Basque Fact of the Week: Munitibar-Arbatzegi-Gerrikaitz

My dad, Pedro Uberuaga Zabala, was from Munitibar, Bizkaia. Or better said, Gerrikaitz. At least, he always referred to his home as Gerrikaitz, not Munitibar. This confused me when I went to visit for the first time because the signs for the town say Munitibar. It turns out that this little town, home to less than 400 people but outsized as a source of Basque emigration to the United States, has a complicated history with two different villages that often fought and competed until they decided to merge into one. On a different note, I was also always amazed how this small town could host, at the time, three different bars. How different the Basque Country was from my own hometown…

Photo of the heart of Munitibar, taken by Jon Zuazo and stylized by Blas Uberuaga.
  • Munitibar-Arbatzegi-Gerrikaitz only took on its current name in 1986. Before that, it was known as Arbacegui-Guerricáiz, and even before that, Arbatzegi and Gerrikaitz were separate parishes. Gerrikaitz was founded in 1366 by Count Tello, though it was called Monditibar back then. Arbatzegi and Gerrikaitz merged in 1883 to form the municipality of Munitibar, partially because both were overwhelmed with war debt and they decided to join together to survive. The two parts are separated by the Lea river. Today, Munitibar encompasses the neighborhoods of Arbatzegi, Berreño, Gerrika, Gerrikaitz, and Totorika.
  • Way back in 1402, an agreement was struck between the mayors of Gerrikaitz and the “good men” of Arbatzegi and of Bolibar, to avoid discord and agree on mutual defense. Part of the agreement regarded the sale of timber from the mountains for use as charcoal in the ironworks, which the laborers of Arbatzegi were allowed to help decide. This pulled Arbatzegi into the village of Gerrikaitz. However, in 1630, the residents of Arbatzegi petitioned to split off again into their own town, a request that was granted by King Felipe IV.
  • The population of the small village has declined sharply in recent years. While from 1900 to 1950, it held relatively constant at just over 1,000 people, by 2000 there weren’t 400 people living in Munitibar.
  • Munitibar sits at the crossroads between Amorebieta, Gernika-Lumo, Lekeitio, and Markina-Xemein, though the roads passing through Munitibar are curvy and narrow, often making for relatively slow travel between towns.
  • There isn’t a whole lot of industry within Munitibar itself and most of the residents dedicate themselves to agriculture, timber, and livestock. Back in the 19th century, the town hosted two ironworks, nine mills, and a gypsum mine, but those have since closed up. Even earlier, Gerrikaitz alone had 30 forges dedicated to the manufacture of tools, nails, and ironwork, a dangerous industry that led to at least two fires that destroyed several homes and buildings. Today, there are several small carpentry shops, sawmills, and a factory for building materials.
  • During the Spanish Civil War, Gerrikaitz and Arbatzegi both fell to Franco’s forces on April 28, 1937. They had been bombed and machine gunned the previous two days. George Steer, who told the world about the bombing of Gernika, took refuge in one of the craters created in Gerrikaitz.
  • The feast day of Arbatzegi is San Pedro (June 29) while that of Gerrikaitz is Andra Mari (September 8).
  • One of the routes of the Camino de Santiago passes through the town.

Primary sources: Arozamena Ayala, Ainhoa. GERRIKAITZ. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Estornés Zubizarreta, Idoia. MUNITIBAR-ARBATZEGI-GERRIKAITZ. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at:; Munitibar, Wikipedia.

Goian Bego, Egoitz

Remembering my cousin, Egoitz, who died three years ago today, on his birthday.

My cousin, Egoitz Uberuaga Aranburu, died yesterday, January 13, on his birthday. He had just turned 33.

Egoitz, with his sister and a few cousins, wrestling on the grounds of the family basseri.

Like with most of my dad’s family, I didn’t get to know Egoitz until my first visit to Euskal Herria, back in 1991, when I went to Donostia to study Basque. Egoitz was only 6 years old back then. I remember how, at a big family dinner at the family basseri, surrounding a table in the foyer just in front of the doors leading to the barn where the animals were kept, Egoitz and his sister, Eneritz, with some cajoling from their parents, pulled out their trikitixa and tambourine and played for their American cousin.

Egoitz grew into an amazing young man. He had a giant heart, always full of life. He was often the center of attention because of his outsized presence in the room. He was full of a restless energy; his Facebook page was full of photos from his travels all over the world. His work was to help others less fortunate than himself.

Egoitz, my daughter, my wife Lisa, my friend Gontzal, and me, in the Parte Vieja of Donostia, March 2018. Photo courtesy of Lisa.

He always went out of his way to make time to see me when I visited. During our last visit to the Basque Country, he joined us during a day trip to Donostia, hitting the pintxos bars and sharing a few drinks during a break in classes. His smile was infectious, just as it had been when he was 6.

As I watch his Facebook feed, it was obvious how many lives he touched. He had spent the night before his birthday with his sister at a Gatibu concert and people were wishing him Happy Birthday. It was especially heartbreaking watching his friends post “Zorionak”, not knowing he had left us only hours before.

They always say that life is wasted on the young. Egoitz is one of those that took life by the horns and lived it his way. He filled his all-too-short life with more than most of us that live twice as long ever experience. He lived life to the edge and made the most of the time he had. He was truly an inspiration.

The words on his obituary sum up his spirit better than I ever could:

Mila esker bizitza politagoa egitea gatik,
beti eskuzabal, beti irribarretsu,
beti dana emateko prest,
txori alai, beti libre, beti aske, beti pozik.

Thank you for making life nicer,
always generous, always smiling,
always ready to give,
sweet bird, always free, always independent, always happy.

Translation by me, with an assist from Google Translate.

Goian bego, Egoitz. You will always be in my heart. The Basque Country won’t be the same without you.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 87

The next few days were a blur. While Javi was at work, Kepa and Maite continued to explore downtown and the beach. They went for a few short hikes in the local parks. However, they most enjoyed the evenings, when Javi was back and Julie joined them. One night, they watched a movie together; another, they played board games. It was nice to just get to know them better, and Maite was grateful for the down time.

Soon, it was time to fly back to Bilbao. Maite had been able to get their flights changed so that they were leaving out of Santa Barbara. They had returned their rental car and Javi and Julie had picked them up to take them to the airport. Javi had parked his car and was leading them into the departures area.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Wow!”  said Maite. “It’s even smaller than Bilbao’s airport!”

Javi chuckled. “LAX is pretty close and, since you have to stop somewhere if you leave here anyways, a lot of people just drive to Los Angeles. It’s almost faster, with the extra security and all.”

“But those lines!” exclaimed Julie. “They are horrendous down there!”

Maite and Kepa got their boarding passes and checked their luggage. 

“Thanks so much, for everything!” said Maite as she gave Javi a big hug. “I can’t wait to return the hospitality.”

“We look forward to showing off the Basque Country to you,” said Kepa as he similarly embraced Julie.

“I look forward to it!” said Julie. 

Maite and Kepa waved as they headed toward security.

“See you soon!” exclaimed Maite.

The flight back home, though long, was uneventful. Maite couldn’t believe how much she had wanted normalcy and boring, after so many months in that boarding house. After watching both Blas and Kepa die. After being chased by de Lancre. She put on her headphones and plugged into some random movie.

It took almost a full twenty-four hours, but finally they were home.

“Glad I don’t have to do that very often,” said Kepa, looking over at Maite as they waited to get off the plane.

“Agreed,” sighed Maite, “but if I do get the position at Berkeley, I guess I’ll be doing it more often.”

“We’ll be doing it, you mean,” added Kepa.

Maite squeezed his hand. “Bai, guk.” She smiled.

They got off the plane. They grabbed their suitcases off of the carousel and passed through the doors into the spacious arrival hall. Kepa had left his car in the long-term parking, as they didn’t want to deal with the public transit system after such a long flight. Maite was relieved they had thought ahead. The last thing she wanted to do was deal with buses and trains.

They were about to head down the escalator to the exit and parking when Maite exclaimed “Begira! Look!” She was pointing at the end of the hall.

Kepa looked over and saw another bright white light, floating in the air.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Days of the Week in Basque

When we think about what we call the days of the week, how many of us think about the fact that Monday is named after the moon, Wednesday is Odin’s day, and Thursday is dedicated to the Scandinavian god Thor? Where do these names even come from? They’re just names, and we’ve lost, for the most part, our connection to their meaning. When I was learning Euskara, I couldn’t help but think about what the names meant. Just like me with English, do native Basque speakers not think about what these words mean when they say them? Are they just words now, divorced from their origins? Basque, as you might expect, has very different names for the days of the week, starting with the idea that the Basque week may have originally been only three days long.

Euskera con Anna provides a basic introduction to the Basque language, including the days of the week.
  • In Batua Basque, the first three days of the week — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — are astelehen, astearte, and asteazken. These literally mean “the beginning of the week,” “the middle of the week,” and “the end of the week.” Many have interpreted this to mean that Basque originally had a three-day week. However, if this were to be true, Basques would be about the only culture to ever have had a three-day week. And linguist Larry Trask doubted that these words are very old, casting some doubt that they are related to an ancient three-day week. However, we have no other idea of where they came from.
  • That said, different dialects have other names for these days. In Bizkaian, Monday is called ilen, which is now thought to derive from il-egun, or “moon-day,” so very similar in spirit to English’s Monday. Similarly, Tuesday is martitzen, which comes from martitz-egun, and is the day dedicated to the god Mars, much like Spanish martes.
  • Wednesday is a bit trickier in Bizkaian. The name, eguasten, begins with the word egun, meaning day, but the ending is less clear. Thursday is eguen, which seems to derive from egun-egun, or “day-day.” Similarly, eguasten might comes from egun-aste-egun, or “day-week-day,” but what this means isn’t clear. It may also mean “last day,” similar to “end of the week.”
  • In Batua, Thursday is ostegun, or the day of or(t)zi/ortze/osti, depending on the dialect. The meaning of ortzi/ortze/osti is not completely clear, but seems to be related to sky, storm, or thunder, provoking parallels with Thursday (Thor’s-day) or jueves (Jupiter’s day). This has led some to speculate that ortzi might be an ancient name for a Basque god of thunder. However, some have suggested that this could come from bortz-egun, meaning the “fifth day,” which might make sense if one starts counting on Sunday.
  • The Batua word for Friday is ostiral, with that same root, though what the ending might mean is unclear. In Bizkaian, Friday is bari(a)ku, which comes from abari-ba(gari)ko-egun, meaning “day without dinner,” which makes sense since Friday was a fast day.
  • The names for Saturday are intriguing. In Batua, it is larunbat, which maybe comes from laurden bat, meaning “one quarter,” and referring to the fact that a week is one quarter of the lunar cycle. However, others derive it from lagunen bate, which would translate to something like “meeting of friends.” In some parts of Iparralde, they call Saturday neskanegun, literally meaning “girl’s day.” Henrike Knörr notes that “it used to be customary in some parts of the Basque Country for boys to go and spend the evening at their girlfriend’s house and have dinner which the girlfriend would prepare,” maybe explaining this last variant.
  • In Bizkaian, Saturday is zapatu, borrowed from the Latin word for the Sabbath. The word egubakoitz is also used in Bizkaian and other dialects to mean either Friday or Saturday. It seems this word might mean “unique day,” but where it comes from is unknown.
  • Finally, Sunday is igande in Batua. Some relate this to igan, the Basque word for “ascend,” connecting igande to the day of the ascension. The Bizkaian word for Sunday is more transparent: domeka comes from the Latin <(dies> dominica> or “(day) of the Lord.”

Primary sources: Days and Months in Euskara by Larry Trask; Etymological Dictionary of Basque by R. L. Trask

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 86

“What the hell happened back there Kepa?” asked Maite once they were back at Javi’s place and in their bedroom. Kepa was finishing brushing his teeth while Maite lay in bed, propped up on the pillows.

Kepa shrugged and gave her a thin smile. “That bang from the car took me back. It felt like Donny’s bullet had hit my chest again. I couldn’t help it.”

Maite shook her head. “How are we going to live with this? With all of it?” she asked. “We’ve only been out there twice, and we’ve already seen Blas get fried and you get shot. How much can we take?”

“I don’t know,” replied Kepa as he crawled into the bed. He turned onto his side and looked up at Maite. “I didn’t think it would hit me so hard, no pun intended. But, it has.”

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“You got shot, Kepa,” said Maite as she tried to keep her voice level. “You essentially died. We don’t know what kind of trauma that causes, not just to your body, but more importantly your mind. Unlike Blas, you remember what happened, you remember that bullet piercing your chest, your heart exploding. And yet, here you are, dancing and drinking like nothing happened. Your mind is having a hard time processing things.”

Kepa pulled himself up so that he too was propped on his pillows. “What do I do, then?” he asked, half pleadingly, half accusingly. “You’re the smart one, how do I fix this?”

Maite sighed. “I don’t know, Kepa. Ez dakit. We have to be more careful, minimize these traumatic episodes. We can’t be so reckless. Otherwise, our minds will crack and we’ll be useless.” She looked over at Kepa. “Or worse, we’ll lash out at one another.”

Kepa nodded. “I’m sorry. At the time, it seemed so heroic, so noble to take that bullet, knowing I would just come back when the bubble popped. I didn’t think beyond that.”

Maite reached over and grabbed Kepa’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “We’re in this together, and we’ll figure it out, together.”

Kepa smiled. “Together,” he said as he pulled Maite over, his lips finding hers.

In the morning, they found Javi and Julie in the kitchen, breakfast nearly finished.

“I hope you like bacon and eggs,” said Javi. “It’s a bit hardier than what you usually get in the Basque Country but, well, this isn’t the Basque Country. Julie’s already got the coffee ready.”

Kepa smiled as he took a cup from Julie. “Mil esker,” he said. Turning to Javi, he added “And bacon and eggs sounds great. I have to admit, I like the big American breakfasts.”

“Well, and you need to keep up your strength if you are going to the Grand Canyon,” added Javi.

“About that,” began Maite. “We’ve decided to skip that part of our trip. We’d rather just hang out here, if you don’t mind.”

“And miss the Grand Canyon?” asked Javi in bewilderment. “It’s one of the most awesome things in the world.”

“Have you been there?” asked Kepa.

“Well, no…” began Javi.

“I have,” interjected Julie, “and it is awesome!”

“We tried to cram too much into this trip. And, I think we just want some down time after everything,” said Maite.

“I guess your interview was pretty rough,” said Javi as he dished the bacon and eggs onto four plates.

“It took more out of me than I expected, that’s for sure,” answered Maite as she sat down.

“You are more than welcome to stay here,” said Javi. “I can’t take much more time off of work, though, but if you are comfortable having the place to yourselves, while I’m at work, you are welcome to it.”

“Mil esker, cousin,” said Kepa.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Twentieth Contest of Children’s Stories without Borders of Otxarkoaga

I received an email from Jose Antonio Lopez announcing the twentieth edition of the Otxarkoaga Children Story Contest.

On the occasion of the celebration of the 40th Otxarkoaga Children’s Days, which will take place on May 14 and 15, 2022, the Txirula Kultur Taldea collective organizes this Otxarkoaga Tales Without Borders Contest with the aim of promoting literary creation around children’s stories.

Contest rules:

  1. Participants: all ages.
  2. Language: Basque or Spanish.
  3. Length of the story: minimum of two pages, maximum of four.
  4. Each person may submit a maximum of two original stories that have not been published or previously awarded.
  5. Agenda: free, but the jury will especially value those stories aimed at children and that are related to values ​​such as peace, tolerance, gender equality, human rights, and caring for nature.
  6. Form of presentation: in double-spaced paper format and in Arial or similar font, size 12, at Centro Cívico de Otxarkoaga, Avenida Pau Casals, 19, 48004 Bilbao. They can also be sent by email:
  7. Submission deadline: January 31, 2022.
  8. Name, surname, address, age, and a telephone number or email must be attached.
  9. Twenty-four copies of the published book will be delivered to the selected participants, who will be able to read their stories in the Kepa Enbeita square in Otxarkoaga, on May 15, in the context of the Children’s Days.
  10. Participation in the contest means accreditation of authorship and authorization to publish the stories selected in the aforementioned edition. Published stories continue to belong to those who have written them.
  11. Those drawings that are attached in black and white and that the organization considers complementary to the text may be included in the publication.

More information: and

Here is a bit more context about the contest.

Who is organizing this contest?
Organized by Txirula Kultur Taldea in the context of the 40th Otxarkoaga Children’s Conference, which brings together different groups from the neighborhood.

The contest was announced in December and stories can be submitted until January 30. The jury will issue its decision in mid or late April, the book will then published and presented on May 15, in Kepa Enbeita square in Otxarkoaga.

How long has this contest been going on?
For twenty years.

What is this?
This contest and its stories are the reflection of a collective effort to open up to everyone.

What do the contest do?
It creates dreams and illusions to change reality from fantasy.

What does this contest mean?
That another world is possible.

Who are the beneficiaries?
Those who participate, since several hundred stories are received in Basque and Spanish. Although not all can be selected, their effort is expressed in their literary texts. In addition, the selected persons see their published work and receive twenty four copies.

What are the goals?
Link the name of the Otxarkoaga neighborhood to culture, and promote children’s literature in both Basque and Spanish. And that people from different places visit Bilbao and Otxarkoaga.

To broaden the mind and sensitivity of those who write and those who read. In fact, we offer those who come from far away to stay in houses in the neighborhood. There are not many, but it is a true and interesting fact that reflects a style of being and acting.

Who can participate?
Those who wish, without age limits, without borders, and with special appreciation for those who write defending peace, tolerance, human rights, gender equality …

Fighting Basques: Basque Participation in the Resistance and Liberation of the Philippines (1942-1945)

This article originally appeared in Spanish at El Diario on December 11, 2019.

For his service in the Philippines, John Aldax received the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two stars (courtesy of the Aldax family).

After the surrender of the US armed forces on May 6, 1942, in Corregidor, Japan was free to extend its military occupation throughout the Philippine archipelago. The Philippines was the only Pacific country with a solid and consolidated Basque and Navarrese community – no stranger to the military uprising in Spain in 1936 and the victory of the rebel side in 1939 – in the hands of an Axis power. In fact, a great number of exiles from the Spanish Civil War, predominantly of Basque nationalist ideology, took up the allied struggle against the Japanese occupation as part of their cause against Francoism. Internal resistance to the occupation and its Filipino collaborators was immediate. It was a very heterogeneous movement, which ranged from soldiers of the Philippine and United States army – escaped from Japanese concentration camps or never imprisoned – to guerrillas financed by US and even communist forces. The guerrilla movement not only fought against the Japanese troops, but also provided valuable intelligence reports to the Allies.

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

The interference of the fascist Spanish Falange party in the archipelago, which wanted to control the Spanish colony, caused many to ignore the old metropolis as early as 1940, since the presumed entry of Spain into the war on the Axis side could cause the embargo of its properties. The arrival of the Japanese invaders would increase this sense, although they were not received badly at first. This impression changed immediately with the arbitrariness imposed by the Japanese military, although there were people who prospered with the new occupants, among them a group of pelotaris from the Jai-Alai Stadium in Manila (directly related to the one in Shanghai) directed by Teodoro Jáuregui, not a few of whom were affiliated with the Falange [1]. According to Marciano R. de Borja, in the 2014 edition of his book The Basques in the Philippines, “the majority of Basques [and Basque-Filipinos] energetically opposed the Japanese occupation.” De Borja writes how some Basque families, such as the Elizalde, Luzurriaga, or Legarreta, were involved in the resistance directly or indirectly, while others, such as the Uriarte, Bilbao, or Elordi, joined the resistance movement in Negros and Visayas, and yet others like the Garchitorena, Oturbe, or Ormaechea did so in the Bicol Peninsula. Among the Basque-Filipino population, one of the best known figures in Basque historiography stands out (practically one of the very few until the publication of this article, since it is a very unknown niche in our collective memory), Higinio Uriarte Zamacona, known as ‘Gudari.’ Born in La Carlota, Negros Occidental, in 1917, to Bizkaian parents, he became a prominent guerrilla leader on the Island of Negros. In fact, in 1962 he published an autobiographical book entitled A Basque Among the Guerrillas of Negros. Uriarte, his cousin Hilario Zamacona, and other Basque-Filipinos such as Gabi Elordi and Tito Bilbao, were in turn agents of the Allied Intelligence Bureau, which provided information on the movements of Japanese ships in the Philippines and acted as a liaison between the resistance and the submarine fleet of the US Navy. Another member of the resistance in Negros was Fermín Goñi, of a Nafarroan father and Castilian mother. Born in 1922 in the city of Iloílo on Panay Island, Goñi participated together with other Basque-Philippine families, including the Isasi, Iturralde, and Mendieta, in the guerrilla forces and collaborated with the US troops. Later, Goñi would serve in the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army in Europe. Goñi, who was interviewed by one of the authors of this blog, Pedro J. Oiarzabal, recalled the impression the war made on him, and which could well be extended to most of his generation: “The atrocities that he witnessed, both in the Philippines and in Europe, the loss of family members and the vast majority of his friends and colleagues, would become wounds that time could only mitigate and that he refused to speak of. His voice was drowning in chilling silence and tears welled up in his eyes. These were the only times in which he lacked the words to be able to express what his eyes had seen.”

At the end of the war, it is estimated that, of the 48 provinces of the archipelago, only 12 were still under full control of the Japanese occupying forces. The rest were under the control of the various guerrilla forces in the country. Studies carried out after the war quantify the number of guerrilla groups at about 277 with a total of 260,000 people under their command, among which the Huks – peasant guerrillas of central Luzon inspired by the communists – or the Muslim Moors of Mindanao and Sulu stood out. The latter already had a leading role in North American cinematography at the hands of Henry Hathaway in The Real Glory (1939) with Gary Cooper. This was perhaps one of the very few dispatches that American society had from such a distant setting at the beginning of World War II, despite the presence of important air, naval, and ground forces under the stars and stripes, including the so-called Philippine Scouts.

The taking of Saipan in early June 1944 by US troops was a turning point in the course of the war, particularly on the Pacific front. Fate was cast for Japan, especially after it lost most of its embarked aviation in the disastrous battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19-20, 1944). General Douglas MacArthur kept his word and returned to the archipelago with his army on October 20, 1944. It is estimated that only a third of the US and Filipino soldiers who were in the Philippines prior to the MacArthur evacuation were still alive upon their return.

Juan (John) Basañez confessed that the Philippines was the toughest battle he had to fight during his entire service in WWII. He also received the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two stars (courtesy of the Basañez family).

The American and Australian naval offensive, with a force of 300 ships and some 1,500 aircraft, began the largest naval battle of WWII in the Gulf of Leyte, in Visayas, on October 23. It was the epilogue of the once powerful Japanese army. Thereafter, Japanese desperation would be reflected in the organized kamikaze air strikes for the first time over the course of the war. The allied victory was final. After securing the beach heads, with air and naval cover, the 6th Army landed in Leyte, which consisted of some 200,000 men, initiating a series of island-by-island campaigns which had the support of the local guerrillas. Among those born in the USA to Basque and Nafarroan parents and identified within the research project “Fighting Basques” who participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, include, for example, Julio Urizar (born in Andrews, Oregon, in 1924) of the 1st Cavalry Division; Leon Etchemendy (Gardnerville, Nevada, 1918), John Aldax (Evanston, Wyoming, 1919), Matthew Etcheverry (Fresno, California, 1916) and a very young Paul Laxalt (Reno, Nevada, 1922, who would become one of the most influential members of his State and a US senator, maintaining a close relationship with President Ronald Reagan) of the 7th Infantry Division “Bayonet”; Alfonso Sillonis (Mountain Home, Idaho, 1919) of the 24th; and Louie Etcheberria (El Toro, California, 1923) from the 77th “Statue of Liberty.” Etcheberry was wounded in action on October 26, as was Etchemendy, while First Sergeant Sillonis had been killed in action three days earlier. He was 25 years old.

By December 1944, the islands of Leyte and Mindoro had been liberated. In January 1945, the invasion of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, began, resulting in the isolation of the Japanese forces in Bataan, while the allied forces captured Corregidor by the end of February. Again we find the name of several veterans of Basque origin who participated in the Battle of Luzón, such as, Juan Ybarzabal (Meñaka, Bizkaia, 1913) and Ramón Ensunsa (Gooding, Idaho, 1920) of the 33rd Infantry Division; John Basañez (San Francisco, California, 1920) from the 40th; and Pierre Erramouspe (Rock Springs, Wyoming, 1925) of the 43rd, who died in the Boso-Boso area on March 29 at the age of 20. Finally, we note Julián Aramburu (Bedarona, Bizkaia, 1917), of the 130th Regiment of the 33rd Division, who won the Silver Star in the Bilbil mountain, where he lost a leg.

Manila, the “Pearl of the East,” was razed by the Japanese, and its and the civilian population massacred (February 3-March 3, 1945). It was the end of an era marked by hundreds of years of Spanish influence (

By early March, the Allies had seized strategic control of key points in Luzon. Faced with the brilliant onslaught of the US troops, the Japanese forces were ordered to leave the capital of the country, but some of them refused to carry out the orders and others could not leave in time. On February 6, 1945, the Allies began the reconquest of Manila. The result was the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians as Japanese troops took refuge within the walls. In the words of Marciano de Borja, “The liberation of Manila was bloody and destructive. Only Warsaw, the capital of Poland, suffered greater devastation in World War II. There were thousands of civilian casualties [over 100,000]. The Japanese troops committed all kinds of atrocities and went on to carry out large-scale slaughter, as they were prepared to die to the last man. This was a system called Sankō Sakusen, a three-part scorched earth strategy: kill everyone, burn everything, destroy everything. The Spanish community was not spared from the massacre. It is estimated that 235 Spaniards died.” Many others who had been Hispanicized and formed a large culturally mestizo community also fell under Japanese arms, which marked the end of an era of clear colonial reminiscence. Among them were numerous Basques, such as the Arriola and Lizarraga families [2]. Manila was liberated by the North Americans on March 3, 1945. It was there that Higinio Uriarte reported seeing a US battle tank named Fighting Basques, which gives our project its name. Most likely as a consequence of the atrocities committed by the Japanese troops, Tirso Soloaga Losa began his collaboration with the Philippine irregular forces to clear the last pockets of Japanese resistance in Luzon. Soloaga, of Bizkaian parents, was born in 1921 in Sigaboy-Davao, Mindanao, but at an early age he returned with his family to Durango. However, the outbreak of the Civil War forced them into exile, first to France and then to the Philippines.

Two years earlier, the dictator Francisco Franco had publicly blessed both the Japanese invasion and its victory over the Allies and the puppet government of José P. Laurel, in an effort to consolidate his alliance with the Axis nations, although he later retracted that support in the face of American pressure. As a result of the events in Manila, Spain gradually hardened diplomatic relations with Japan, beginning by ceasing the representation of its interests in America and culminating in the rupture of April 11, 1945, following a decision by the Council of Ministers. (Though, this didn’t entail any practical consequence, as the supposed declaration of war remained in the realm of rumors.) The struggles and suffering that the Spanish colony in China had with the Japanese occupiers of 1940 was insignificant compared to the martyrdom suffered in the Philippines in 1945. Despite the efforts of the Falange, it was obvious, as Florentino Rodao says, that the Japanese never made an effort “to differentiate between friends and enemies” and quotes the words of the Spanish ambassador in Tokyo, Santiago Méndez de Vigo, who said that “fire was directed with equal fury against Spaniards and Anglo-Saxons” [3]. A new twist by the pragmatic General Franco had led him to condemn the “yellow barbarism” against the Spanish residents in Manila in an attempt to win international favor for the permanence of his regime in the postwar period. It was time to pretend to the Allies a certain radicalization and Franco lived up to form, as always. Gone were the days when he consented to the opening of a Japanese spy network in Spain.

After the war, Andoni Aguirre, who fought in the Philippines with the US counterintelligence, worked for the Delegation of the Basque Government in exile to the United Nations as a commercial attaché (courtesy of the Aguirre family).

Fighting continued in remote parts of the Philippines until Japan’s final surrender in August 1945. The liberation of the Philippines was one more step on the road to final Allied victory. By mid-August 1945, the occupying forces had evacuated collaborationist President Laurel and his family to Japan. In the city of Nara, Laurel decreed the end of his regime and immediately began a frantic race to locate his collaborators in the hands of the Counterintelligence Corps of the US Army. As part of these units we have identified Jean Sallaberry Baratçabal, a native of Zuberoa, born in 1914, and, born in the Philippines (of Bizkaian parents), Román Arruza Asorena (1920) and Andoni Aguirre Achabal (1921). Aguirre would receive the Liberation Ribbon of the Philippines with a star. His brother Sabino Aguirre Achabal, born in 1914 in San Francisco, California, also served in the Philippines with the Air Force. He was awarded a Bronze Star for being able to locate and evacuate various members of his family and acquaintances to the Allied zone.

In September 1945, the top military officer for the invasion of the Philippines, General Masaharu Homma, was arrested by Allied troops and indicted on 43 counts of crimes against humanity, including the infamous Bataan Death March in which thousands of Filipino and American prisoners of war lost their lives. On February 26, 1946, he was sentenced to death and on April 3 he was executed by firing squad in the vicinity of Manila. The fleeing President Laurel had a better run of luck. MacArthur ordered his capture for collaboration with the enemy and he was accused of 132 counts of treason, but he would never be tried due to the general amnesty decreed by the President of the Philippines Manuel Roxas in 1948. He continued in public life and with his political career without being held accountable for his pro-Japan activities.

On July 4, 1946, the United States recognized the independence of the Philippines, ending the Commonwealth that had ruled the country since 1935. Even so, the Philippines continued to receive subsidies from the United States in reparation for the damages caused by the war. Ending was hundreds of years of foreign rule, beginning with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, who met his death on the islands, which, in an unexpected turn in history, made it possible for the Gipuzkoan Juan Sebastián Elcano to circumnavigate the earth for the first time.

[1] Florentino Rodao (2002). Franco y el Imperio Japonés. Barcelona: Plaza & Janés. Pp. 226-227 y 366.

[2] In Nampa, Idaho, relatives of the Arriola family celebrated masses for her memory, while writer Carmen Güell interviewed Elena Lizarraga for her novel The Last of the Philippines. In 2014 Joan Orendain wrote an article in Inquirer about the massacres of Japanese troops in Manila.

[3] Rodao (2002). P. 249.

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Basque Fact of the Week: Mayie Maitia and the Wool Growers Restaurant

One of the distinguishing features of Basque culture in the US West are the Basque restaurants. Often serving family-style meals, with long tables and large plates and bowls of food, they are the cornerstone of Basque-American identity. The Wool Growers, in Bakersfield, California, is one of these wonderful dining spots, a place for Basques and non-Basques to gather and share in Basque food and culture. Its founder, Mayie Maitia, died on December 15, 2021 at the age of 92. Goian bego.

Mayie Maitia and the Wool Growers, from 23ABC News, Bakersfield.
  • Mayie was born on May 8, 1929 in Saint Étienne de Baïgorry, in Nafarroa Beherea, Iparralde, to Jean and Marie Etchebarne. She was the seventh of nine children. With some of her siblings, she immigrated to the United States when she was 17, working first as a nanny for the Amestoy family and then at the Noriega and Pyrenees restaurants. Her father had been to the United States; his stories instilled within her the promise of the American Dream.
  • It was during this time that she met Jean Baptiste Maitia, a bartender, and they married in 1947. After their two children, Jenny and Daniel, were born, they opened their own restaurant in 1954, the Wool Growers, in Bakersfield. She was only 25 years old when she and her husband opened the Wool Growers, armed only with their determination and a $15,000 loan.
  • The Wool Growers became a cornerstone of the community and beyond. It served many local Basques and celebrities, including Barbra Streisand and Ronald Reagan. Mayie became the “mother of the Basques,” helping the recent immigrants who, like her, had no knowledge of English navigate life and bureaucracy in the strange land. And the Wool Growers became a spot where people congregated, where many relationships started and even a few weddings were hosted. Back in 2019, Mayie received NABO’s “Bizi Emankorra” (Lifetime Contribution) award, which recognized her “thoughtfulness, generosity, and unconditional support of her Basque culture.”
  • More important to Mayie than any of her success was her family. She once said “If you don’t have family, you have nothing.” Though Mayie has passed on, the Wool Growers continues to serve the Basque community in Bakersfield through the efforts of her daughter Jenny and her grand daughter Christiane.

Primary sources: Mayie Maitia obituary, Doughty Calhoun O’Meara Funeral Home; Culinary extraordinaire and Basque matriarch Mayie Maitia dies at 92, The Bakersfield Californian; Wool Growers; Mayie Maitia obituary,

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