Category Archives: Diaspora

My Brush with Showbiz

promoLast month, I (through my wife) got an odd phone call. The TV show Longmire was doing an episode that showcased Basques and, since they film the show in New Mexico, they were asking for any Basques or people of Basque descent that might be interested in participating. They contacted us because of our roles in the Basque Club of New Mexico. At first, I wasn’t so interested. It seemed like an odd and difficult thing to pull off, especially because, while there are simply tons of Basque names here in New Mexico, most of them arrived in the area so long ago that their holders don’t really have any connection to Basque culture. If the show wanted authentic Basques, New Mexico is not the place to find so many.

(It seems that the author of the novels that the show is based on, Craig Johnson, has featured the Basques in at least one of his Longmire novels.)

However, I still sent out an announcement to our mailing list and talked with the various representatives of the show, the guy who did extra casting, the guy who did decoration, and the woman who was searching for a Basque for a speaking part. It didn’t seem that many people were responding, and I got the impression that they were pretty disappointed. My wife encouraged me to do it (in no small part because she really likes co-star Katee Sackhoff). That, and the excitement that Alicia, a former Oinkari who is doing a medical residency in Albuquerque, showed for the project made me finally decide to give it a go.

They told us to show up around 10, at least those of us extras that weren’t dancers or musicians. They also told us to bring some Basque costume elements — I had my black beret, red sash and red handkerchief. We all crowded into a small class room in the back of a church in a small town in northern New Mexico (Pecos) where we first picked up paperwork and then snaked around the room to file it. Once our paperwork was filed, we then were directed to costumes. They were happy enough with what I’d brought, so I simply wore that, but they had also literally stitched together dance costumes for the women that looked like the real thing. After a stop at makeup (where I only got some sunscreen), it was down to the set.

The set was in a field behind the church, so looking up from the field the church dominated the view. They had already setup tents and booths that were meant to mimic a Basque festival in Wyoming (the location of the fictional story). Some things were very nice touches, such as the booths of food and drink, though it was also odd to see a big banner proclaiming the fiesta of San Ignatius for a story that was supposed to take place in March. On the other side of the tents were grills that were to prepare a feast for these festival goers.

I was originally tagged as one of the chefs, but they needed more extras in other places, so all of us were bounced around. If, when you see the episode, you see a chef who also seems to be cheering every event and wandering the field drunk, all at seemingly the same time, you’ll understand why.

The whole experience was a bit surreal. I was paired up with a woman who has done quite a bit of extra work, so she showed me the ropes. We were tasked to simply wander in the background as they filmed the main characters in the tent. We were told to cross the field, go from one booth to another, pretend to encounter old friends, and drink up. All of this in complete silence as the cameras were rolling. The director must have done 20 takes of this, so each time we had to retrace, at least roughly, our steps around the field. My veteran partner decided that to make it interesting to us, she would start to play a bit drunk. That gave us a bit of a story to act out on our own in the background. We’ll see what it looks like in the final go (assuming it makes it to the screen).

Then, we went to the grills. I manned the only grill that was actually lit, cooking sausages (that were certainly not chorizo) and pork chops. I’d serve them to people in the line, the director would yell cut, then the food would all be returned to me. The grill was still going. If you see blackened pork chops, really, that is not my fault. There is only so much even the best cook can do when his food is on the grill for several hours!

MVC-848FAnd then we were ushered to cheer on the sporting events. They had a tug of war and a wagon lifting event, one that I have seen before (the contestant lifts one end of the wagon and carries it in a circle, as the other end is pivoting against a support in the ground; called orga jokoa in Basque). However, the event started by one guy “lifting” a 400 lb weight into the wagon, and there is no way any of these guys would be able to do that in real life. So, we are “bouncing around” from one scene to another. For the sporting events, they wanted us to be as loud as possible, as opposed to the miming we’d been doing all day.

This went on for hours, literally. We started at something like 10 on the set and didn’t get off the set until something like 7pm. The more seasoned extras were grumbling because the company is supposed to feed people after 6 hours and there was some thought that they’d send us home without any food (while the stars had a cart of snacks and drinks they were being served). However, at the end of the day, they did feed us dinner.

05-katee-sackhoff-as-vic-morettiWhile I saw the stars and even caught their eye a couple of times (Katee complimented me on my sausage…*) things were pretty segregated. The stars had their chairs with their names (like in the movies) and even for dinner they were in a different room than the rest of us. However, when one of the extras took some of the children to meet the stars, it seems like they were more than gracious. It was just a setting where you can’t really take enough of a break to say hello.

In the end, it was a lot of walking around, so not a lot of effort, but being on our feet all day in the sun and the dust it was tiring. And not very financially rewarding. For a 9 hour day I made maybe $80. I made more renting items to them for decoration. They rented my cesta, my coat-of-arms, some pictures, and a few other items. The seasoned extras told us stories about other shoots and how sometimes they’d be going all night long, or how they got to pretend to use swords and such. There was a little subcommunity of extras that was both very interesting and just a bit odd… It was a cool experience, one that exposed me to a different set of people than I would normally run across. And, as my partner told me, I’ll likely not look at shows like this the same way again. I’ll always be looking for those discontinuities in the set, in the behavior of the extras, in their placement.

One last note: not everything in the set was perfect, from a Basque point of view. But, I have to say, these guys tried hard. The set decoration guy I rented my stuff to couldn’t find someone to make Basque sheepherder bread, so learned to do it himself. Cooking at 7000 ft is non-trivial and the bread looked a little less than stellar, but they sure tried. They made costumes, they translated phrases to Basque, and they did their best to find Basques to participate. It might not be fully authentic, but it certainly gives the flavor.

The episode, entitled “Death Came Like Thunder,” airs on June 10th. Mark your calendars and let me know what you thought!

* In the interest of full disclosure, the actual quote was more along the line of “Those sausages look good.” I think even the stars were starving at that point and 5-hr-old sausages were starting to look appetizing.

BOGA: Basque Studies Consortium Journal

Screen shot 2013-03-16 at 8.23.13 PMThe now defunct Journal of Basque Studies in America was a journal published by Society of Basque Studies in America to promote Basque culture by publishing in English articles that would be of interest to a wider American audience. The goal was to essentially disseminate information about Basque culture that otherwise would not make it to an English speaking audience. That journal, which ended publication in 2011, was transferred to Boise State University and its Basque Studies Program.

Fast forward to today and the journal has been reincarnated as BOGA: Basque Studies Consortium Journal. BOGA has the same basic aims as the Journal of Basque Studies in America, but with a bit more rigorous peer review. Those aims are nicely summarized on the BOGA website:

This journal aims to be a part of the long-standing tradition of Basque higher education as symbolized by the Basque Country’s first university built in Oñati, Gipuzkoa in 1548 (incorporated into our website theme). The town of Oñati also holds additional significance for Boise State University’s Basque Studies Program because it served as the first location for the studies abroad program in the Basque Country in the 1970s. This journal is a multi-disciplinary, peer-reviewed academic publication dedicated to the scholarly study of all aspects of Basque culture with the aspiration to foster a better understanding of Basque culture and heritage in its diverse aspects by disseminating original works of interest to an English speaking audience and to encourage interaction–learning links–among academics from various learning traditions; e.g., linguistic, philosophical, anthropological, ethnological, historic, literary, artistic, religious, economic, cultural, international relations, etc. The Basque sculptor Jorge Oteiza stated that to move forward, one had to look backward, and that is conceptualized by the rowboat image as the rowers make progress while looking behind. This journal hopes to contribute to the shared “rowing” effort among institutions and individuals to mutually support efforts in Basque Studies.

Many familiar names are associated with the journal, including: John Ysursa, William Douglass, Pedro Oiarzabal, Sam Zengotitabengoa, and Joseba Zulaika, among many more.

The inaugural issue is not online yet, but promises to have very interesting perspectives on a number of Basque topics, if the articles that appeared in the Journal of Basque Studies in America is any indication.

I’m personally very excited to see the launch of this new effort. There are a lot of aspects of Basque culture, history, and linguistics that simply are inaccessible to people who do not speak Basque or Spanish. This journal will provide a vehicle for at least some of those ideas and discoveries to reach an English audience.

Zorionak!

8 Probintziak Elkartea

Picture 2Benoit Etcheverry Macazaga has been a presence the internet, promoting Basque culture, for a number of years now. His newest venture, 8 Probintziak Elkartea, rekindles a theme he initiated a few years back of trying to draw together with stronger ties the Basque Country and the Basque diaspora. Part of his goal is to simply make Basques in the Basque Country more aware of their cousins in the diaspora, and vice versa. The goal of his website it to facilitate this by sharing links and news items that might be of broad interest to Basques, support genealogical research, promote physical exchanges between Basques in the Basque Country and in the diaspora, and exchange business ideas between all Basques to encourage economic development. As part of this, his website lists the feeds from a number of other Basque websites, including this one (thanks Benoit!)

In fact, the name of the site — 8 Probintziak Eklartea — emphasizes this idea of an 8th Basque province, the diaspora, that has it’s own contributions to make to the Basque experience, that the diaspora is a significant part of Basque culture. By promoting these connections and establishing stronger ties between the Basque Country and Basques all around the world, Benoit is trying to strengthen Basque culture world-wide.

Picture 3

A companion project is a radio program, 8HZ Radio. Co-hosted with Robert Acheritogaray and Adelaide Daraspe, the program directly engages the Basque diaspora and brings their views and activities to the Basque Country.

The only thing he is missing is a snappy logo!

Update: Benoit pointed out to me that he does have a snappy logo, on the Facebook page for 8 Probintziak. Sorry Benoit! 

 

Facebook highlights story of Basque Diaspora

Do you remember that AT&T commercial from 2000 featuring a Basque sheepherder, mingling with his flock in the American West, talking on his cell phone with his family back in the Basque Country? Pedro Oiarzabal does. He uses this commercial, featuring the late Dionisio Choperena, to lead off his article on the Basque Diaspora, an article requested by Facebook for a new initiative they have called Facebook Stories.

The tag line of Facebook Stories is “People using Facebook in extraordinary ways.” And Pedro, who many of you may know from his research on and close connections with the Basque Diaspora not only in the US but around the world, describes how social media such as Facebook have helped to bridge the gulf between the Basque Diaspora and Euskal Herria. This is especially pertinent to the Basques since, as Pedro points out, there are more Basques living outside the Basque Country than within it. And, today, with practicing culture being almost a lifestyle choice, anything that helps Basques of the diaspora connect with the mother culture and give them an outlet to explore, express, and enhance their culture is critical to ensuring it flourishes.

Pedro draws from his connections and experiences working with the Basque Diaspora to highlight how social media has brought new people together to forge new collaborations, how a family dispersed across the entire globe is discovering its roots, and how second generation Basque Americans use social media to connect to the culture of their parents and grandparents. I must also say eskerrik asko to Pedro for calling out this very page!

Pedro’s article is one of the first to be featured on Facebook Stories. It kicked off the series in grand fashion and is followed by a wide variety of stories, including one on how a scientist used Facebook to identify 5000 species of fish within 24 hours. Some fascinating stuff!

A Bevy of Basque Films

It seems like we are in a special time for Basque films. A number of projects are either in production or just wrapping up for release that promise to highlight numerous aspects of Basque culture. Here are a few that have caught my eye.

The first is Basque Hotel, by Josu Venero:

Basque Hotel is a U.S. road movie, a visual record, and testimony, in which stories are interwoven to create an overview of Basque emigration to this part of the world. It passes through the extensions of the old American West (Nevada, Idaho and California) and hits the streets of New York, the city where everything is a mix and comes to life. Five renowned novelists weave a web of real and fictional spaces through dialogue, history and experiences of the Basque community in the United States. In this literary tour, the voice-overs are heard giving fragments of the various novels of the writers (Robert Laxalt, Bernardo Atxaga, Asun Garikano, Joseba Zulaika and Kirmen Uribe). The testimonies of these players and their writings rebuild their visions and American experiences, sketching a spectacular journey from the Basque Country to the United States; and from the Basque Hotel to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Izaskun Arandia-Richard’s film, To Say Goodbye, is an animated feature about the refugee children who fled the Basque Country during the Spanish Civil War to England, where they remained:

TO SAY GOODBYE is a powerful and inspirational film about the loss of childhood, the stripping away of identity and, ultimately, the hope of reconciliation, all set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.Through innovative animation, the film tells the story of the 4000 Basque children evacuated to the United Kingdom in 1937.

Forced to bid a hurried farewell to their parents, these children were told they would only be in the UK for three months. 75 years later, some are still there, forever separated from their parents and their homeland, their families torn apart and their childhood destroyed by a brutal and bloody conflict.Through the voices of 14 of these children, now in their 80s & 90s, we reveal this tragic episode in history in a stunninganimated documentary that is profound, unexpected and uplifting.

Basques in the West, directed by Amaya Oxarango-Ingram and Brent Barras, is a filmed aimed at documenting the Basque contributions to the culture of the American West:

The Basques have been around for generations in these areas, herding sheep and adding their vibrant culture to the beauty of the land.

The documentary we intend to make features the Basque people, what they have done to add culture and vitality to the west, the sheep industry, and the central tension they face with keeping with their traditions and adapting to the modern world.

Released a few years back, Artzainak: Shepherds and Sheep, by Javi Zubizaretta and Jacob Griswold, examines the sheep industry, and follows the connection between the previous generation of Basque herders to the current Peruvian herders:

Artzainak: Shepherds and Sheepis a short documentary that exposes the struggles and hardships of immigrant shepherds in the hills of Idaho. The film traces a basic outline of the Basque and South American immigration to this breath-taking region of the American West. Spending as many as 9 months out of the year in the hills, these immigrants battle loneliness and despair while they remain thousands of miles from their families. With little to no command of the English language, the shepherds quietly make an honest living to send money back to their homelands. “Artzainak” tells these stories from the mouths of the shepherds themselves.The documentary was produced during the fall of 2009, and the filming itself took place in mid-October. Javi Zubizaretta and Jacob Griswold spent a week in Idaho, interviewing shepherds and watching them work as they brought the sheep down from the mountains. The film is currently being submitted to film festivals around the country to bring awareness to the problems faced by these individuals.

A final film, Emily Lobsenz’ Ipuina Kontatu, has finished principle photography and is entering the editing process:

They speak one of the world’s most ancient languages, established one of the world’s first democracies and lead Europe’s Age of Exploration. For hundreds of centuries Basques have maintained their traditions while flourishing among Europe’s most innovative societies. Yet, for centuries their way of life has confronted threats as powerful as the Roman Empire, as transforming as the Industrial Revolution, as tragic as a dictator’s genocidal aggression and as universal as immigration.

Who are these people and how have they navigated the ages as one of Europe’s most ancient cultures to be one of its most flourishing modern societies? And are the Basques capable of continuing their way of life even in today’s world? While unique and dynamic characters enact that drama on the screen, a complex cultural portrait emerges.

In the Basque language, ‘Ipuina Kontatu’ means telling stories. Basques have passed their language and customs down the generations through an oral tradition. The narrative design captures that tradition by exploring Basque culture through personal tales and perceptions of its protagonists. The characters’ personal tales will be woven together so that their stories not only complete one another, but also create a dialog between them that calls into question not only Basque traditions and their place in today’s world, but also cultural traditions in general and their relationship to social progress.

If anyone knows of other films that are being made, please let me know!

Sheepherding and Food: Basques in the American West

I’m a little behind, as usual, but I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention two articles that recently appeared about the Basques in the American West.

The first, Herding Sheep in Basque Country (Idaho), appeared in the New York Times last month and describes the Basque sheepherding experience via a chat with Henry Etcheverry, a herder in the Minidoka desert near Rupert, Idaho. The author, John O’Connor, spends some time with Jauna Etcheverry in the desert, checking on the sheep herds. O’Connor describes a bit of the history of the Basque sheepherding experience as well as the Basque culture of Boise.

My dad and my mom’s grandparents all came to the American West — a little further west than Minidoka, to the Jordan Valley, Oregon area — precisely to herd sheep. My dad originally came on a 3-year contract and made enough money to buy an apartment in Gernika. He was asked to return to the US and, during this second stint, met the granddaughter of other Basque immigrants. The rest, as they say, is history.

The article makes a point of noting that the new generation of herders are from Peru. My dad has sort of taken under his wing, so to speak, some of the Peruvian herders where he lives. One Christmas, some of these guys came over for dinner. I was talking to them and one mentioned that he was trained as an engineer in Peru, with a Bachelor’s degree. He was in the US because he could make more money as a sheepherder in Idaho than as an engineer in Peru. This simply amazed me.

Jauna Etcheverry mourns the end of the Basque shepherd, but, as he points out, his kids and the kids of other Basques simply don’t want to do that work. And this, to me, embodies the American dream. His kids, my dad’s sons, and many of the other Basque kids I know were taught to value education and hard work. Those kids built upon the foundation their parents built, working long days and months in the hills herding sheep, driving truck or working the farm. They made a better life for themselves, a direct consequence of the drive their parents had to make a better life for themselves. To me, this is the essence of the American dream, to be able to make a better life. The opportunity to do that for me and others like me was provided by these Basque immigrants.

The second article, 5 Basque American spots in Western U.S., by Bob Cooper in a July issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, focuses on another legacy of Basque immigration, the Basque restaurants that dot the American West. That these often family-style restaurants are popular is evidenced by how many comments and queries I get about Charley Shaffer’s Basque Restaurant List.  Cooper picks 5 spots, scattered between Idaho, California, and Nevada, where you kind find a taste of the Basque-American sheepherder experience. The oldest on his list, the Noriega Hotel in Bakersfield, was, like many of these, a boarding house before it became a more traditional restaurant.

Not that these restaurants are traditional in an American sense. Often family-style, you sit at a large table, often next to strangers, and the food is brought out not as individual servings, but in big bowls and plates that are passed around. This is a great way to meet new people and sample foods you might be a little shy about, since you are committing your entire meal to a new dish. I’ve only had the luck to try a few such places, but every one has been a great experience.