Tag Archives: united states

Juan Uberuaga, the Lion of Oiz

juan uberuaga-stoneIn a recent post, I mentioned my dad’s uncle, Juan Uberuaga, who was renown for his strength. He was called “Oizko Lehoia,” or the Lion of Oiz, the mountain peak very near Munitibar. I was recently in the Basque Country and had dinner with his son, who had seen my post, and provided me with a lot more information. It turns out that, like for most of us, once you did a little deeper, there are some fascinating stories waiting to be told.

juan uberuaga-txingasOne story involved a contest between Juan and another strong-man, Gandiaga. In February of 1957, Gandiaga had carried the txingas for “8 1/4 clavos y 5.25 metros”, according to Lucio Doncel Recas in his book Deportes tradicionales de fuerza en España. A clavo is about 28 meters, so this is 236.25 meters, or about 775 feet. This was a competition in Abadiño, where Gandiaga was the winner out of 7 contestants. A few months later, in May, Juan and Gandiaga had a “dual” of sorts in Durango. Gandiaga could only muster 119 meters this time, while Juan won the day with 261 meters. The very next day, Juan left for America to become a sheepherder, where he joined his brother, Jose, who had already been there a few years.

(A funny aside regarding Tio Joe, as we call him. My dad would simply call him Tio. Well, my mom, when she addressed my uncles on her side, would always call them by their name, so I always thought Tio Joe’s name was Tio, so we called him Uncle Tio. Funny how kids think.)


juan uberuaga-treeIn the United States, Juan continued his feats of strength. The book The Super-Athletes, by David P. Willoughby, mentions that, in 1958 in Boise, Juan “carried two 103-pound stones equipped with handles a distance of 240 yards.” That’s nearly two and a half football fields, effectively carrying two “suitcases” that each weigh about 100 pounds.

When he returned to Euskadi, Juan entered more txinga contests. In 1977, twenty years after his battle with Gandiaga, Juan won a contest in Mallabia, where he was first out of thirteen contestants, carrying the txingas for a distance of 281 meters.

juan uberuaga-trophyJuan, the Lion of Oiz, was the txinga champion of Bizkaia, at least once. It was in recognition of his skill and excellence in the sport that they threw that homage to him I mentioned last time, the sporting exhibition in which he was a guest of honor. By that time, Juan had had a stroke that left him in a wheelchair and he was no longer the paragon of strength he had been his whole life, but it was a touching moment to remember one of the old great ones. Juan was also a champion in the US, in 1961.

It is interesting that, in the time of Juan, the longest distances were about 10 or so clavos but, in the 1980s and later, the distances doubled or tripled. This is because, as pointed out here, the txingas used by athletes such as Juan had thick rings to hold and they swayed a lot, making carrying them much more difficult. The basic design changed in the 80s and gave the athlete more control and made carrying the txingas much easier. Today, the best carry 100 pound weights in each hand for over a kilometer, or more than half a mile! I wonder how far Juan might have carried the new fangled txingas?

Zorionak NABO!

index.5679874652This year marks the 40th anniversary of NABO — the North American Basque Organizations. NABO’s goal is to bring together the Basque clubs of North America (NABO has member clubs in Canada and the United States) to help those clubs in their efforts to preserve and promote Basque culture. NABO is thus a collection of organizations and is able to provide opportunities that individual clubs would not be able to, such as the national Mus tournament and the Udaleku summer camp.

I first encountered NABO about 14 years ago, via my involvement with the Seattle Euskal Etxea. At the time, Bob Echeverria was president. Grace Mainvil, who has been a constant presence within NABO, was treasurer. I remember being overwhelmed by all of the experience that was represented in that room and all of the great ideas that were being tossed around. As with any such organization, NABO had more ideas than it could realistically realize, but it was great simply seeing the energy of the people involved. I remember that there were ideas for a directory of Basques in the diaspora (a very ambitious idea that unfortunately didn’t go anywhere, partially because they tapped me to be involved and I, well, sort of dropped the ball…). I don’t remember many more specifics, but I simply remember being part of something big and grand.

More recently, I’ve been to a NABO meeting a few years back, in Salt Lake City, as president of the New Mexico Euskal Etxea. While some faces have changed (the current president is Valerie Arrechea), others are familiar (Grace is still treasurer), the energy and ideas were as vibrant as ever. One simply cannot forget the energy that John Ysursa brought with him, and the grand visions regarding Basque identity and building the desire for embracing that identity among young Basques in the diaspora.


Last week, NABO celebrated their 40th anniversary in Elko as part of the 50th anniversary of the Elko Basque festival. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, but it sounds like, by all accounts, it was a grand weekend.

NABO offers a valuable presence in the Basque community by pooling together the resources and expertise of all of the individual clubs and providing a common voice that can help promote projects that are simply too big for any one club. It also offers a network for Basque clubs and their members that helps develop a national and international Basque identity, where Basques are exposed to other Basques from other parts of North America. Basques in California get to interact with those in Washington DC, Quebec, and Florida. This expands the concept of “Basqueness” in the diaspora, as each of these communities has a different history, from the sheepherder experience, to the jai alai players, to more distant roles in exploring and settling North America. By providing this umbrella, NABO expands and redefines what it means to be Basque.

Zorionak NABO! And here’s to another 40 great years!

A few links to share

logo_bsgOk, so maybe this isn’t a common problem, but if you are hosting a Basque-themed party, you might be at a loss for finding those party favors and decorations that have that Basque touch to them. BSG Baiona has you covered! They have toothpicks with Basque flags, Basque flag banners, and much more. Some nice items for your kitchen table as well. Though, I’m not sure they ship across the ocean…

Screen shot 2013-03-16 at 9.31.15 PMAnother thing that is hard to find is paraphernalia for Euskal Selekzioa — the Basque Selection or the Basque “national” team. Kukuxumusu has some great shirts for supporting the team, including what looks to be the official jersey. Plus, their rendition of the Basque coat-of-arms is simply cool! Something I might have to add to a Christmas wish list…

Here is a nice video that showcases Basque speakers in the United States. It’s about 30 minutes long and consists entirely of Basques talking in Euskara with each other in the United States, along with commentary from a Basque narrator (this is a documentary that is aimed towards Basques in the Basque Country to learn something more about the survival of the Basque culture and language in the United States).

And here is a great video featuring the group Hinka, performing their song Begira. The music features, amongst other things, an alboka. Some great music! I couldn’t find a website for the group itself, but this Youtube clip is just great!

Garbiñe Candina & Lucía Timpanaro are teachers in the Basque Country who are developing materials to help teach Basque. This Youtube clip shows one of their efforts. This might be useful for kids trying to learn some Basque vocabulary?

Euskadi to export Mondragon’s cooperative work model to US

Joe Guerricabeitia originally posted this on the Seattle Euskal Etxea website.  I really enjoyed it and, with his permission, repost it here.

America is a nation of democracy. The Founding Fathers designed it so; Alexis de Tocqueville praised it. During the last half century America solidified this democracy such that every American man, woman and child was given the right to affect their lives through an equal right to vote. Still, for a nation which often touts its democratic roots as one if its hallmark characteristics, the idea of direct worker involvement in US corporate affairs is often branded as leftist, socialist and sometimes even categorically painted with the wide, red-brush of McCarthy’s communism.

Here in Washington state, where commercial aeronautics was born under the Boeing banner, some have argued that worker unions and their collective bargaining recently drove the big “B” to establish its second 787 Dreamliner production line in South Carolina, where amongst other things workers are not unionized.

This makes the increasing popularity of worker driven cooperative business  models within the US, all the more interesting.  Most notable has been the decision by the United Steel Workers Union to court and co-opt the Basque, worker-owned cooperative model of Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC). The United Steel Workers Union, is after all, North America’s largest industrial trade union.

Following an age of corporate outsourcing and off-shore manufacturing plants US workers have looked to the world to find a sustainable model for future US growth and have landed right in our Aitxitxe (grandfather) and Amuma’s (grandmother’s) backyard.  The US Steel workers have looked at the example set by the Basques of Mondragon and decided that the very same could be done here,  and why not?

As Americans we are a nation of do-it-yourselfers (DIY’ers). We live by, “if you want something done right, do-it-yourself.” We are a proud nation of entrepreneurs, so well known for our creativity and that which is often described as the American Spirit, that every year foreign nationals  inundate us with applications for work, and study visas. This spirit, is ingrained in us and has driven the proliferation of big-box DIY chains like Lowe’s and Home Depot. As Americans we  swap home and automotive repair tips like baking recipes with our friends.

As Basques we are hard-working, family-centric people. We know our neighbors. In Euskadi and throughout the diaspora we have earned a reputation of ingenuity, pioneering spirit and hard work, all traits that carried us into new worlds either by boat or by plane, wherever there was work and opportunity available.  Always with us we  brought our traditions, our language and often times our families.

Mondragon’s cooperative work model is simply one of the oldest traditions, repackaged: the baserria.  Like the ever-disappearing baserritarra (traditional farmer from a baserria [farmhouse]) could tell you the baserria was and in some cases still is a modern day worker-owned cooperative. Often centralized around families this microcosm of sustainability, traditionally revolved around farming and ranching but newer generations have hybridized this tradition by allowing the older generations to continue to farm and ranch as their forefathers had done, while the youth have pursued greater educational opportunities and a chance to join Euskal Herria’s burgeoning manufacturing and business sectors.

The “baserriak” cooperative model is not “new” to the US, only new to US workers. The cooperative model has always been with Basques even in the diaspora in the form our Euskal Etxeak or Basque Centers, where the economy of currency has been swapped for heritage and tradition, sport and dance, language and culinary delights.

To our American brothers and sisters we say, “Ongi etorri!” or Welcome! May the cooperative model work as well in for Americans as it has done for so long with the Basques.

Garaipena, neke askoren ondorena “Success is the result of a lot of hard work.”


In Cleveland, Worker Coops Look to a Spanish Model By Judith D. Schwartz from Time.com; 12/22/09; Accessed 12/28/09

US Seeks Inspirtaion in Basque Cooperative Model By I. H. – E. S. from, eitb.com; Published 12/28/09; Accessed 12/28/09

‘One Worker, One Vote:’ US Steelworkers to Experiment with Factory Ownership, Mondragon Style By Carl Davidson from, SolidarityEconomy.net; Published 10/27/09; Accessed 11/25/09