Tag: immigration

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.

 

Senegal TV network reports from Basque Country

The Senegal online TV network Diaspora 24 recently included a short report on Senegalese people residing in the Busturialdea region of Bizkaia. Senegalese make up the most important Sub-Saharan African community in the Basque Country, many first coming to fill positions in the Basque fishing industry and as a result settling in towns and villages along the Basque coastline. However, now the approximately 3,500 people of Senegalese origin reside throughout the country and have their own organization to help represent their interests: the Mboolo Elkar association.

As part of the report, carried out by Gernika-resident Fadima Faye, originally from Senegal, there was a visit to the Urdaibai Bird Center, “An International Airport for Birds,” as one of the emblematic sites of interest in the region. Interestingly, a migrating Osprey named “Cousteau,” which was tagged this year and left the center in September, has been located recently in its winter habitat along the Casamance River in Senegal.

See some pictures of the visit here:  http://www.birdcenter.org/en/news/news/643-2016-11-16-16-49-44

New William A. Douglass Chair in Basque Cultural Studies Inaugurated at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

The inauguration of the William A. Douglass Chair in Basque Cultural Studies took place on Monday at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. One seminar and conference in Basque Anthropology and Culture will be offered annually by the university in order to promote Basque Studies and the topic of migration in a more general sense.

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Photo credits: Etxepare Institute

This year’s inaugural symposium was entitled “William Douglass, Basque Studies, and the Anthropology of Europe,” as an homage to the man who helped create Basque Studies in the United States. Introduced by the Provost, Douglass himself began the program with his lecture “Along for the Ride: Interpreting the Migrant Story,” in which he not only spoke of his career but also the connection to the present within debates on immigration.

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Various speakers, including Caroline Brettel, Sharon Roseman, Susan Carol Rogers, and our own Joseba Zulaika, gave talks on Douglass’ role in anthropological studies through various viewpoints. Mari Jose Olaziregi, representing the Etxepare Basque Institute–which created this chair as the latest to join many others in universities around the world–also contributed. As part of this Basque spirit in Amherst, Jackie Urla, Anthropology Professor at the University of Massachusetts, has created the course “Culture and Heritage in Europe,” which will touch upon the history of the Basques.

William Douglass seems to be everywhere these days and a chair in his honor helps to disseminate his work and the research he has inspired around the world. He is still quite active and we recommend his two most recent publications, Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, available at http://basquebooks.myshopify.com/products/basque-explorers-in-the-pacific-ocean, and  Basques in Cuba, which comprises various articles by different authors on the topic:  http://basquebooks.myshopify.com/products/basques-in-cuba.

To view the complete program, visit:  http://www.etxepare.liquidmaps.org/users_fichas_items/index/2475/6235?return=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.etxepare.eus%2Fen%2Fchairs

Remembering the “Sagebrush Battle” 84 Years Later

On July 4, 1931, on an extremely hot summer day, a long expected boxing match took place in Reno, Nevada: Max Baer vs. Paulino Uzkudun. The “Sagebrush Battle,” as the Nevada State Journal titled it, was a tough twenty-round fight between heavyweights Baer, from California, and Uzkudun, the professional Basque boxer from Errezil, Gipuzkoa. Not risking anything, both fighters resisted each other and tried to avoid falling to the burning ground until the very end. Finally, Uzkudun was victorious over Baer after Jack Dempsey, in his dual role as referee and promoter, raised the Basque boxer’s hand.

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Nevada State Journal front page on July 4, 1931

The fight was greatly hyped. The match between Max Baer and Paulino Uzkudun in 1931 generated huge interest at both the local and national levels. Next day, on July 5, the New York Times reported the battle round-by-round as follows:

Grinning, gold-toothed Paulino Uzcudun out-roughed Max Baer, rangy Californian,…

Clubbing, butting, heeling, and wrestling marked the battle from the opening gong until [the very end]… The two warriors violated most of the rules of ring etiquette in efforts to beat each other down in the resin of the sun-scorched battle pit.

Cautions by Referee Dempsey had only momentary effect. When Paulino quit cuffing, Baer started heeling. The Californian missed a couple of pivot punches, but not intentionally. On occasions, they butted like goats. Baer started wrestling and Uzcudun retaliated by twisting his rival half way out of the ring.

…Kidney and rabbit punches, therefore, were countenanced.

For a twenty-round bout, the big fellows set an unusually fast pace. The last five rounds developed the more furious exchanges. As they struggled along, mauling and planting solid punches in swift rallies, the advantage see-sawed from one to the other.

At no time was either out in front and at the end of the nineteenth Referee Dempsey told newspaper men the last round would decide the fight. Paulino had the better of the last session. He tore into his bigger rival and rushed him into the ropes, meanwhile scoring heavily with hard punches to the midsection. Baer’s occasional rallies were weak-hearted.

Baer went into the bout with most of the physical advantages on his side, but Paulino was the favorite from the start. Ignoring Baer’s superior reach, the sturdy Basque bobbed in and out to thump the Californian regularly with solid lefts to the body.

In the fifth round, Paulino scored with some heavy blows to the jaw and Baer appeared in distress. But by the time the eighth round rolled around, the Californian was leading with his stocky rival retreating around the ring.

Uzcudun’s greater experience stood him in good stead. He fought cooly, whereas Baer lost his head at times to beat the air with wild swings…

The match attracted around 18,000 people. This fight went hand in hand with the legalization of gambling in Nevada as means of economic development during this critical period in the American history in the early thirties. The Baer-Uzkudun match of 1931, according to historian Richard Davies, revived the fusion of the western athletic hero and economic promotion in Reno.

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Reno’s Virginia Street days before the boxing match

Furthermore, the victory of Uzkudun over Baer resulted in a great deal of pride on the part of the Basque-American community. Unsurprisingly, Basques living in Reno and surrounding areas took an active interest in the fight during the days before and after the event. Almost the whole Basque immigrant community of northwestern Nevada attended this big fight, including a large number of sheepherders who absented themselves from their work on the rangelands. Indeed, this fight provided a historic opportunity for this immigrant group to express pride in its roots and reaffirm its Basqueness in the American West.

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Promotional photograph of Paulino Uzkudun, 1930


Sources:

  • “Fighters Ready For Sagebrush Battle,” Nevada State Journal,  July 4, 1931.
  • “Paulino Defeats Baer in Reno Bout,” New York Times, July 5, 1931.
  • Richard O. Davies, “A ‘Fistic Festival’ in Reno: Promoting Nevada’s New Economy,” Mariann Vaczi, ed., Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport (Reno: Center for Basque Studies, 2013), 295-314.
  • Richard O. Davies, The Main Event: Boxing in Nevada from the Mining Camps to the Las Vegas Strip (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2014).

To learn more about this story, check out the book Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, in which you can find an interesting chapter on the Baer-Uzkudun match by Richard Davies entitled “A ‘Fistic Festival’ in Reno: Promoting Nevada’s New Economy.”

Memoria Bizi-Living Memory

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Pedro Oizarzabal provides an overview of the Memoria Bizia Project at CBS

This summer Pedro Oiarzabal will be in the US, collecting new materials for the Memoria Bizia (Living Memory ) project. He is going to be especially working in Nevada. Everybody is welcome to be part of this unique and challenging project.  Anyone interested in participating in the Memoria Bizia (Living Memory) project to collect the personal testimonies of elderly Basques across the U.S. and Canada, as an interviewer or an interviewee, or anyone wanting to establish an interviewing team in their local area or wanting to join an existing one, please send a message to info@nabasque.org

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