors.

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The famous bread oven.

Making bread at their Russell Valley, California, summer camp was quite the project for Abel and Judy Mendeguia. Abel, from Lesaka, was a sheepman for many years from northern Nevada to the Central Valley of California, and the couple’s summer camp was a hive of activity, especially on the days that Abel would bake bread using 50 lbs of flour for the sheepherder camps spread across the range. A story that is reported on in “For the Love of Bread: Part 1: Basque immigrants brought a taste of home with them to the American West” by Laura Read in a recent issue of John Deere’s The Furrow. I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but a key part of it is Abel sticking his arm into the bread oven to gauge its temperature. I’m sure anyone who knows Abel can imagine this quite well!

The Mendeguias have been Reno residents for many years since retiring from the sheep business and they are some of the best neighbors anyone could ask for. Abel has volunteered many many years to helping out Reno 4-H sheep project children and they generally invite visiting USAC scholars from the Basque Country and elsewhere to the Russell Camp for a taste of Western life (and some of Abel’s famous fresh cut and made-on-the-spot french fries). His wife, Judy, was from the East and met Abel at a sheep camp on a visit to the West, and then became his lifetime partner.

Abel has an entry, along with thousands of other Basques who came to the US, in Basques in the United States, vol. 1, Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa.

Never a dull moment at the Mendeguias’ summer camp!

Support NABO through the Amazon Smile Progam

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North American Basque Organizations has teamed up with the Amazon Smile program. Through this Amazon.com initiative, you can support NABO every time you shop, at no additional cost. Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchase total, making it an easy way to contribute to NABO’s Educational Fund.

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NABO Treasurer Marie Petracek has been at the center of this effort, which was recently published on NABO’s Astero News Bulletin (http://www.nabasque.org/astero_a11_43.html). All you have to do is visit https://smile.amazon.com/ and log in with your Amazon ID. Then select Educational Fund of North American Basque Organizations Inc. as your organization.

In NABO’s words: “Every little bit helps, and so we encourage you all to participate and thank you in advance for considering NABO when making future Amazon.com orders. Mila esker!”

Sign up today! 

Arbasoen Ildotik: 6th Grade Students from Baigorri visit Far West to learn about Basque settlement there

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A group of 6th grade students from Baigorri in Lower Navarre are on the trip of a lifetime to the American Far West in a quest to understand what it meant for Basques to uproot and make new lives for themselves across the Atlantic. Titled “Arbasoen ildotik” (On the trail of our ancestors), the expedition is made up of the following students who all attend the Donostei school in Baigorri: Laina Aizpurua, Alaia Arangoits, Maialen Innara, Enaut Gorostiague, Ana Gouffrant, Iñaki Hualde, Morgan Labat, Mathias Lallemand, Leatitia Oronos, Pauline Perez, Céline Séméréna, and Viktoria Toro. Accompanying them are four teachers: Amaia Castorene, Danielle Hirigaray, Xantxo Lekumberry, and Christine Paulerena. During their stay they will visit several locations in California and Nevada, where they will study first-hand the Basque emigrant/immigrant experience in the US.

For more information, see their Facebook page here.

And to get in contact with them send an email to slobasque@aol.com

There is a comprehensive list of Basques who emigrated from Lower Navarre to the United States in the Center’s Basques in the United States, volume 2, Iparralde and Nafarroa, 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.

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Basque Diaspora under the spotlight at University of the Basque Country Summer School

July 18-19: As part of the University of the Basque Country’s annual summer school, a course titled “El (nuevo) papel de la diáspora vasca en la Euskadi del siglo XXI” (The (new) role of the Basque Diaspora in the 21st-century Basque Country) is being given in Donostia-San Sebastián.

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Food products in Argentina marketed as specifically Basque-Argentinian would seem to suggest a kind of hybrid transatlantic identity. Photo by Gastón Cuello , courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The aim of the course is to explore the current reality of the Basque Diaspora and discuss what role it should play in the contemporary Basque Country. Different speakers will discuss topics ranging from the foreign policy of the Basque government in general and its specific strategy regarding the diaspora, to the nature of particular Basque Diaspora communities in Argentina, the US, and Europe. What’s more there will be general talks about the diaspora concept in general, the challenges posed by globalization, and the comparative case of the Irish Diaspora.

For more information and to see the full program, click here.

If you are interested in the topic of the Basque Diaspora, the Center has published several books in its Diaspora and Migration Studies collection.

 

 

Reno Basque Festival This Weekend

 

The Zazpiak Bat Reno Basque Club will be hzazpiak bat logoosting its 49th–yes 49th!–Basque Festival this weekend.

The festival kicks off on Friday evening, July 15, at 7pm at Louis’ Basque Corner, with the main events taking place on Saturday, July 16 at Wingfield Park in downtown Reno from 10am-10pm. There will be Basque dancing by the local Zazpiak Bat dancers as well as the Irrintzi Dancers from Winnemucca, NV, a bota contest for the kids, rural sports exhibitions, and a txinga (weight carrying) contest that is open to the public. Live music will be provided by Mercedes Mendive, from Elko, NV, at the public dance from 6-9pm.

Food and drink will be available for purchase all day, along with items from various vendors. Everyone is welcomed to join in the fun. For more information check out Zazpiak Bat at Facebook.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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