This Saturday, September 26, the town of Mendata in Bizkaia will honor the Basque sheepherders who went to the Americas (and especially the US and Argentina) with a special celebration forming part of the town’s Festival of Saint Michael (Mikel Deunaren Jaiak).
In the words of its town council website, Mendata will, for a day, become “an authentic part of the Far West, with the aim of recognizing their efforts, strengthening public recognition of their work, and celebrating a festival in their honor.”
The program will begin at 12:00 pm with “Caravan to the Far West,”a parade involving sheepherders’ wagons and local people from Mendata dressed as representative figures from the era of immigration to the Far West. This will be followed by the re-enactment of a traditional send-off for a young Basque sheepherder heading for the Americas, accompanied by the music of Gontzal Mendibil. Then, at 2:00 pm, an aspen tree (lertxun zuria in Basque) will be planted beside a small monument that reads “Mendatako herriak Ameriketan artzain ibilitakoari” (From the town of Mendata to those who went to the Americas as sheepherders). The next hour will be dedicated to country dancing before a family-style lunch at 3:00 pm. Following lunch, there will be rodeo at 5:30 pm, emceed by Basque TV personality Julian Iantzi (who was born in California), and the event will end with a concert by the group Kupela at 8:30 pm.
Recently, the CBS paid its own homage to those Basques who went to the US in the form of a two-volume book, Basques in the United States, which contains names and entries for nearly 10,000 first generation Basque immigrants from the 1800s through today.
Check out, too the Diaspora and Migration Series, which includes works on different aspects of the Basque migrant experience. And if you haven’t already, see Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World, the masterpiece by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, now in its fortieth year of publication.