Basque Fact of the Week: Lucas Eguibar Bretón, Snowboard Cross World Champion

When you think of the Basque Country and sports, images of pelota, rowing, or stone lifting come to mind. And of course soccer, no matter who you root for. However, while the Basque Country certainly gets snow, it isn’t known for winter sports. However, that might start changing with the incredible performances of Lucas “Luki” Eguibar.

Lucas “Luki” Eguibar (right) in his photo finish win. Photo from The Times Hub.
  • Eguibar, known as Luki, is the reigning snowboard cross champion, beating the Austrian Alessandro Haemmerle in a photo finish at the world championships held on February 11 in Idre Fjäll, Sweden. While Haemmerle had the better start, Eguibar caught him on the lower part of the mountain. In an interview afterwards, though elated, he said that in the semifinals he could barely feel his legs due to the punishment of the landings.
  • Luki was born on February 9, 1994 in Donostia, Gipuzkoa. He took to the snow early, at the age of 2 and first competing as a skier at the age of 5. However, when he turned 16, he decided that skiing wasn’t for him and turned to snowboarding. Soon, he competed in the Spanish Championship of snowboard cross and finished third.
  • Since then, Luki has competed in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympic Games, finishing 7th and 33rd, respectively. In the 2014 games, he had won all of his races until the semi-final, where he fell and was later disqualified. In 2017, he won silver in both the individual and team snowboard cross World Championship held in Sierra Nevada, Spain. He won gold in the Junior World Championship in 2013. He also has four World Cup victories.
  • Because of the lack of appropriate training facilities within the Basque Country and Spain more broadly, he travels to countries like Austria and Switzerland to train.
  • Luki also has a passion for tattoos. He estimates he has more than 30, including ones dedicated to his grandparents, who died shortly after the 2018 Olympic Games in Korea. He has even tattooed himself. He go-to place is Tattoo Chaman in Irun.
  • Luki has two siblings. His brother, Nico, was in a car accident just months before the 2014 Olympic Games. Doctors said he wouldn’t live through the day, but after 45 days in a coma, he survived. Now they inspire each other to do their best as one competes and the other rebuilds his life. Sara, Luki’s sister, was also a competitive skier and snowboarder.

Primary sources: El milagro de Lucas Eguibar, Mundo Deportivo; Lucas Eguibar, Wikipidea; La pasión secreta de Lucas Eguibar por los tatuajes, Mundo Deportivo; Lucas Eguibar,; Lucas Eguibar, el vasco que vuela en la nieve, ElPais; Lucas Eguibar, a champion in the name of his brother, Digis Mak.

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 41

If you have comments or questions, or have simply been enjoying the story and want to say hello, please drop me a note!

George returned to the table with a couple of pitchers of beer in hand. “I didn’t know what kind of beer you like, so I got a lager and an IPA.”

Kepa laughed. “Where we live, you often don’t get much of a choice.” He scrutinized the two pitchers before holding out his glass. “I’ll try the IPA.”

“It might be a bit strong for your tastes,” said George as he filled Kepa’s glass. He then turned to Maite, who held up her hand, signalling George to wait a moment. She watched as Kepa took a sip of his beer. His eyes started watering and his lips puckered up. 

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“You call this beer?” he barely squeaked as he put his pint glass back on the table and guzzled some water. 

Maite promptly took the IPA from Kepa as she smiled at George. “I’ll be fine with this,” she said as she handed him her empty glass. “But, if you can fill this with the lager for Kepa…”

Unai laughed. “It does take some getting used to,” he said. “And, some just don’t like it. Eric has never gotten the taste for it.” 

Eric shook his head. “Nasty stuff. And it’s everywhere. It’s sometimes hard to get anything else. Anyways,” he continued, “how was your trip to the Statue of Liberty?”

Kepa glanced sideways over the top of his new pint at Maite as she began to speak. “It was… interesting,” she said. “Definitely different than what I think either of us expected.”

“How do you mean?” asked Unai.

“It was just much more… immersive,” replied Kepa. “Much more realistic than I expected. I really felt I was there with the crowds.”

“I know what you mean,” said Edurne wistfully. “I get caught up in the stories and almost feel I’m walking beside those new immigrants.”

Maite nodded. “Bai, that’s what we meant. It’s just so easy to feel like you are one of them.”

“Huh,” replied Unai. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, maybe I’ll have to take another visit. I don’t remember it being so interesting.”

“Well,” laughed Edurne, “you were something like twelve when you went last time. There wasn’t much that kept your attention back then.”

Unai returned her laugh as he raised his pint. “Fair enough,” he said with a smile as he mock-toasted and took a big gulp of his beer.

It wasn’t long before they had neared the end of their beers. Eric looked at his watch. He was the only one of them that actually wore one, the rest of them relying on their phones to check the time. “It’s about time to head to the theater,” he said as he downed the rest of his beer. “Is everyone ready to go?”

“Let me run to the restroom first, and then I’m ready,” replied Edurne, who also swallowed the last of her beer. 

“Good idea, me too,” said Maite. Soon, they were all heading to the back and the restrooms. Moments later, they all reconvened outside of the pub.

“This way,” said Eric as he led them down the street.

Building Bridges: An Interview with Benoît Etcheverry

Benoît Etcheverry Macazaga seems omnipresent across the Webscape of the Basque diaspora. Whether through websites, radio, or now webcasts, he uses the thousands of connections he has made over the years to examine the relationship between the diaspora and the home country Euskal Herria. Why? Simply put, his goal is to build stronger bridges between Euskal Herria and the rest of the world through the diaspora to enhance the cultural strength and economic opportunities of all Basques. In this interview, Benoît discusses the origins of his passion for the diaspora, why this work is so important to him, and what future possibilities he sees in relationships between the diaspora and the Basque Country.

Benoît Etcheverry is probably the person in Iparralde who knows the international Basque community the best, as he has been mapping it since 2001.

As such, he has been working for several years for the government of Euskadi, which recognized him as an expert on the diaspora in June 2014. He has notably forged many relationships with the Eskual Etxeak network which were created in order to maintain Basque culture alive far from the Basque Country. Today, there are nearly 200 of these house-embassies in 24 countries around the world and they have more than 45,000 members.

He has also been collaborating since 2015 with the Corsica Diaspora association, particularly in managing the structuring of their network.

Creator and manager of networks by profession, Benoît Etcheverry Macazaga has also hosted the Basque diaspora radio program live and in four languages ​​since 2004 on the Euskal Irratiak radio station and has also collaborated with France Bleu Pays Basque and Euskadi Irratia.

This father, a fan of traveling and cultures of the world, practices Basque pilota — Joko Garbi and Paleta Gomme — and collaborates in numerous associations, such as 8 Probintziak which he founded in 2004. He is also co-founder and President of honor of the euskal etxea of Marseille and Lyon.

Benoît Etcheverry Macazaga’s views the Basque diaspora with respect, tenderness and humor, and his knowledge of the personalities who animate it is a precious asset to strengthen the influence of this “Bascora,” if we want to one day equal the level of political and economic influence of the Breton, Auvergne, Alsatian or Corsican diasporas in France, or all things considered, the community influence of large diasporas such as the Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Armenian, Irish, Greek, and Russian diasporas in the world.

The Basque diaspora, well established in North and South America and officially present in 24 countries and unofficially in a hundred, can be a powerful lever of smart and soft-power for the future. Because if we do unite, we can exert influence like the other diasporas, which do so in a very active and very professional way, explaining their influence in many professional fields and sectors of activity around the world.

There has always been strength in unity, and those who thought that globalization would smooth out the influence of communities were radically wrong; the best organized diasporas see their power of influence increasing for the benefit of their members while the others are forced to disappear.

The choice is before us, for us and our descendants, and if we make the path of revitalization, Benoît Etcheverry can be a valuable ally in strengthening the ties of the entire international Basque community in the future.

Buber’s Basque Page: Benoît, let’s begin with a little introduction. Who is Benoit Etcheverry?

Benoît Etcheverry: I’m a Basque from Iparralde and I live in Bayonne. I’ve got 5 lovely children and I’m 48 years old. I love my culture and its story. I’m a very curious person, opened to the world and all other cultures.

BBP: You’ve made it your life’s work to connect with the Basque diaspora, to bring the diaspora to the Basque Country. Why is this such an important topic for you?

Benoît Etcheverry: My goal is to help the new generation using the Basque global community, through the Euskal Etxeak but not only those. I’m also interested in a Basque business network (to be created). As I mentioned before, my motivation came from the fact that I’m a father, and I remember, when I was a kid, I didn’t have any information about the Basque diaspora community.

When I started my work, it was in 2001. At this time, I was president of the association Uda Leku here in Iparralde; I was also passionate about new technologies… Building a bridge between the new technologies and my culture carries me where I’m today.

So my most important motivation is just…  open your eyes and try to understand.

BBP: Why is it so important for the Basque Country to connect with the diaspora?

Benoît Etcheverry: A country that doesn’t have connections with its diaspora… is not a “real” country. I mean this country doesn’t know its story, and when thinking about business, the diaspora is the best way to introduce an activity at the international level.

BBP: The Basque Country is a modern, vibrant society, heavily invested in science and technology. However, many in the diaspora have a more folkloric view of the Basque Country. How can we reconcile these two aspects of the Basque world? Particularly as a center of innovation, how do we get the diaspora to embrace the modern Basque Country?

Benoît Etcheverry: Well, there are already some examples where it exists.  One of them is a company in Switzerland, SOPHiA GENETICS, created by a friend of mine from the ikastola, Jurgi Camblong. What is SOPHiA GENETICS? “SOPHiA GENETICS combines deep expertise in life sciences and medical disciplines with mathematical capabilities in data computing. Our mission is to bring data analytics solutions to market, to support healthcare professionals by maximizing the power of Data-Driven Medicine. We achieve this mission through the global adoption of SOPHiA artificial intelligence.” And, last year, they created one of their services here, in Iparralde.

Another example involves our language, Euskara. A group of youngsters created, some years ago, Euskarabentura, which proposed to 120 teenagers between 15 and 17 years old to walk all across the Basque Country (both Iparralde and Hegoalde), and doing so only using Euskara. Over the past 2 years, some of the Basque diaspora have also taken part… While new technologies are important, the culture, language, and History with a big H are also important.

BBP: You’ve used various media — television, radio, the internet — to tell the stories of the diaspora. What is your favorite? What platform do you prefer to tell these stories?

Benoît Etcheverry: Clearly my favorite was EuskoSare, it was a big machine with a team really motivated to work with the Basque diaspora and, of course, the Basque Country.

After that experience, for 14 years, using the radio of Gure Irratia here in Ustaritz, I tried to create a radio program for all of the Basques in the world.  For those 14 years, it was the only radio program on air and in 4 languages. Today, I follow, in Euskara only, France Bleu Pays Basque.

BBP: Why do you think that the connections between the diaspora and the home country aren’t stronger than they are?

Benoît Etcheverry: If we compare with the Jewish diaspora, the Irish diaspora, or the Chinese diaspora, we are just beginning, we have so much to do… from the beginning, we should start explaining what the Basque diaspora is in the schools in Euskal Herria.

BBP: As you said, you are passionate about new technologies and you clearly take advantage of them in your work. Do you think those technologies are being used to their fullest? What opportunities do you see in the future? 

Benoît Etcheverry: Sure, we have to create a lot of new things.  For example, like the Corsicans have done, a cellphone application with job offers (in the Basque Country AND in the diaspora). Another example, social networks — of course Facebook, but also others — just to try to find people who have my own name. In 2007, I found a list of all the existing Basque names, more than 10,000…  I simply made a search on Skype of 630 names. In this way, I was in connection via Skype with 4800 people. It was a strategy to inform people about the EuskoSare network.

In the end, the language is the biggest problem; there are not a lot of people speaking 4 languages (the Basque diaspora’s languages)… It’s the reason why I created a group on Facebook in 2008, to organize the translation of Facebook in Euskara…. And we did it !

BBP: Through your career, you’ve had the opportunity to interact with a large number of Basques and travel to many places in the diaspora. What are some of your favorite memories?

Benoît Etcheverry: Well one of my best memories involves one specific person, from Bidarray but living now in Biarritz. I met him for the first time in 2001, when I started my work with the Basque diaspora. At that time, everybody around me was laughing about what I was trying to do, and he was the only one who told me “Benoît, you are right to follow your work, it’s really necessary for us, but they don’t know it yet.” After that he became my mentor: Mister Noel Elorga.

After that, my best memories are my trips in 2005… Argentina and Jaialdi in Boise.

Another interesting memory: it was on December 3, 2012, for the International Day of Euskara. I was on air for the radio program 8 Herrialdeak Zuzenean, and the Hollywood actor Tomas Arana (Body Guard, Gladiator, Limitless, etc.) called us from Hollywood, talking with us for 15 minutes.

BBP: How can others, particularly those in the diaspora, help in building stronger connections between us and the home country? What would you recommend?

Benoît Etcheverry: Well, today there are about 200 Euskal Etxeak in the world with a total of about 45,000 members. First, I think all Euskal Etxeak should ask their members what they need? After that, we can create a new platform dedicated to making a compilation of the answers. And after that, a commission including institutions (from Iparralde and Hegoalde), but also businessmen, and a lot of citizens, working together to find a solution to all those needs. In this way, it’s the global Basque community that answers the call, and not just one institution, association or person.

BBP: Do you have any parting thoughts before we conclude?

Benoît Etcheverry: I remember I discovered your website about 20 years ago. The address was a long number and it ended in “.edu”  And I used your website to make some searches, to understand how a Basque in the diaspora looks in the Basque Country. I think the most important thing is understanding how the people we want to touch see things, politically, culturally, etc. Never say, look my friend, I’m Basque, I’m going to show you what the Basque Country is. As I say to a lot of Basques here… Never forget, Google, Internet, Facebook were created in the diaspora, and they know how to use these tools, certainly better than us. So open your eyes, and your brain. And learn!

BBP: Mil esker Benoit!

Benoit Etcheverry: Milesker zuri Blas

Basque Fact of the Week: The Collegiate of Zenarruza

Just outside of Munitibar, not far from the baserri that my dad grew up in (only 3/4 of a mile as the crow, or crowned eagle, flies), lies the Monastery of Zenarruza, also known as the Collegiate of Zenarruza or Collegiate of Ziortza. It’s a beautiful spot on the edge of Lea-Artibai, a great place to take a break from all of the family lunches and dinners… I mean, all of the sight seeing.

The courtyard in the Monastery of Zenarruza. Image from Wikimedia.
The coat-of-arms of the Monastery, featuring the eagle and skull. Image from Museo de Arte Sacro.
  • The precise origin of the name Zenarruza is not clear. One theory says it is related to the Basque word zihaurri, meaning dwarf elder, and the suffix –tza, which indicates an abundance. However, another theory relates it to tzear otza, meaning cold hillside or slope. The Collegiate is also known as Ziortza, which is thought to be another evolution of the same original name.
  • The Monastery was founded in the 900s. The story goes that, at the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, 968, the people of Gerrikaitz were celebrating mass when an eagle swooped in to the ossuary of the cemetery and seized a skull in its claws. The people followed it as it flew until it reached the slope of Zenarruza, in the foothills of Mount Oiz, where it dropped the skull. The skull fell into a thick patch of dwarf elder. The people took this as a sign that they should build a hermitage to the Virgin on that slope. The coat-of-arms of the Monastery features the eagle and skull.
  • At the end of the 14th century, as the importance of the Camino de Santiago grew, so too did that of Zenarruza. In fact, the church hosted a hospital for pilgrims. The local families pooled resources and hired a group of clergymen to administer to the people and give worship to God and the Virgin. This elevated the church from a Parish to a Collegiate Church, which, while not overseen by a bishop, was still able to offer some of the same services as a cathedral. This happened in 1379. It was the first Collegiate Church of Bizkaia.
  • After its heydays, the Collegiate began to slowly deteriorate and it lost its status as a Collegiate Church in 1851. In 1948, the church at the heart of the Collegiate, renown for its beauty, was named a national monument of Euskadi. In 1988, a group of Cistercian monks, from the abbey of Santa María de la Oliva, in Navarra, moved in, turning the former Collegiate into a monastery.
  • Today, the Monastery pertains to the town of Ziortza-Bolibar. Bolibar, of course, gives its name to Simón Bolívar, the Liberator. And, the name Zenarruza is familiar to Idahoans, giving its name to the Idaho politician Pete Cenarrusa.

Primary sources: Monasterio de Zenarruza; Wikipedia

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 40

If you have comments or questions, or have simply been enjoying the story and want to say hello, please drop me a note!

That night, they joined Edurne’s husband George, her brother Unai, and his partner Eric in Times Square. Lights were everywhere. The large electronic billboards beamed down at them, advertising everything from cellular services to the latest shows and movies. Inhumanly large images of celebrities and cartoon characters filled their vision. An odd sculpture, like a gutted ship, its ribs almost like the legs of a giant spider emanating from the large form of a woman as its figurehead, sat in the middle of one of the little plazas. As Kepa watched it, the figure’s arms started moving. “Whoa!” he exclaimed. “It’s a robot!”

Unai laughed. “They always have something cool down here.”

Maite barely noticed. She was absorbed in the number of people that milled around them. “It’s almost like a fiesta, there are so many people!”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

Edurne nodded. “Except, this goes on twenty-four hours a day, all year long. It never stops.” She sighed. “I can only take small doses. It’s just too much for me sometimes.”

Unai clapped her on the back. “I don’t know how you survived all of those fiestas back in the old country, sis,” he said with a laugh.

“That’s different,” replied Edurne with a smile. “Those had marcha! Family, friends… These…” she waved her hand indicating the crowds around them, “these are all tourists. It’s completely different.”

“It’s still pretty impressive,” said Maite. 

“In it’s own way, I guess,” said Edurne.

As Kepa gawked at all of the signs seemingly floating above them, a young man approached him. Kepa’s friends watched as the young man said something to Kepa. Kepa put his hands up, shook his head as he took a step back, but the young man kept talking, his animated hands dancing in front of him as he looked back at Kepa’s friends, pointed at them, smiled, and said something else to Kepa. Soon, Kepa was handing him a twenty dollar bill. He came back to his friends holding a compact disc.

“What just happened?” he asked bewildered.

“I think you just contributed to that guy’s music career,” said Eric as everyone started laughing.

“We still have some time before the show,” said George. “I know a nice pub around the corner, just far enough from the square that there aren’t so many tourists. Let’s grab a drink.”

As they followed George, Maite found Kepa and slipped her arm around his. “What do you have there?” she asked.

Kepa shook his head. “I don’t know. He said it would impress the ladies. I don’t know why I bought it.”

“We’ll have to see if it works,” Maite teased him.

“Maybe later,” Kepa mumbled with a blush.

Maite gave him a big smile. “Maybe later.”

Basque Fact of the Week: Pete Cenarrusa

Wherever Basques go, they make their mark, and that is just as true in American politics. In a twenty year run, spanning from 1967 to 1987, Paul Laxalt was Governor of Nevada and served the state as a US Senator. In California, John Garamendi was Lieutenant Governor and currently represents the 3rd district of California in the US House of Representatives. In Idaho, probably the most storied and successful politician of Basque heritage was Pete Cenarrusa.

Pete Cenarrusa holding an ikurrina in the Idaho state capitol. Photo from ElPais.
  • Pete was born on December 16, 1917 in Carey, Idaho. His mother, Ramona Gardoqui, was a native of Gernika while Pete’s father, Joe Cenarruza, was from Munitibar, both in Bizkaia. Pete attended the University of Idaho, majoring in agricultural sciences, and later taught in Cambridge, Idaho. However, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Pete enlisted in the US Marines, training as a pilot first in Corpus Christi, Texas, and then in Cherry Point, North Carolina. After the war, he returned to Idaho to teach, where he fell in love with one of his students, Freda Coates – they were married in 1947.
  • Pete began his political career in 1950, when he ran for the Idaho House of Representatives as a Republican and won his first election. This began a fifty year career in politics. In 1963, he was elected Speaker of the House. In 1967, he was named Secretary of State of Idaho. Upon his retirement in 2003, he had been the longest serving elected official in Idaho history.
  • Pete used his position to champion causes in the Basque Country. In 1970, he advised Idaho Governor Don Samuelson to send a communication to General Franco requesting that the Burgos Trials – military tribunals prosecuting 16 members of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna – be transferred from a military to a civilian court, that the defendants enjoy the right of a public trial, and the entire process be protected. Cenarrusa organized a committee with 200 other Basques from the state to exert pressure and send a telegram to Franco asking for clemency. Pete and his Basque colleagues were also able to gain the support of Idaho Senator Frank Church.
  • Pete and Freda made their first trip to the Basque Country – to the villages of his parents – in 1971. They also met with the Basque government-in-exile in Iparralde during this trip. He was interviewed by several news outlets, and surprised people by the quality of his Euskara and his relatively poor understanding of Spanish.
  • Upon his return to Idaho, he organized a declaration of human rights for the Basques, which asked the Spanish government to observe the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and which the Idaho legislature unanimously approved. Church presented the document in the US Senate.
  • Cenarrusa became an ambassador of sorts for the Basque people. In 1977, he traveled again to Euskadi as an official observer of their first democratic elections since the Spanish Civil War. In 1987, he accompanied Lehendakari José Antonio Ardanza to a reception with President Ronald Reagan. During that trip, Ardanza asked Idaho to declare itself the eighth Basque province.
  • In 2003, Pete and Freda Cenarrusa founded the Cenarrusa Foundation for Basque Culture, which promotes the knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of the Basques. Pete died in Boise on September 29, 2013.

Primary source: Totoricagüena Egurrola, Gloria Pilar; Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia. Cenarrusa Gardoqui, Pete. Enciclopedia Auñamendi. Available at:

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 39

Maite looked around. She found herself kneeling on the floor of the Registry Room, in the very corner where she and Kepa had touched hands just before they had been thrown back in time. Kepa was kneeling next to her, dressed in the much more casual clothes he had put on that morning. Maite could swear that the people in the museum behind her were in exactly the same positions they had left them.

“What happened?” asked Kepa.

“I don’t know. I guess, when we touched that zatia, we somehow collected it and the time bubble literally popped, sending us back here.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Where is the zatia then?”

Maite shrugged. “Maybe inside of us, like the ones that Marina gave us?”

“I guess we’ll have to ask her,” replied Kepa. “Whenever we see her again.”

“It seems that, because she had no family here, no connection to this time and place, she wasn’t able to find us, to help us.”

“But de Lancre already knew us. How did he know who we were? Did he see us when we were in that cave?”

Maite shook her head. “I suspect that, even though this was the first time we met him, it wasn’t the first time he had met us. From his perspective, according to his timeline, we met before. As we jump through time, our timelines aren’t straight lines anymore and they can cross in strange ways.”

Suddenly, Maite squeezed Kepa’s hand. “Blas!” she exclaimed. “He… he was dead. de Lancre killed him!” Tears began pooling in her eyes.

“But, the bubble,” replied Kepa, panic rising in his voice. “Shouldn’t it have undone itself when it popped? When we got the zatia?”

Maite’s body shook. “Ez dakit. I don’t know.”

Kepa pulled out his phone and did a quick search. “Blas… Telleria…” he mumbled as he typed. “Here!” he said as he passed the phone to Maite. “I think everything is ok.”

Maite read a brief biography of Blas Telleria that Kepa had found on a website from a museum in Idaho. “He made it to Oregon and started a family there,” she said. She sighed as her shoulders relaxed. “You were right, the bubble popped and things happened as if it had never existed.”

“Are you two ok?” said a voice from above them. They looked up and saw Edurne, her face etched with concern. 

Maite looked at Edurne and then at Kepa. She smiled. “Yes,” she said as she stood. “Yes, I think so.”

Basque Fact of the Week: The Deiadar (Hornblower) Mountains of Bizkaia

In the movie adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, there is a scene in which the city of Gondor is being attacked and, to summon help, the so-called warning beacons of Gondor are lit. These are a series of outposts scattered across mountain peaks that are set ablaze, the fires signaling that Gondor needs help. It is a pretty cool scene, as the fires alight in turn, sending the distress call over vast distances. It turns out that, in Bizkaia, there was a real system of fires and horns on five mountain peaks to announce to the people that the General Assembly was going to meet.

Image from a poster announcing the 2014 Deiadar Mendien Eguna. Image from
  • Since the Middle Ages, to announce the General Assemblies of the Lordship of Bizkaia (Bizkaiko Jaurerriko Batzar Nagusietara) held in the Gernika Assembly House, bonfires were lit and horns sounded from five of the prominent peaks of the province. These deiadar-mendiak or montes bocineros are Kolitza, Ganekogorta, Gorbeia, Oiz and Sollube.
  • Kolitza, with a height of 883 meters (2896 feet), represents the region of Las Encartaciones or Enkarterri. Kolitza is famous for being the home of the Hermitage of San Roque and San Sebastián, first mentioned in 1111, though the current building was built in the 13th century.
  • The mountain closest to Bilbao, Ganekogorta stands at 999 meters (3277 feet). This mountain saw the birth of Basque mountaineering. The first mountaineers of Bizkaia, who founded a group in 1870, were known as ganekogortos. On September 30, 1914, Ganekogorta also saw the beginning of a unique challenge in which a group of climbers committed to climbing 15 peaks in 15 months.
  • Gorbeia is the highest of the five peaks, reaching 1482 meters or 4862 feet. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII called for crosses to be erected on the highest peaks in Christendom. A cross was raised on the peak of Gorbeia in 1901, but within a month of its inauguration, it fell. A second cross was built in 1903, but winds knocked it down in 1906. A third cross, shorter in design, was built in 1907. Its base straddles the border between Bizkaia and Araba.
  • Oiz stands at 1026 meters (3366 feet). The north slope of Oiz is home to the Monastery of Zenarruza. Oiz was also believed to be one of the homes of Mari, the Earth-goddess of Basque mythology. It was said that she moved every seven years between Oiz and Anboto and whichever place she called home enjoyed better weather and harvests. Oiz was also the scene of tragedy when, in 1985, a flight from Madrid to Bilbao hit an antenna on top of the mountain and crashed, killing all on board.
  • The last, and the shortest, of the deiadar mountains is Sollube, reaching only 684 meters (2244 feet). Sollube was the scene of a major battle in the Spanish Civil War. The Battle of Sollube, in May of 1937, lasted ten days and resulted in more than 1000 deaths.
  • Since 2004, the 25th anniversary of the reformation of the General Assembly of Bizkaia, the mountains have again come alive. Every year, on May 8, celebrations revive this tradition. Groups have also created foot races between the peaks – the Bocineros/Deiadar Xtreme – to mark the importance of these mountains to the traditions of the province. The longest race, which touches each of the five peaks, is 200 km – 124 miles – and lasts 56 hours.

Primary sources: Montes Bocineros (Wikipedia); Deiadar-mendi (Wikipedia)

Buber’s Basque Story: Part 38

“Etorri!” yelled Kepa. “Come!”

Maite grabbed Blas’s hand and pulled him out the door, Kepa holding it open as they rushed by. He followed them as they ran down the hall.

“What do we do?” yelled Kepa. “We can’t just keep running and hiding forever. And I don’t think de Lancre is going to stay down for long.”

Buber’s Basque Story is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Ez,” replied Maite. “We just need a little time to think.”

“We can run back into the main hall. Surely, he wouldn’t do anything with all of those people.”

Maite shook her head. “I wouldn’t count on it. He’s hellbent on getting that zatia. I don’t think he would hesitate for an instant to kill every person up there to get it. And, besides, if what Marina said about the time bubbles is true, it wouldn’t matter who he killed. Once the zatia is recovered, it would pop as if it never happened.”

“Hori da! That’s it!” exclaimed Kepa. “We just need to take the zatia ourselves.”

“Noski!” echoed Maite. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

They felt more than saw the air around them crackle. Electrical sparks ran down the walls past them, suddenly coming together in front of them, forming a wall of electricity. The three of them stopped running and turned. de Lancre, his body crackling with electricity, was floating down the hallway toward them. 

A deep growl shook their bones. “Give me that suitcase.”

“Inoiz ez!” yelled Blas, clutching the suitcase defiantly against his chest. “Never!”

“Then I will take it from your cold dead fingers!” bellowed de Lancre as his body flew down the hallway, charging at them. 

Blas turned and thrust the suitcase into Maite’s hands. “I don’t know what is going on, but if you can stop him, do it.” He then turned back to face de Lancre and, with a roar, rushed at the oncoming form of de Lancre. 

“Ez! No!” yelled Kepa as Blas launched himself at de Lancre, planting his shoulder into de Lancre’s sternum as he tackled his foe. Blas screamed as the electricity coursed through his body, as de Lancre scraped his back with his talon-like fingernails, but he held fast.

“Bizkortu! Hurry!” yelled Maite as she dropped to the ground, ripping open Blas’s suitcase. Together, Maite and Kepa threw aside the few possessions Blas had brought from the old country – a few changes of clothing, his Bible, a few pieces of dried meat, and a small knife. 

“Begira! Look!” said Kepa. Underneath it all, they found a small locket that glowed brightly. Maite picked it up and opened it. Inside was a picture of Blas on one side and, on the other, a young woman, her beautiful face smiling back at them. A small glowing sphere of light rose out of the opened locket and floated in front of Maite and Kepa. They looked at one another and reached for it.

“No!” screamed de Lancre as he threw Blas’s burnt and lifeless body aside. He raised his hand, electricity coursing through his fingers. A bolt of lightning erupted from his palm just as Kepa and Maite touched the zatia floating in front of them. The room erupted in a blinding white light, followed by an almost deafening pop

Fighting Basques: Six Basques at Pearl Harbor, The Day of Infamy

This article originally appeared in its Spanish form in El Diario.

Mary Sala poses for the 1940 University of Nevada yearbook, as a member of the Senate of the Student Association. A year later she will witness the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

War was inevitable. The United States – despite its “neutrality” and even without considering the huge supply of raw materials and war machinery it would send to the United Kingdom in the near future – was the only country capable of standing in the way of Japan’s expansionist wishes. In February 1940, in a gesture that did not go unnoticed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the transfer of the entire Pacific military fleet from their naval bases in California to the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, a movement that was seen by Japan as a serious and potential threat to its interests.

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

Japan aspired to be the leader of a new political order in Asia at the cost of seizing the British, French, Dutch, and American colonial territories, and thus extending, without hindrance, its influence in the rest of Southeast Asia. And as such it was recognized by the western powers of Germany and Italy through the Tripartite Pact of September 27, 1940. Previously, after the fall of France into the hands of Nazi Germany, Japan had invaded French Indochina (Vietnam) on September 22, 1940. As a reaction, the US suspended all exports to Japan, including oil, which accounted for 80% of the total obtained by the country of the Rising Sun. The situation was critical and the only solution was to neutralize the US on its way to the Dutch East Indies, which held significant oil reserves that could feed its insatiable war economy.

Some thirty ships, including six aircraft carriers with 420 aircraft on board, and 16,000 men from the Imperial Navy of Japan, crossed about 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) of the Pacific Ocean, undetected, with the aim of ending the meddling of the United States with a preventative attack that would theoretically mean the end of its fleet on the West Coast [1].

Without warning, on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japan launched 353 aircraft from its carriers in two waves of attacks. These air raids were supported by two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, two battleships, eleven destroyers, and 35 submarines. Within just a few hours, Wake Island, in the US, was in turn also razed. On Wake Island, there were seven Basque-American workers, hired by the Morrison-Knudsen engineering company of Boise, Idaho, who were paradoxically building military defenses against a possible Japanese attack.

“WAR! OAHU BOMBED BY JAPANESE PLANES,” announced the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper on its front page of the first extra edition of the same day, December 7, 1941

The American defenses of Pearl Harbor, taken by surprise, offered little resistance to the incessant aerial bombardments. Barring extraordinary instances of heroism, American military and civilians were stunned bystanders of the chaos and catastrophe unleashed by the Japanese. Their placid lives had turned into a nightmare. They had unwittingly become historical witnesses to the unwanted involvement of the United States in the Second World War (WWII). Among them we have been able to identify six people of Basque origin who experienced it first hand. They are Mary Sala, the brothers Fermín and Alfonso Aldecoa Arriandiaga, Leandro Urcelay Llantada, Gregorio “George” Ascuena Monasterio, and Domingo Amuchastegui Guenaga.

Mary Sala, born in 1920 in Ely, Nevada, to a Nafarroan father and a Quebecer mother, who died when Mary was 6 months old. Unfortunately her father died in 1928, leaving her and her older brother, John, orphans at only 8 and 10 years old. Without a relative, the authorities decided to send them to an orphanage in Ogden, Utah. Fortunately, a neighbor in Ely, the Behe Nafarroan Catherine Mong Bercetche, married at the time to another Behe Nafarroan Louis Harriett (they will later separate), decided to adopt them and raise them together with her other two children, Emile Josephine and Louis Genty “Shanty.” It would be at the University of Nevada, in Reno, from where she will later graduate, where Mary met her future husband Mitchell Anton Cobeaga Laca, born in 1917 in Lovelock, Nevada, to Bizkaia parents. Mitchell, commissioned as a lieutenant in the Air Force in May 1940, married Mary in April 1941, was destined for a post at the Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, as a pilot of the 19th Bombardment Group, assigned to the mythical Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress.” At that time, the command decided to transfer the group to the Philippines to improve its air defense in the Pacific, a move in which Mitchell participated. He was on a transfer flight to the US when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Hickam base was completely devastated, killing 189 people. Young Mary, four months pregnant and from her home in the port, was a privileged witness of how Japanese aviation attacked the North American fleet; the ship bearing the name of her home state – the USS Nevada – was the only battleship to get underway that day, although it was hit by a torpedo and no fewer than six bombs, eventually sinking in the port.

Her brothers John and Shanty later served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater of Operations during the war. Her husband Mitchell continued his military career until his retirement in 1968 with the rank of colonel, having also participated in the Pacific front during WWII, and later in Korea and Vietnam. Mary passed away at the age of 76 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The brothers Fermín and Alfonso Aldecoa, born in Boise in 1915 and 1918 to Bizkaian parents, were in Honolulu working for the aforementioned Morrison-Knudsen company in its main office in Pearl Harbor doing accounting work. Morrison-Knudsen had been contracted by the US government to develop different naval military projects, including at Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Wake Island. Fermín, 26, had arrived in Honolulu from San Francisco, California, aboard the SS Mariposa in September 1941, while his brother, 23, had arrived in April on the SS Lurline. Hawaii, an exotic and distant island in the Pacific, seemed to be the ideal place to take a job, with a salary that was almost double what they would receive in Boise. Their experiences would be unforgettable, but for a very different reason, as they witnessed the hecatomb caused by the Japanese attack.

After two years working at Pearl Harbor, the Aldecoas returned to Boise. Fermín retired as chief accountant at Morrison-Knudsen’s Boise headquarters after 39 years of service, passing away in 2006 in his hometown at the age of 91. Alfonso also retired from Morrison-Knudsen and died in Eagle, Idaho in 1995.

Photograph of Gregorio “George” Ascuena (right) during his subsequent stay in the Philippines after its liberation.

Leandro Urcelay was another witness to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Born in Barakaldo, Bizkaia in 1896, he had arrived at the Port of New York in 1919. He made Massachusetts his home, where he married an Azorean, having two children. A merchant marine by profession, and an excellent make of ship models, he had been recruited as an agent of the United States Secret Service and sent on his first mission to Pearl Harbor a few days before the tragic events. The nature of the enigmatic man from Barakaldo’s mission and his service to the US government is unknown. He passed away in Miami, Florida at the age of 82.

Lastly, we find the young recruits Gregorio Ascuena and Domingo Amuchastegui stationed on Oahu. They were born in 1918 in Gooding, Idaho, and in 1923 in McDermitt, Nevada, respectively, both of Bizkaian parents. Gregorio Ascuena was an inexperienced Marine who had only been in the Corps for a few months. He had enlisted in February 1941, being stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, seven miles west of Pearl Harbor. This airbase holds the sad record of having been the first military installation attacked during the aerial bombardment, having occurred two minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite the desperate defense carried out by Gregorio and his companions with the weapons at their disposal, the 48 airplanes that were at the airfield were destroyed or disabled. The sailor Domingo Amuchastegui was also a newcomer. At just 18 years old, since November 25, 1941, he was part of the crew of the submarine support ship USS Pelias, docked in Pearl Harbor. During that fateful morning, the Pelias managed to successfully shoot down a Japanese torpedo plane and seriously damage another.

Domingo passed away at the age of 54 in Medford, Oregon, while Gregorio passed away at the age of 88 in Mountain Home, Nevada.

The Amuchastegui brothers pose together in their army uniforms. All of them served in WWII. From left to right: Julián, Domingo and John. Courtesy of Janet Amuchastegui.

The attacks carried out during those two interminable hours concentrated their entire arsenal on the airfields and the cruise ships, captive in their own docks. 2,403 Americans were killed, including a hundred civilians, and about another 1,200 were wounded. The attacks destroyed 169 Army and Navy aircraft while another 159 were damaged, while only 19 ships were damaged, including eight of the battleships. Only one auxiliary ship and two battleships, the USS Oklahoma and Arizona, were totally destroyed. 1,177 men died aboard the Arizona, almost half of the total human losses. Japan lost 129 soldiers, 29 planes, and 5 small submarines.

The Japanese attack momentarily paralyzed the US fleet, facilitating Japan’s territorial expansion across the Pacific. Twenty-four hours later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Wake Island, Guam and Midway, it was the Philippine archipelago’s turn. Japan soon had in its possession, among others, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Burma and the Netherlands East Indies, coveted for their precious natural rubber and petroleum. Thus, Japan broke the oil blockade imposed by the US since the end of 1940, and was able to replenish its needy civil and military industry. However, the American aircraft carriers were intact, while most of the damaged ships would be repaired between 1942 and 1944, progressively going into active service.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin announces the declaration of war against Japan in its last issue of December 8, 1941. “FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] Call Attack Upon Oahu ‘Infamous Treachery.'”

President Roosevelt requested an immediate declaration of war. On December 8, 1941, in his speech to Congress entitled “December 7, 1941 A Date Which Will Live in Infamy,” he called for a state of war to be declared between the United States and Japan. He was blunt :

YESTERDAY, December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. […] No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. [2]

The slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” would be followed by “America will never forget,” linked to the attack and subsequent invasion of Wake Island. On December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. More than 16 million Americans – including hundreds of Basque origin – would join the Armed Forces during World War II. Pearl Harbor symbolized the dramatic awakening of a military giant, asleep until then.

Following the attack on December 7, 1941, the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” called upon millions of Americans to defend their country. National Archives and Records Administration.

The Basque survivors of Pearl Harbor – the Aldecoa and Urcelay brothers – were called up in 1943. The eldest of the Fermín brothers would serve as an investigator in the Army’s Counterintelligence Corps in the South Pacific. Alfonso served in the Air Forces in Europe as a radio operator aboard a B-24 bomber. Urcelay, 47, was assigned to the United States Naval Construction Battalions, the “Seabees.” Lastly, Amuchastegui continued to serve on various Navy ships throughout the Pacific, while Marine Aviatior Ascuena would fight in Luzon, Philippines; for his actions beyond duty he received the Silver Star. It is the beginning of the legacy of the “Fighting Basques.”

[1] Prange, Gordon W., 1910-1980, Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (1981). At dawn we slept: The untold story of Pearl Harbor. New York: McGraw-Hill.

[2] Roosevelt, F. D. (1941). Speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York Transcript. Library of Congress.

If you want to collaborate with “Echoes of two wars” send us an original article on any aspect of WWII or the Civil War and Basque or Navarre participation to the following email: 

Articles selected for publication will receive a signed copy of “Basque Combatants in World War II”. 

[1, 2, 3] Steve Ranson interview with Gary Parisena on April 18, 2019. “Final farewell for Nevada World War II veteran”. Lahontan Valley News for The State.

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