Basque Fact of the Week: Teodosio, the Knight of Goñi

Many rulers try to legitimatize their power by establishing connections to heroes and legends of the past, sometimes all the way to divine figures. The same has occurred in Basque history. In an effort to connect their lineage to an important mythical figure, the Kings of Nafarroa established a genealogy that connected them to Teodosio de Goñi, a knight who built the Sanctuary of San Miguel that sits in Aralar. However, the story of Teodosio begins with a dark series of events.

Teodosio killing his parents, by Padre Tomas de Burgui. Image from Wikipedia.
  • The story goes that Teodosio, a knight from Goñi, a small town in Nafarroa some 30 kilometers from Pamplona, was called to fight in the war with the Arabs. One day, while in the town of Errotabidea, not far from Goñi, he encounters Satan himself, who is disguised as either a hermit or even a Basajaun. The devil tells him that his wife, Constanza, is having an affair. Enraged, he rushes home only to find two people in his bed. In his rage, he kills them both. He then makes his escape, only to bump in to Constanza in the street as she is returning from church. Realizing that he must have killed his parents, who were living with his wife and who had graciously been given the bigger bed, he flees, seeking absolution.
  • He eventually makes his way to Rome, where the Pope tells him he must wander the region of Aralar, wearing chains until they fall off. Only then will he know God has forgiven him. Alone, he wandered the peaks of Aralar for seven years, until he encountered a dragon that threatened to eat him. In fear, he called out to Saint Michael the Archangel to help him. The angel both killed the dragon and freed Teodosio from his chains. Teodosio then built the sanctuary of San Miguel en Excelsis on that very spot, where he then lived with his wife and which still stands today. In reality, parts of the buildings that comprise the current sanctuary date to the 11th century.
  • Though the story is said to take place in the 700s, it has its origins in the 17th and 18th centuries. While it doesn’t seem that Teodosio was a real person, his legend was promoted as a means to connect royal lineages to a mythical and important figure. He appears in the genealogies of the nobility of the kingdom in the 16th centuries. The legend gained extra popularity when it was featured in the story Amaya o los vascos en el siglo VIII by Francisco Navarro-Villoslada. Published in 1877, it mixed legend and history to tell the story of the first king of Nafarroa.
  • An interesting aside relates to the sanctuary itself. The altarpiece is a masterpiece of Romanesque art, containing crystals that date to the 12th century. The altarpiece was stolen in 1979 by the infamous art thief Eric “the Belgian.” Over the next few years, most of the pieces were recovered and the altarpiece was restored and reinstalled in 1991.

Primary sources: Perales Díaz, José Antonio. Teodosio (o Theodosio) de Goñi. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Theodosius of Goñi – Teodosio de Goñi,; Sanctuary of St. Michael of Aralar, Kingdom of Navarre.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 55

Kepa found himself sitting at a long table covered in a bright red table cloth. Spread out in front of him were plates of cooked steak, fried potatoes, and salad. Large bowls were filled to the brim with beans and bread. Carafes of wine were spaced evenly down the length of the table. An older man sat across from him, his gnarled hands picking up one of the carafes. His knuckles were swollen and his fingernails misshapen, some of them almost capping the tips of his fingers. The old man smiled at Kepa as he poured him some wine before filling his own glass.

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!

“Just arrived? Couldn’t wait for dinner?” the old man asked.

Kepa nodded. “Yes, only this morning.” He took a deep breath, inhaling the aromas surrounding him. “It smells wonderful.”

The old man chuckled. “They do a good job here. Almost like ama did back in the baserri.”

A young woman came out of the kitchen, carrying plates. She was dressed in a white blouse and a red skirt that fell past her knees. She set one down in front of the old man while playfully smacking the back of his hand. “You just couldn’t wait, could you?”

The old man smiled. “Wait for what? Your answer to my proposal?”

The young woman just laughed. “You know the answer to that, Juan Jose.” She turned to Kepa. “Ongi etorri to the Noriega. My name is Elena. And you are…?”

“Kepa. I just got here this morning.”

“Don’t let this old man fill your head with any nonsense. I think he must have gone a little txoriburu, spending so much time in the mountains.” She placed a plate and bowl in front of Kepa. 

“If I’m crazy, it’s with love for you,” said the old man with a wink.

“Oy!” exclaimed Elena. “I’m going to have to send the new girl out next time. I shouldn’t keep all of this to myself!” She disappeared into the kitchen as more people wandered into the dining hall and sat at the tables.

“So,” said the old man as he filled his bowl with beans. “When do you head out?”

“What do you mean? I just got here,” replied Kepa through spoonfuls of beans.

“To the hills,” replied Juan Jose. “When do you go out with your first flock?”

Kepa shrugged. “In the next couple of days, I guess. I haven’t met my boss yet. I think that’s supposed to happen tomorrow.”

“Well, I wish you the best of luck. Try to stay sane up there.” A dark look passed over the man’s face. “I’ve known too many that couldn’t take it.”

Kepa nodded. “I know. There was one, an Amerikatarrak, in the baserri next to us. He had spent a few years here. When he came back, he just couldn’t handle it. He kept to himself in the baserri, never went down to town. One day, they found him. He killed himself with a shotgun.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Too many get sheeped, go crazy in the head. It’s a hard life. You need to take care up there.”

“I will. Thanks.”

As more joined them, the conversation shifted to the upcoming dance and pilota competition. Kepa was glad for the change of topic. As the women shuffled back and forth from the kitchen, he could have sworn he caught a glimpse of Maite, but if she were amongst them, she didn’t come by to say hello.

As the meal wrapped up, some of the men headed to the bar. “You up for a game of mus?” asked Juan Jose. “We have an open seat.”

Kepa shook his head. “Not tonight, thanks. I’m pretty tired from the train ride.”

Juan Jose nodded. “Next time.” He turned to another man who was just getting up. “Geraldo, come on.” The other man sighed as he followed Juan Jose into the bar.

Fighting Basques: Navarrese Marine Federico Clavería, First Correspondent in WWII

In memory of journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, murdered in Burkina Faso.

This article originally appeared in Spanish at

Federico Claveria observes a photograph of himself giving a candy to a boy from Tinian interned in 1944. (Photo from the Department of Defense, US Marine Corps (USMC), 41922 [1], 1969).

On October 22, 1912, 25-year-old young Navarrese Saturnino Clavería Razquin, born in Altsasu in 1886, crossed the border between Mexico and the United States (USA) through the pass between Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas and Laredo, Texas, fleeing the consequences caused by what will later be known as the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910. Three days later, his wife María Maldonado López, also born in 1886 in Valle de Ignacio Allende, Chihuahua, Mexico, and his children, Federico and Miguel, born in Mexico City in 1908 and 1910, also crossed. It was at the Laredo border crossing when, at just four years old, Federico saw the American flag for the first time, a memory that would follow him for the rest of his life, and that would later regain a new meaning during his participation in the Second World War (WWII). For a few years they resided in Bexar, Texas, then later moved to Huntington Park, in the Californian county of Los Angeles, and from there, finally, to Santa Barbara, California.

Photograph of Federico Claveria in his 1937 US citizenship petition in Los Angeles.

Raised between Texas and California, from the mid-1930s Federico began a fruitful career as a commercial artist for both the RKO Service Corporation and Warner Brothers Pictures in Los Angeles, two of the largest film studios of Hollywood’s golden age. Moved by the patriotic fervor that swept through the United States as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Federico tried to join the Marine Corps, but was rejected because he was not a US citizen. He had applied for citizenship in 1937, but it would not be granted until August 1942. With papers in hand, legend has it that Federico entered the Marine recruiting office believing himself safe from any objection. However, he was rejected during the medical examination. Federico was color blind [2]. However, given Federico’s cinematic past as a camera operator, the recruiting officer granted him a medical exemption. Finally, Federico enlisted in the Marine Corps on October 1, 1942 in Los Angeles. What was the interest of the Marine Corps in cinematography? [3]

Following the Japanese victory over the heroic resistance of the US Marines and civilians during the invasion of Wake Island on December 23, 1941, the Marine Corps felt a moral obligation to witness the service rendered by its men on the front lines and thus ensuring more publicity for the Corps itself.

In early 1942, Marine Corps Brigadier General Robert L. Denig was assigned to organize and direct the first Marine Corps Public Relations Department to report on its soldiers in combat zones. Consequently, reporters and photographers with at least five years of experience were recruited as war correspondents, calling themselves “Denig’s Demons” [4]. As Maslowski notes, “Unlike other armed forces, the Marine Corps had not formally organized photographic units […] Before Tarawa, the Marine’s photography had been unimpressive. Wake Island had been missed entirely, and coverage of the six-month battle for Guadalcanal was sparse. [The Marine documentary] This is Guadalcanal […] did not contain a single truly exceptional ground-combat scene. But by late 1943, the Marines were well organized photographically” [5].

Federico Claveria (right) and his partner Sergeant William C. Fitch surrounded by children in Saipan during a recording in the internment camp established after the capture of the island (The Evening Herald, July 20, 1944).

After completing a six-week period of training as combat troops, Federico, like his colleagues from the Public Relations Department, would eventually be granted the rank of sergeant and would be sent abroad with combat units. Photographers and camera operators like Federico swapped the carbine for 45 caliber pistols. Federico was assigned to the 24th Regiment of the 4th Marine Division, covering three amphibious operations in the Pacific in a period of eight months.

“Before each of his three amphibious operations he asked the ship’s chaplain to say a prayer, not for himself but for his family so that his parents would ‘feel tranquility and peace of mind’ if he died in action. Kwajalein was his first assault […] he went in with the third wave, sea-sick and scared […] Once ashore the nausea ceased and his nerves calmed down. He first filmed subsequent landing waves arriving on the beaches, then turned and photographed the Marines’ advanced” [6].

Together with the 24th regiment, Federico took part in the battles of Kwajalein (January 31-February 3, 1944), Saipan (June 15-July 9, 1944), and Tinian (July 24-August 1, 1944). Another Basque, first-class Marine Lawrence Erburu from California, also happened to be part of the 24th regiment. With the assault on the islands of Roi and Namur in the Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, the Americans managed to penetrate for the first time the outer ring of Japanese defenses in the Pacific. The US lost about 200 men, while only about fifty Japanese out of 3,500 managed to survive.

Fighting continued in the Mariana Islands of Saipan and Tinian. American victories over these islands facilitated entry into Japan’s internal defense sphere. Saipan, also known as the D-Day of the Pacific, was a turning point in the evolution of the war. The Japanese archipelago was finally within range of the US Air Force B-29 bombers. Some 3,400 American soldiers were killed or reported missing in Saipan and some 10,000 were wounded in combat. Among the deceased was the young Erburu, who lost his life at the age of 22. 90% of the Japanese troops perished during the confrontation. On Tinian, Japanese resistance to the invasion was also fierce. While some 320 American soldiers died and about 1,600 were wounded out of a total of 41,000 marines, the total of the Japanese forces, about 8,000, were annihilated. Added to this was the deaths of some 4,000 Japanese civilians, many as a result of suicides, killed by Japanese soldiers themselves, or as a result of battle. After control of the island some 13,000 Japanese civilians were interned in concentration camps.

Federico Claveria, kneeling by a barbed wire fence, offers candy to a Japanese boy in a field on Tinian. By August 10, 1944, some 13,000 Japanese civilians had been held in internment camps on the island. (US Department of Defense, Marine Corps (USMC) photo, 90935).

Among the Marines of Basque origin identified to date who fought in Saipan and Tinian are the veterans of the Second Division Joseph Quintana Urizar, John Sallaberry Berra, Laurence Urizalqui Zalba, and Joseph Leniz.

Later the 24th regiment went to Iwo Jima. However, Federico did not join the expedition as he had been on three operations and newly arrived cameramen had not yet had the opportunity to participate in any missions.

Federico was temporarily assigned to the Headquarters of the 24th Aircraft Group of the First Aircraft Wing of the Marine Corps in the Pacific. Two days after Japan’s surrender, Federico requested to be at the handover ceremony on Wake Island that took place on September 4, 1945, as a symbolic gesture towards those fellow Marines who perished or were imprisoned during the Japanese invasion of the island. He was filming the lowering of the Japanese flag when “I look up and I saw a Japanese soldier saluting his flag coming down and tears were running clear down his checks,” Federico recalls. “That touched me. But then, by the same token, a little while later Old Glory was raised and, boy, tears ran down my cheeks, too. So I could understand that the Jap and I were two human beings in the same boat. He was doing his duty; I was doing mine.” [7]. It had been 33 years since he first saw the American flag.

Ceremony for the raising of the American flag over Wake Island on September 4, 1945. This was the first time that the “Stars and Stripes” flew over Wake Island since its capture by the Japanese on December 23, 1941. (Photo by RO Kepler, USMC, NH 96813 of the US Navy, from Wikipedia-Wake Island).

Federico finally returned to the US in January, 1946. In March he married his girlfriend, the Mexican Bertha Alice Ciriza, and in July he was discharged with honors after almost four years of service. He was part of the first generation of correspondents in the history of the Marine Corps. Approximately 430 Marines served in photographic combat roles in the Pacific during the war. None of the original so-called “Denig’s Demons” are still alive.

In December, 1946, Federico and Bertha founded their first tortilla factory under the name of La Tolteca in Santa Barbara, the city where they made their home. They would subsequently open seven more restaurants over the years in Southern California and in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, becoming a prominent Santa Barbara County business family. The family closed the original restaurant in 2006.

Censorship through the world could see and feel what was happening at the front through the photographs and films of war correspondents, whether civilian or military. WWII was followed by many other conflicts in which the tensions between press freedom and military censorship did not ease, reaching a new and surprising goal with the live broadcast of war actions, particularly after 9/11, such as the US invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, or the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003. War was televised as if it were a Hollywood movie.

“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.

War correspondents became historians in the trenches who found themselves at the right time and place, making a direct record of life as they reported on the daily events and experiences of soldiers on the front lines. Visual images were added to written testimony, with the power to illustrate an entire generation whose sacrifices could not go unnoticed by a society expectant of the results of their dedication. The images taken by war correspondents such as Federico still retain their historical weight and continue to be used with great profusion 75 years after the events, creating a collective photographic memory of the time and of a generation that achieved the final victory against the totalitarianism of that moment. The very world of Historical Recreation is nourished by the images taken by figures like Federico, endowing them with a new meaning and a symbolic power that they lacked at first.

Even with a clear patriotic propagandist component, they made war something more human, making it visible with its tragic consequences on civilian populations, in the devastation of cities or, for example, by bringing the stories of the soldiers killed in combat to the big screen or the front pages of newspapers… The name of Federico Claveria would become part of the great cast of Basque war correspondents, albeit civilians, who preceded him, such as the historic Cecilia García de Guillarte (Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, 1915-1989), who covered the Northern Front of the Spanish Civil War in 1936; or the mythical Manu Leguineche (Arratzu, Bizkaia, 1941-2014, Madrid); or the more recent Jon Sistiaga (Irun, Gipuzkoa, 1967), Mikel Ayestaran (Beasain, Gipuzkoa, 1967) o Ane Irazabal (Arrasate, Gipuzkoa, 1984). This article serves as a sincere tribute to the men and women war correspondents who continue today literally risking their lives to carry out the fundamental work to inform.

In 1985, the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association presented Federico with the “Donald L. Dickson Memorial Award,” created for those who have contributed the most to the association. Federico passed away in 1994 at the age of almost 85 in Santa Barbara and was buried with military honors.

[1, 3, 5, 6, 7] Maslowski, Peter. (1993). Armed with cameras. The American military photographers of World War Two. New York: The Free Press. Páginas 175, 237, 222-23, 237-38, y 238-239.

[2] Federico and Bertha Claveria Collection, CEMA 130, Department of Special Collections, University Library, University of California, Santa Barbara. (METER LINK SOBRE “Federico…Collection”).

[4] Frank, Benis M. (1967). Denig’s Demons and how they grew: The story of Marine Corps Combat Correspondents, Photographers and Artists. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents and Photographers Association.

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Basque Fact of the Week: Juan Zumárraga, First Bishop of Mexico

Basques, with their adventurous spirit and ambitions for a better life, were key players in the conquest and history of the Americas. Reminders of that history are everywhere, from the names of towns (Durango, Colorado and the state of Durango in Mexico) to some of the most influential figures in American history, such as Simón Bolívar. One of the most prominent Basques in the history of the Americas was Juan Zumárraga, the first bishop of Mexico. Not only was he a defining religious leader, but he is also the author of one of the oldest letters written in Basque that has reached us to modern day.

Image from Wikipedia.
  • Zumárraga was born in Durango, Bizkaia, in 1468, some 24 years before Columbus first reached what would become the American continents. His parents, Juan López de Zumárraga y Teresa de Láriz y Muncháraz, were both from distinguished families. Not much is known about his childhood, but it seems he always kept a love and fondness for his native land.
  • He was ordained as a Franciscan sometime around 1515, though the details are not clear, not even where his ordination happened. Some time in his mid-fifties, he secluded himself in the Monastery of Abrojo (near Valladolid) to practice a life of isolation. In 1526, he was appointed as guardian of the monastery, a position he held when Carlos V came for one of his vacations.
  • He was soon appointed as an Inquisitorial Delegate to Nafarroa and the Vascongadas — the provinces of Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa — recently shaken by the witchcraft phenomenon. In the summer of 1527 he moved to Nafarroa, but was almost immediately called to the Americas, and he embarked for Mexico in August 1527, after being appointed bishop. While his primary task was to organize the diocese of the capital of New Spain, he was also empowered as protector of the Native Americans.
  • During his time as Bishop of Mexico (he was not consecrated until 1533), he faced many hardships, primarily in the struggle between the Spanish colonists and the Native Americans. While he was named their protector, he presided over the Inquisitorial Court until 1543 when he was dismissed due to his harshness with the “idolatrous” Natives. When the “new laws” prohibited, amongst other things, the enslavement of the Natives but would have led to the poverty of the colonists, he was part of the effort that led to a less strict interpretation that possibly avoided a civil war. It thus seems that his role as “protector” was mixed at best.
  • It was also during this time that the visions of Our Lady of Guadalupe occurred. While Zumárraga was approached about the visions and investigated them, and is now associated with the event, it seems that, at the time, he did not believe the visions and did not promote them. However, they led to a huge increase in the number of Native Americans that wanted to be baptized, a situation that Zumárraga navigated.
  • In many of his efforts, he had to confront an established Spanish colonial system that resisted change. All letters leaving New Spain were censored until he was finally able to smuggle a letter out with the help of a fellow Basque, who buried the letter in a cake of wax and submerged the whole thing in a barrel of oil. One of Zumárraga’s letters has received great attention as it is one of the oldest written documents in Basque.
  • Zumárraga was also responsible for introducing the first printing press to the Americas; supporting the development of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, the first European school of higher education in the Americas; and establishing several hospitals. He is also credited for making chocolate a popular drink in Europe.

Primary sources: A Basque Historian’s Dilemma by Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe; Juan de Zumárraga, Wikipedia; Estornés Zubizarreta, Idoia. Zumárraga, Juan de. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2021. Available at:

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 54

“What is this place?” asked Kepa. All of the windows were shuttered and the door was locked. There were no other cars parked in front. “It seems… closed?”

Maite looked around, walking to the side of the building. “There’s a fronton,” she said. “I assume this must have been some kind of Basque place?”

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!

Kepa pulled out his phone. “I guess we don’t have to keep guessing,” he said, doing a quick search. “It seems that this was a Basque hotel and restaurant, founded in 1893. It closed because of the pandemic.”

“That’s so sad!” said Maite.

“What do we do now? The light guided us here, but now what?”

“Maybe there is a way in through the back?”

Kepa nodded as they walked past the fronton and around the back of the building. A cinder-block wall enclosed a space behind the fonton and the restaurant.

“There’s a door over there,” Maite said, pointing to the back of the building. “Lift me up.”

Kepa lifted Maite over the wall. She jogged over to the building and tested the backdoor. It opened. She motioned to Kepa to go around the front. He nodded as she slipped in through the door. Within moments, she had opened the front door, letting Kepa in. 

“Looks like it has been abandoned for a while,” said Kepa. 

He flicked a switch. The lights stayed off. He pulled out his phone again and turned on the flashlight. Cobwebs filled many of the corners. They wandered into one room. The wall was bare and the floor was torn up. 

“I think there must have been a bar here before,” said Maite. 

“Whatever was here, there isn’t much left,” replied Kepa. He walked along the length of the wall, running his hand along it. There were various holes in the wall where something had once been mounted. Kepa shined his flashlight into one of them. An old photograph was tucked inside. He pulled it out as Maite came up from behind. 

“What’s that?” she asked as Kepa handed it to her.

He shrugged. “An old photograph. Maybe from when this place first opened?”

The photo showed a group of people in front of a very different looking building, with a balcony overlooking the street. Men lined the porch in vests and white shirts while a few women were standing on the balcony, long flowing skirts falling to their feet. The sign on the building said “Iberia Hotel, FM Noriega Proprietor.” 

“Wow,” said Maite as she stared at the photo. “Looks just like all of those saloons in those western movies.”

Maite handed the photo back to Kepa. She noticed how her hand had started to glow just as she touched Kepa’s hand, which was also glowing. Their ears filled with the same buzzing sound that they had heard back on Ellis Island when suddenly the room filled with a blinding white light.

Remembering Dad by Telling His Stories

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have turned 77. I miss you dad.

Dad was always smart. He just didn’t have much opportunity or stomach for school. When I was a kid, he would always help me with my math, at least before we got into things like algebra and geometry. He knew his numbers, and was sharp, but he always preferred working instead of sitting in a classroom.

When he was a kid growing up in the rural countryside of Bizkaia, his mom tried to get him closer to school. She sent him to a caserio in Murelaga (today Aulestia) where he could get some extra schooling. This caserio was closer to a school and she hoped he could get more chances to learn. He was only about nine. To earn his keep, he had to get up and milk the cows every morning. The family had one daughter, who ended up marrying a guy dad called Txoria. Dad hated this guy. Txoria had a motorcycle and he made dad clean it any time he brought it over. So, first thing in the morning, dad had to milk the cows and, if it was there, wash Txoria’s motorcycle. And if dad messed anything up, did anything wrong, Txoria would grab his ear and twist it. He hated Txoria.

Dad spent two and a half years in that caserio. They put him in kindergarten, like he was two years old, even though he was nine and he knew all of the math. He never really got anything out of that school. His grandpa died a few years later, when he was eleven, and he used that as a reason to go home and never go back to Murelaga.

He started getting lessons from a woman in Munitibar, Mari Angeles Mallea, in the Sindikatu, one of the local bars where he also worked. Mari Angeles tutored him a couple of hours a day. He was sharp. He knew his numbers. “Shit, I was good.” The only thing he didn’t do well in was Spanish, he never learned much. He even helped his mom with her math. When she went out with her friends, drinking some wine, she would pay the whole bill because she didn’t know how to divide it. When he was nine, even before, he helped her figure out how to divide the bill so she didn’t pay for everyone all the time.

When dad was older, fourteen or so, his mom tried again, tried to get him in the seminary at Oñate. Dad wasn’t interested. The frailes would come and try to recruit him, but he would escape to the fields and pretend to work. His younger brother, Martin, ended up going, and very nearly became a priest, until he met his future wife Rosario…

Blas and his father, Pedro.

As a kid, dad was always a bit more of a homebody than his brother. When they were younger, before dad was six, his mother took them to stay at a caserio named Astarlo, where she was from. Dad’s uncle, Eusebio, was sick back at their home and the kids were making too much noise, preventing Eusebio from getting the rest he needed, so his mom took dad and Martin to Astarlo. They were all talking until dad noticed his mom wasn’t there any more. I guess they hadn’t really told the boys what was going on. Dad said they tried to bribe him to stay, tried to tempt him with candies and cookies. It worked on his brother, who must have been three or four, but not dad. He followed her home. It was at least one and half miles, going up and down the mountainside. He caught up with his mom and went back home with her.

Even though dad was sharp and good with numbers, he just preferred to work. He took lessons from Mari Angeles for a few years, but then started working full time. When he was sixteen, only a few years before he left for the United States, he started working at another caserio — maybe named Urkija? — he was making 600 pesetas a week, which was a lot back then. He gave half of what he made to his mom and the rest was his. He never saved any of it. It was his job to bring meat home on Sundays. And with whatever was left, he’d spend a lot of it to help keep up the motorcycle, the only vehicle the family had. Dad had a lot of adventures with that motorcycle, but those are stories for another day.

Thanks to Lisa Van De Graaff for encouraging me to record dad and his stories when I could.

The Uberuaga Brothers and the Basque Immigration Experience


Four Basque brothers, four very different ways they experienced the immigrant life.

Goikoetxebarri is a typical baserri nestled into the woods just outside of Gerrikaitz, one of the two barrios that together make up the village of Munitibar. Munitibar is small, maybe 500 people, and lies in the heart of Bizkaia, in the center of a triangle formed by Durango, Gernika, and Lekeitio. Goikoetxebarri was the home of the Uberuaga clan: the patriarch Pedro Uberuaga Kareaga and the matriarch Justa Urionaguena Magunagoikoetxea and their children, eventually seven in all. While the baserri provided the essentials, for such a large family it wasn’t enough. And there weren’t many opportunities in Munitibar — there wasn’t much industry to speak of. While it wasn’t so long ago that there used to be a few ironworks, mills, and even a gypsum mine, today there is just a factory of construction materials and an agricultural coop. Beyond that, there are just a few bars, a couple of churches, the fronton, and the school. To make a living, one had to look beyond the borders of this small village.

The Uberuaga clan: (standing) Juan, José, María, Teodoro, and Santiago; (sitting) Justa and Pedro. Juan carried this photo in his wallet. Photo shared with me by Juan’s son Jon Uberuaga.

Several of the Uberuaga children left home at a young age – as young as ten years old – to work. There simply wasn’t enough money at home to support them all, so they had to work to help the family. Often, necessity drives the search for opportunity, and, as these kids grew up, they took advantage of what opportunities they could, each finding their own way. What I find fascinating about this family is how each of the brothers followed very different paths, together spanning the spectrum of the Basque immigrant experience.

Tio Joe at a big family dinner during our visit in 2014.

The three youngest brothers each made their way to the United States, attracted by the opportunities that sheepherding promised young Basques. Juan Jose – Tio Joe – was the first. (For many years, Tio Joe was Uncle Tio to me… my dad called him “tio” so I just assumed that was his name…) Born in 1924, he arrived in the US in 1952. After his stint as a sheepherder and a lumberjack, Joe worked in a plywood mill for Boise Cascade. Joe never married. He had a shiny, bright red car, with white pin stripes, that embodied cool to me. Eventually, in 1984, he retired after 32 years in the US and returned back to the Basque Country at the age of 60.

When he moved back, he joked with his brother Juan and nephew Jon that he was sick and that he wouldn’t last much longer. But, Joe is still going strong, the last of Pedro and Justa’s children still alive. While his body is certainly weaker than it was when I knew him as a kid – when he would show off his huge biceps, saying he had swallowed big eggs that formed his massive arm – his mind is still sharp. When he was just a little younger, he drove almost every evening from his home in Durango, which he shared with his brother Juan, or Amorebieta, where he now lives with his niece Rosario, to Munitibar, where he could always be found having dinner with his friends, usually in the Ondamendi Taberna. After dinner, he often made his way to his nephew Martín’s bar, the Herriko Taberna, to play cards.

Tio Joe has come back to the United States often, usually for Jaialdi, though, as he gets ever closer to 100, his traveling days are likely over. Just before his last trip, in 2014, we were visiting him and the rest of the family. His niece, Rosario, was away on vacation. Joe and his other niece, Begoña, and her husband, Javier, were planning to board a plane just weeks later to visit my parents and friends. The stubborn old Basque that he is, Joe decided it was the right time to trim some hedges, so at the age of 90, he climbed up a precarious ladder to cut away the branches. He fell, and had to be taken to the hospital. While he ended up ok, and was able to get on the plane, the whole time he was waiting for the ambulance, all he could do was worry about the “broncas” – the scolding – he was going to get from Rosario…

Juan on his horse with his dog at his sheep wagon. Photo shared with me by Juan’s son Jon Uberuaga.
February 1962, Euzkaldunak Organization Weight Lifting Champion: Juan Uberuaga (carrying walking weights) being kissed by Miss Boise, Delphina Urresti (photo from The Basque Center, Boise).

Joe’s younger brothers soon followed him to the United States, presumably drawn by Joe’s stories of the wonderful opportunities the American West offered. Juan came in 1956, when he 29 years old. Back in the old country, Juan had already gained fame, nicknamed the Leon de Oiz – the Lion of Oiz – a champion txinga carrier. On the day before he left for the US, he beat a rival – Gandiaga – by carrying two weights, each weighing about 100 pounds, over 850 feet. Juan came on one contract, returned back to his native Bizkaia, and then came on a second contract to herd sheep. His immigration status was different than Joe’s – Juan wasn’t allowed to hold any job other than sheepherder while Joe spent half of each year cutting wood. After a second contract, he returned to the Basque Country for good. But, during those six years, Juan earned enough money that he could have bought five apartments and a car. Now back in the Basque Country, Juan settled down. He married Felisa Urionabarrentexea and had a son, Jon. Sadly, his first wife died in 1975 when Jon was nine years old.

Joe and Juan, sometime around 1948 before either left for America. Photo shared with me by Juan’s son Jon Uberuaga.

When I first met Juan, during my first visit to the Basque Country in 1991, Juan was confined to a wheelchair, the result of severe thrombosis. However, his strength was still legendary. During one of my visits, I joined him, Joe and Jon at a sporting event that was held in honor of his career carrying weights. Juan died in 2001.

Frances and Santi (far right) at the 1980 Dinner at the Basque Center in Boise. Also pictured (left to right): Carol & Joe Lejarcegui and John Bastida. Photo from the Basque Center of Boise.

The youngest son, Santiago – Tio Santi – came a year after Juan, when he was 28 years old. As his older brothers, he came on a sheepherding contract. When my dad, Pedro, came in 1961, Santi was still herding sheep, and became my dad’s boss. While Santi was out watching the sheep, my dad took care of the camp. In 1972, Santi started working at a Boise Cascade plywood mill in Emmett, Idaho – he worked there until he retired in 1991. Shortly after he began working at the mill, he married Frances Chacartegui Toolson and they made their home in Boise. Santi was a staple at the Boise Basque Center, and was always ready for a game of mus. Santi wouldn’t make it back to the Basque Country more than a few times after that. When Juan’s first wife died in 1975, Santi and Francis made a trip to the old country. But, that was Santi’s last time in his native country. When Juan himself died in 2001, they wanted to visit again, but the attacks on 9/11 disrupted those plans. Santi died not too long after, in 2002.

While Santi was by far the closest to us, physically, I never really got to know him. We never really saw him that much when I was a kid. When he lived in the United States, we saw Joe a lot more, and I’ve of course seen Joe many times since, as we each skip across the ocean. I even got to know Juan, who I only met a few times, better. It is funny how life happens.

Teodoro and Feliciana’s wedding photo.

The eldest brother and my aitxitxa, Teodoro, born in 1915, stayed in the Basque Country. He never step foot in the United States. As the oldest child, Goikoetxebarri was his responsibility, though the younger siblings often sent money to help with the upkeep of the baserri. Teodoro married Feliciana Zabala Idoeta, and they made their home in Goikoetxebarri. They had eight children – six boys and two girls. Just as with the previous generation, several of the children started work at a young age to help the family. Over the years, Teodoro worked various jobs, including at a paper mill in Durango and making charcoal. He would often work two shifts, taking on that of another worker, to earn that much more. Teodoro died young, only 56 years old, of lung cancer in 1971, the year I was born. Of those eight kids, only my dad – the eldest – followed his uncles to the United States.

Santi and Joe in Idaho. Joe’s fancy red car is in the background. Photo shared with my by Juan’s son Jon Uberuaga.

Each of these four brothers lived the Basque immigrant story in very different ways. Teodoro, the oldest, became the new patriarch of the family baserri and never left the Basque Country. Juan did two contracts as a sheepherder and returned home. Though the work was hard, he appreciated the economic opportunities it had given him. José – Joe – also came as a sheepherder but ended up spending the rest of his working life in the United States. However, the lure of his native land never left him and he returned once he retired, enjoying another 38 years and counting in his native land. And Santi made the US his permanent home. Each followed a completely different path afforded by the opportunities of the time.

There were three other kids in that Uberuaga clan of Goikoetxebarri. The only girl, María, left home early when she was only ten years old, to live with an aunt and help support the family. Eventually, she made her home just up the mountain from Goikoetxebarri at another baserri, Kortaguren. Emilio, the second oldest brother born in 1917, was killed in 1938 in the Spanish Civil War. The last brother, Eusebio, also died young at the age of 31.

Many thanks to my cousin, Jon Uberuaga, for filling in so many details and sending these great photos, and my wife, Lisa Van De Graaff, for the critical eye.

Basque Fact of the Week: The Basques of Bakersfield, California

The western United States saw Basque communities, often centered around the sheep herding trade, pop up across the landscape. Newly arrived Basques needed places to stay and contacts to help guide them as they tried to navigate this foreign land and the Basque boarding houses were born. Some of those endured over a century, their role as a pillar of the local Basque community evolving with time. That is particularly true of the Basque boarding houses and restaurants of Bakersfield, California.

The Noriega Hotel. Image from
  • The first European to explore California’s Central Valley, the future location of Bakersfield, was Gabriel Moraga. The son of Joaquin Moraga, the lieutenant of explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and founder of both San Francisco and San Jose, Gabriel explored the region during the years of 1805-1808. He gave many of the rivers in the area the names we use today, including the San Joaquin River, which then gave its name to the valley. The town of Moraga is named after Gabriel’s son. Though Moraga is a Basque name, Joaquin was born in what is today Arizona.
  • Basques began to flock to the area, many as sheepherders and many from Iparralde, the French side of the Basque Country. Basque hotels and boarding houses arose to greet and host the new immigrants. The oldest, the Noriega Hotel, opened in 1893 in Kern City. Originally called the Iberia Hotel, the first owners were Faustino Mier Noriega and Fernando Etcheverry. Standing one block from the railroad station, it was the first place many young Basques, who had the words “Noriega Hotel– Bakersfield, California” pinned to their clothes, stayed. The hotel changed hands many times over the years. The hotel was forced to close in 2020 due to the challenges associated with COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Bakersfield is known for its Basque restaurants, including to but in addition to the Noriega Hotel. These include Benji’s French Basque Restaurant, Chalet Basque Restaurant, Pyrenees Café, and the Wool Growers. The Wool Growers was started in 1954 by Mayie and JB Maitia while the Pyrenees originally opened in 1899. The Chalet Basque was founded in 1969 by JB and Marie Curutchague. Benji’s is the new kid on the block, so to speak, opening in 1986.
  • Part of what would become Tejon Ranch, the largest ranch and private land holding in California, lying just south of modern Bakersfield, was originally awarded to Jose Antonio Aguirre, a Basque from San Sebastian (the article says Bizkaia, but I assume they mean Gipuzkoa) in 1843 as part of Mexican land grants.
  • The Kern County Basque Club was formed in 1944 by John Ansolabehere, Frank Maitia, Sr., Felix Etcheverry, Raymond Castanchoa, and Inocencio Jaurena. In 1972, the site was expanded with the addition of a fronton. The club now hosts the largest annual Basque festival in California. They also hosted the Mexican handball team for the Olympic finals in 1979.
  • As with all of our Basque communities in the Western United States, that of Bakersfield is changing, epitomized by the closing of the Noriega Hotel. Bakersfield native Beaux Gest Mingus, and his filmmaking partner Gina Napolitan, are working to capture that history before it finally disappears. Over the last 8 years, they have roamed the Basque-American landscape. The fruit of their labors is the film The Disappearing West, which they hope to release this coming Christmas. Selected scenes are available at Kyle Baker’s The Eighth Province also captures the history and evolution of the Basques of Bakersfield.

Primary sources: History of the Noriega Hotel, Stephen Bass; Basques in Early California and Kern County, Stephen Bass; Kern County Basque Club

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 53

Kepa nearly hit another car as he pulled over to the shoulder and stared out the window.

“Bakersfield?” he said, looking at Maite.

Maite just shrugged. “I don’t know anything about it.”

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!

Kepa pulled out his phone and did a quick search. “Looks like it has a long history of Basque sheepherding. It’s about two hours from here.” He looked again at Maite. “Change of plans?”

“What about your cousin?” 

Kepa shrugged. “I’ll just text him saying we got delayed and we’ll see him tomorrow. I don’t know what else we can do.”

Maite nodded. “Ados nago. I agree. We can’t just ignore that light.”

Kepa flicked his turn signal as he merged back onto the freeway and took the exit toward Bakersfield. “Are you ready for another one of these?”

“More ready than last time,” replied Maite. “At least we have some sense of what will happen.”

“I have to admit, I’m not looking forward to bumping into de Lancre again. We barely got away last time.” He looked over at Maite. “What would happen if he actually killed one of us?”

Maite’s face betrayed the uncertainty she kept from her voice. “I guess it will be like Blas,” she said. “Once the quantum bubble pops, it will be as if it never existed. Anything that happens in the bubble is undone.”

“I don’t look forward to experiencing that first hand.”

“Blas seemed to turn out fine. He had the life he was always meant to.”

“Yeah, but he did die, in a horrible way.” Kepa shook his head. “Maybe he could forget, maybe in the end it didn’t really happen to him, but what about us? We remember what happens in those bubbles. If we die, even if we come back when the bubble pops, will we remember dying? Will we remember going through what Blas did?”

Maite felt an uncontrolled shiver race through her body. “I can’t imagine…” she began.

“Sorry,” said Kepa. “I shouldn’t go there. This is hard enough without dwelling on what ifs.”

Maite reached out to take Kepa’s hand. “Whatever happens, we’ll go through it together.”

Kepa looked over at her as they sped down the highway and smiled. 

It wasn’t long before they pulled into Bakersfield, the pinpoint of light constantly on the horizon before them. Kepa navigated the streets, guided by the light, which took him downtown and in front of a small, nondescript white building. The light hovered above the building and, as Kepa and Maite watched, blinked a few times before disappearing.

“I guess we’re here,” said Maite with a sigh.

Hanging above the door, in almost unassuming green script, read the word “Noriega’s.”

Basque Fact of the Week: The Disappearance of Jesús Galíndez Suárez

The aftermath of Spanish Civil War and World War II forced many Basque intelligentsia to flee their native land and settle elsewhere. Indeed, the Basque government itself was in exile. Many of those Basques eventually found their way to the Americas where they became important figures, both representing the cause of the Basque government or involving themselves in local politics. Jesús Galíndez Suárez did both and paid the ultimate price.

Jesús Galíndez Suárez, image from About Basque Country.
  • Galíndez was born in Amurrio, Araba, on October 12, 1915. His father was an eye doctor. When his mother died, his father took the family to Madrid, where Galíndez ended up studying law and became passionate about his native Basque Country. In 1932 he became part of the Basque Nationalist Party and began publishing monographs on history and politics.
  • During the Spanish Civil War, he became the Legal Attaché to the Committee-Delegation of the Basque Nationalist Party, which was charged with protecting the Basques who resided in Madrid. Galíndez was in charge of the Section of Prisoners and the Disappeared of the Basque Government. His efforts ensured the freedom of many Basques and non-Basques alike during the war.
  • At the end of the war, in 1939, he fled Spain and went into exile, making his way to the Dominican Republic, where he lived for six years, becoming a professor of legal science and a representative of the Basque Delegation.
  • In 1946, he left the Dominican Republic for New York. He was involved in efforts that led the United Nations to condemn the Franco regime in Spain. He also continued his award-winning writing and became a professor of law and history at Columbia University. During this time, he completed his PhD thesis on the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, which was formally accepted by the university on February 27, 1956.
  • Only days later, on March 12, Galíndez disappeared. He was last seen entering a subway station. His body was never found, though an ex-student claimed to have seen it fished out of the sea and buried in San José de Ocoa, Dominican Republic. There is some evidence that he was abducted by agents of the Trujillo regime, who flew him from New York to the Dominican Republic. The pilot was an American, Gerald Lester Murphy, who also disappeared later that year. However, other theories state that the US government had him killed because he knew too much about its relationship with the Trujillo government or that he was in fact a spy, working for the US.
  • One of Galíndez’s last writings, discovered in his papers, describes the isolation and danger he felt:

I’m Basque…some laugh, and others hate me.  That is all I have left when despair takes over and I wander through the streets.  I’m Basque, and far away there is a people that I belong to.  I am nothing, a mess of endless passions and desires.  But I’m part of that people, the people I see in my waking dreams, dressed as a gudari on my way to the mountain, I see him in the romerías and when night falls, on a street, I see him making an effort on the jai alai court, and in the fishermen going out to see, I see him singing and praying, I see him throughout the centuries.  I’m along, alone with my troubles.  But I will continue, I will continue on even though no one understands me in this Babylon.  And someday, I will lay down under the black poplar tree I chose on the top of a hill; in the lonely valley of my village, alone with my land and my rain.  They will understand me in the end…

Translation from About Basque Country.

Primary sources: Estornés Lasa, Mariano. Galíndez Suárez, Jesús de. Enciclopedia Auñamendi, 2021. Available at:; Jesús Galíndez, Wikipedia.

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