Category Archives: People

Two Basque History Lessons: Anaiak Danok and Refugee Children in Bristol

Here are two articles that provide some interesting Basque history, both outside of the Basque Country.

anaiokThe first, an article at the Blue Review by Kyle Eidson and Dave Lachiondo, describes an interesting period in the history of the Basque diaspora in Boise. During the middle of the 1950s, when new Basques were immigrating to the United States from Franco’s Spain, there was much more political awareness of what was occurring back in Spain than had been true of the previous generations. Many of these Basques had experienced life under Franco’s rule, and were interested in what they could do against it. This lead to the formation of the group Anaiak Denok (All Brothers), which brought together like-minded Basques who discussed these issues. The most prominent member, Pete Cenarrusa, was of course also heavily involved in Idaho politics, and his two passions often overlapped. Dave and Kyle describe how, in the end, it was different views of ETA that ultimately lead to the end of the group.

bristol-refugeeAlso related to the after-effects of the Spanish Civil War, the second article, published on the Bristol Post’s website, delves into the role that the city of Bristol played in adopting 4000 Basque refugee children escaping the ravages of the War. These children, ranging in age from 5-15 years old, were originally expected to spend only about 3 months in the UK before being returned to the Basque Country. Things didn’t turn out quite like that.

There is a funny little anecdote that the children misunderstood and thought that the straw that was being used for their bedding was what they were meant to eat for dinner.


Basque-ing in play by Begoña Echeverria

In this guest article, Professor Begoña Echeverria, a professor of education at the University of California, Riverside, describes how she uses songs to teach basic concepts of the Basque language to adults, focusing not on grammatical aspects, but rather conversation.

Eskerrik asko, Begoña!

Basque-ing in play: Using song to teach Basque in the American diaspora

Begoña Echeverria

Associate Professor and Associate Dean
Graduate School of Education
University of California
Riverside, CA 92521-0128



Efforts to revitalize Basque (Euskera) focus on showing its “equality” to dominant languages, emphasizing grammar and “correctness” in the classroom. But while the number of Basque speakers has risen in the last few decades, Euskera is still endangered.  Basque speakers will switch to another language (usually Spanish or French, but English in the diaspora) when only one non-Basque speaker is among them and speakers do not speak the Euskera they know:  by 2001, one-quarter of the population in the Basque Autonomous Community spoke Basque, but only 14% used in publicly (Urla, 2013: 133).  Standardization has increased native speakers’ insecurities so that “’the creative capacity of the Basque speaker is being lost, the capacity to play with and enjoy the language. And when that is lost, the language itself is on the way to being lost’” (Urla, 2013: 108, quoting Zuazo 2000: 132).

I took these lessons to heart when I taught a Basque class to adults between 2006-2010 for a Basque club in southern California.  The class was part of a larger effort through the North American Basque Organization, composed of Basque clubs in the United States and Canada, to promote the language (  I was asked to take over the class by one of its students when the first volunteer teacher was unable to continue. I agreed to take on the class so long as it focused on conversational skills—and not grammatical “correctness”—in part, because I am not a trained foreign language teacher, but also because the research I have done in the Basque Country itself suggested that focusing on teaching “correct” Basque was problematic to the extent that it made many Basque learners (and sometimes native speakers) too self-conscious to actually speak Basque outside the classroom (Echeverria 2003).

In this sense, my work corroborates that of scholars in other minority language communities.  That is, while attempts to revitalize languages often focus on standardizing and modernizing their languages so that they become more instrumentally useful and more able to challenge dominant language hegemony, such strategies do not guarantee that the prestige and use of that language will increase. Eckert (1983) demonstrates that minority language standardization can just as easily alienate native speakers as empower them; Wong (1999) shows that native speakers might reject the standard imposed on them altogether. Gal (1979) and Milroy (1987) suggest that, because of the association often found between vernaculars and solidarity, some speakers will continue to speak vernaculars even if they are not instrumentally advantageous.

But another reason for my insistence on the class focusing on informal conversation rather formal grammatical rules or conventions was that I knew that in order for the experience to be worthwhile for me—it was on a volunteer basis, after all—it had to be fun. And that meant using songs and games as much as possible to teach the language.  In this paper, I focus on the songs I used and wrote to convey some of the basic vocabulary needed for conversation in Basque, and to illustrate some the features of the language that most challenged my English-speaking students.

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Mark Bieter visits Arzak and makes me want to too

A few days ago, I wrote about the latest edition of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and how the Basque Country had 5 of those restaurants.

At number 8 sits Arzak. Mark Bieter, who I’ve frequently linked to because of his wonderful way with words, has had the pleasure of dining at Arzak. In an article he wrote in 2012, he describes his experience: It’s just a restaurant, I thought, nothing to be afraid of.  And yet standing across the street from it, I was a little afraid. 

I’m not a foodie, as Mark also claims, but his description of his time at Arzak makes me think that even I might appreciate the wonders of a place like that.

Priest of Pirates by Guillermo Zubiaga

Azalak2The third and final installment of Guillermo Zubiaga’s epic about Basque whaling, Joanes or the Basque Whaler: Priest of Pirates, follows the final exploits of Guillermo’s hero, Joanes. This graphic novel, based on historical documents of Basque derring-do on the high seas, culminates the grand adventures of Joanes and his crew as they encounter deadly pirates, an even deadlier monster whale, and mythical creatures from Basque myth.

I won’t spoil the story, but suffice it to say it takes Joanes and his crew to the depths of the ocean, to the coasts of New Foundland, and through glacial fields. Along the way, Joanes and the crew encounter a monster killer whale, a lamiak, various Native American tribes, and British and Danish pirates. It is a roller coaster ride that is fast paced and covers a lot of ground and time. Compared to the previous volumes, it felt both grander in scope and thus a bit less action oriented (though there is plenty of action).

As with the previous volumes, there are so many references to history and myth that I really found myself wishing to know more. Guillermo opens the volume with a little bit of background, particularly regarding the skull chalice that graces the cover. I understand that Guillermo is working on collecting the three volumes into one graphic novel (which provides him with an opportunity to correct some mistakes that crept in). I sincerely hope that it is annotated to provide that historical and mythological context the story and art are based upon.

The story is a rowdy jaunt through Basque history that is delightful, both for the art and for the cultural references. I highly recommend it and look forward to the collected volume!

Zorionak Guillermo!

Robert Laxalt: Story of a Storyteller by Warren Lerude

Lerude ppbk cover.inddProbably most Basque-Americans are vaguely familiar with who Robert Laxalt was, though the Laxalt name might be more recognizable because of his brother, Paul Laxalt, who was a Senator from and Governor of Nevada. Robert was a writer who distilled the Basque-American experience into simple but stark stories of life in the Nevada hills. His stories explored Basque identity both in the American West as well as in the Basque Country, which was the focus of a couple of his books. My favorite book of his, though, doesn’t deal with the Basques at all. A Man In The Wheatfield deals with a small rural western American town and the people and their fears that govern the life within the town. It’s been a long time and I’ve forgotten most of it, but I remember a scene dealing with rattlesnakes that was pretty intense (clearly, I need to go back and read his books again!). The other minor anecdote I have about Laxalt is that, by pure chance, browsing a used bookstore in Albuquerque I ran across a signed copy of one of his books, a cool buried treasure I chanced upon.

If you haven’t read any of his books, I would highly recommend them, even to someone with minimal or no interest in the Basques themselves. Laxalt’s writing is wonderful and paints a vivid picture of life in the American West. It’s not for nothing that he was nominated for the Pulitzer twice.

This all brings me to a new book, a biography of Laxalt by Warren Lerude entitled Robert Laxalt: Story of a Storyteller, published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. I haven’t read Professor Lerude’s biography yet, but I’m hoping it captures that magic I encountered in reading Laxalt’s words. You can read some advance praise about the book here and here.

Kindred Basque Spirits

A couple of weeks ago, during a work trip to Washington, DC, I met up with a couple of the members of the DC Euskal Etxea. I’ve mentioned Mark Bieter a few times in the past, as he writes a very insightful blog about many things, including things Basque. Sam Zengotitabengoa (ok, I admit, I had to look that up) has been heavily involved in the DC club for a while. While I’ve chatted with them virtually, we’d never met, and I figured this was a good opportunity to meet a few more Basque-os.

Talking with these guys was a real treat. They both have strong interests in the Basque Country — the politics, the culture, the now of the Basque Country. For me, this is the heart of my own interest. I understand the importance of the things that are central to Basque-American culture, particularly the dancing, but the dancing and such holds little interest to me. My personal passion for things Basque was ignited when I went to live there. I went with the goal of learning Euskara, but during that year I discovered music beyond the accordion, both odd folk music such as txalaparta but also avant garde punk music that resonated more with me. I discovered rural villages where basseriak dotted the landscape and people lived off the land, but also thriving metropolises where anything and everything modern existed, including spectacular buildings, gorgeous beaches, and polluted rivers (big cities do have downsides…). I discovered a culture that was firmly rooted in tradition with an odd and ancient language celebrated through bertsos but also one that kept an eye on the future, invested heavily in cutting edge science and technology. It was this dynamic blend of tradition and progress that captured my imagination. This, for me, is the essence of the Basque experience.

So, it is always a great pleasure to meet others that share the same passion, the same perspectives on the Basque Country. Over maybe one or two too many beers, settled in a bar in a way that isn’t all that possible in the Basque Country (I do like both ways of enjoying fine beverages), we chatted about many things, including politics, identity, sports, and Basque culture in America. It was simply just nice to talk about Basque culture and the Basque Country with people who had a deep and personal investment in the Basque Country itself.

Eskerrik asko Mark and Sam. I look forward to future “meetings” in the pub.