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buber.net > Basque > Features > GuestColumns > Things are Changing
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Things are Changing

by Blas Pedro Uberuaga

About one month ago, in the middle of July 2004, I visited my dad's family in Euskal Herria. They live in the heart of Bizkaia, that part of Bizkaia where you are more likely to hear Euskara than Spanish. I stayed in Munitibar, where my dad grew up and where his brother still lives. As always, it was a wonderful time, full of good food, good drink and good conversation.

My uncle has a small apartment in Munitibar on the edge of the main part of the town. When I visited a couple of years ago, I stayed at his apartment. The view from the front door was marvelous: a scenic vista of the surrounding mountainsides, covered in trees and meadows in which grazed horses and donkeys with bells around their necks. The bells would ring as the animals wandered the meadow. It was an idyllic setting, the kind of thing most of us can only dream about.

This time, things are changing. My uncle's view is being broken by the construction of a number of apartment buildings and houses. This doesn't upset him at all, it's just the way things are. To me, it was just one example of the changes occurring all over the country. Munitibar is just one small town in the center of Bizkaia, where there is no industry or any real source of jobs. Since my grandfather's time, the residents of this town have had to travel to the bigger cities nearby to find work. They traveled to Durango, for example, to work in the paper factory. Some, like my dad, left to the United States. Out of 8 total siblings, only one remains in Munitibar, running one of the local restaurants. There hasn't been much to keep the people there.

In spite of this, a block of new apartment buildings is going up near the town center, along with some small chalets, or duplexes. And Munitibar is by no means unique. Everywhere I went, I saw the same thing. From Gernika to Deba, tall construction cranes were all I could see. It felt like the entire country was under construction. The streets near the fronton in Deba were closed to traffic because they were so close to the construction zone of a set of apartment buildings there.

There are various other aspects to the changes occurring in the Basque Country. One of the most remarkable is in Bilbao, a city which continues to reinvent itself as an industrial wasteland to one of the most interesting cities in Spain. Beginning around the time of when the Guggenheim museum was built, Bilbao has been in the process of transforming itself, shedding the industrial past and embracing a future of tourism. The rivers have been cleaned up, the riverfront, including the area around the Guggenheim, has become one of the hottest parts of town, and the process is still continuing. Apartments which once faced the river and were thus not the most desirable now have a view of this spectacular part of town and are being renovated to reflect their new status.

Other changes are apparent in the country as well. The most visible is the presence of many immigrants from Africa. From African families strolling in the streets to poor immigrants trying to sell bootleg DVDs in the bars of Gernika, more and more immigrants from Africa are pouring into the Basque Country. Immigrants from other parts of Europe are likely coming as well, they just aren't as visible.

That these immigrants have come to the Basque Country is not a surprise. People from the poorest parts of the world have always gone to the wealthier parts to look for work. But, this is a new phenomenon in the Basque Country. Many parts of the world have already had to deal w with the kinds of issues these changes lead to, to varying degrees of success, but the Basque Country has arrived relatively late to this kind of internationalization. In the past, the country has seen a lot of immigration from southern Spain, but even some of those immigrants have had a hard time adapting to life in the Basque Country. And Gypsies are still the object of scorn in some circles. Whether or not this new wave of immigrants can find happiness in the Basque Country will depend both on their willingness to integrate into the communities as well as the willingness of their hosts to accept them.

There are a lot of changes happening in the Basque Country. From a continued revitalization of old industrial areas, to the further urbanization of even the smallest of towns, to the recent wave of immigrants from outside Spain, the next generation of Basques will see a Euskal Herria much different than that of their parents. It will be very interesting to see how the people react to these changes.

I would be most interested in hearing what other people think about these changes. Please leave your comments.

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