Nor Naiz, Gu Gara (Who I Am, We Are) is a series aiming to explore the meaning of Basque Identity around the world, both within Euskal Herria as well as in the diaspora. For an introduction to the series, look here, and for a list of the previous entries, look here.
My parents’ generation and, in my opinion, the Basques living in the diaspora have a “traditional”, let’s say, more Aranist point of view about what being a Basque is. I therefore agree, more or less, with what Gloria Totoricaguena states in her book, Identity, Culture and Politics in the Basque Diaspora. In other words, that the vast majority of those that were born roughly during the first half of the 20th century and those that emigrated abroad have a more ethnic, blood related viewpoint of what being a Basque is (ancestors, Basque surnames, etc.). That thought about what it means to be Basque was probably passed from generation to generation amongst the diaspora and I do not think I’d be mistaken in saying that the diaspora, at least until now, has had a romantic, idealistic image of the Basque Country. I do not believe, however, that diaspora Basques think that language is a must, as is blood. For example, most Basques in the diaspora do not believe that knowledge and grasp of the Basque language is necessary to be considered Basque because that would/might rule them out. Nevertheless, maintaining the Basque identity in the world is tough and a lot of hard work is done in keeping it alive. The intention alone and the effort in learning the language is, in my opinion, worthy of mention. That’s what I value the most, the intention and eagerness to learn. So I, as a Basque, am greatly thankful of that and do not think that more can be demanded. What’s more, even if that person from, let’s say Argentina, does not have Basque ancestors but does have a passion towards everything Basque and has the intent in learning Basque, could be considered Basque. Why not? Why can a Spaniard, that has no intention in learning anything about our culture and that immigrated to Barakaldo, for example, be considered a Basque and not someone that loves our culture and wants to be a Basque, even though he or she lives thousands of kilometres away?
For me Basque is one who simply wants to be Basque and proclaims him or herself as that. I would differ although, in that sense, between those who live in the Basque Country and those abroad. I do think that those living in the homeland have, as Basque citizens, a responsibility in maintaining the Basque traditions, culture, language, etc alive. If there is no Basque language, culture, etc, there can be no Basques, not in the homeland nor abroad in the host countries. I think we should demand from those that live in the Basque Country and from all those who want to be Basque (all those new Basques that are now coming to the Basque Country looking for new opportunities like our ancestors did when they went to the US, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, etc.) a commitment from their side in terms of learning some Basque and facts about the Basque people, our history and heritage. This is something that is done in other nations and countries (ie Catalonia, Quebec, US). During decades there have been many, many people from Spain that came to the BC looking for work opportunities and I am sometimes appalled when I see that a lot of them and their children not only do not know Basque, they do not even intend to learn it. I sometimes feel as if some people from the Bilbao area, for example, live on another planet with a different culture because they are less familiar with the Basque heritage than the Basques from Boise or Bakersfield.
The Basque government should guarantee that all Basques (those from Bilbao or Vitoria-Gasteiz or those that have just arrived from Romania or Colombia) know basic things (culture, history, and language) about the country where they live and want to belong to, if in fact they do want to belong to it. This however would bring political conflict because PSOE and PP would raise their voice. We’d now be talking about politics. That’s something that the Basques abroad, especially in the US I believe, don’t understand. They don’t understand how they have managed to, despite the difficulties, culturally and linguistically flourish in the diaspora and see, on the other hand, that in the BC there are people that know less Basque than they do. I have been told in the US that the Basque culture in the BC has been too politicized. But by whom?
There is another question that should be addressed as well. What do the people abroad originally from Navarre consider themselves? I think that the vast majority consider themselves Basque. But what does the present day Navarrese government think about that? There is a real challenge here for the Basque-Navarrese abroad to clarify with the government of Pamplone. I know it is difficult and risky for the Basques abroad to take a politic stance but I think it would be the best tribute they could pay to their homeland.
Summarizing, we the Basques constitute a nation. We have a distinct identity, language, history, culture. Not better. Not worse. We are simply different. In my opinion, the Basques abroad, although American, Argentine, or Australian are part of that nation and must play a very important role in consolidating it. Those with no Basque ancestors but with a passion towards everything related to us are welcomed. I therefore believe in a very broad, modern and open view of being Basque but with commitments from the other person’s side as well. Why? Our feeble nation needs in this globalized world all the help it can get and those that live abroad, that live in the Basque Country, or come to live in the Basque Country must/should help us.
Aitor is an engineer who works both in the automobile industry and as a city councilor in Gernika-Lumo. Born in Gernika, he was raised in Toronto before ultimately returning to the Basque Country as an adult.