Nor Naiz, Gu Gara: José Antonio Alcayaga III

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.

For me, to be Basque is to have a Basque surname—a name that is tied to the land and house of your ancestors—a name that has lived on through the test of time.  Even if one does not have a Basque name, one can still feel Basque. This feeling of being Basque runs real deep and is  represented by these traits: hard work, brevity, independence and stubbornness. It represents being different—using creativity for innovation and change.  A Basque is proud of their heritage and enjoys celebrating and sharing it with others. Being Basque is also using the language, Euskara— reading, writing, speaking and teaching it to others.

My Basque ancestors voyaged to the New World from Irun/Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa in the mid 16th century and settled throughout Latin America. I get my Basque heritage from my father, who is from Guatemala. In 2003, a distant relative reached out to my father and I from Hendaia with a bit of family history and the hope of uniting the greater Alcayaga family. It was not until 2008, when I decided to visit Euskal Herria for the first time to learn Basque and to meet with family.

Nor Naiz, Gu Gara: Aitor Latxaga

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.

Two movies about Basques in the US West

I don’t know if it’s just an idea who’s time has come or if great ideas come in pairs, but there are two movies in the works about the Basque experience in the US West.

The first, appropriately entitled Basques in the West, is an effort of Canyons Studio.  I first heard about this one this summer, at Jaialdi, when I talked to the directors, Amaya Oxarango-Ingram and Brent Barras.  Basques in the West is still in production, but they have a clip showing selected scenes on their website here, and they have a Facebook page for the movie here, where they’ve just posted their official trailer to the movie.  Basques in the West focuses on interviews with Basques of all generations, those from the Basque Country, those raised on the ranches, and those younger Basques that are trying to continue the traditions however they can.

The second film, directed by Javi Zubizaretta and Jacob Griswold, is Artzainak: Shepherds and Sheep, which again deals with the Basque experience in the American West, but focusing a bit more on the sheepherder experience.  The trailer, on YouTube, shows the life of sheepherders, both an old time Basque as well as what I presume are Peruvians, the modern day equivalent of the Basque sheepherder.  Thus, it moves a bit beyond the Basque experience, examining how sheepherding has moved beyond those original Basque immigrants and now encompasses a new group of immigrants. Artzainak also has a Facebook page and a blog with updates about the promotion of the film.

As an aside, my dad was one of those Basque immigrants, coming to America to herd sheep. These days, he is still involved, but now he assists and guides the Peruvians that are the heart of the sheep herding industry in Idaho.  He drives them where they need to go, helps him move camp, etc.  While still an extremely difficult life, it is also a world away from what my dad knew.  When he was herding, they were in the hills for months at a time, with little-to-no contact with civilization.  Today, the Peruvians drive to the herds and have camps that are significantly more sophisticated than what they had 50 years ago.  Plus, while they probably don’t have a signal every where they go, they can take cell phones with them and thus have contact with the outside world.

Back to the films, both of these films celebrate the Basque life in the American West and thus, as the descendant of Basque shepherds, I am extremely interested in seeing them both.  I hope they both do well in the market and I look forward to following their successes.

Coats-of-arms of Euskal Herria

A while back I found an awesome book that showed the coats-of-arms of most of the towns and villages of Bizkaia.  Each town was given a different page, with a drawing of the escudo and some information about the town. I’d always hoped to find something similar for the other provinces, but was never able to.  These days, though, if it’s in a book, it’s very likely to be online as well.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that there are lists of the municipalities of the various provinces and their heraldry, and maybe the best site for this is Wikipedia.

They have different sections for the coats-of-arms of the towns of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Araba, Nafarroa, and, lumped together with other provinces of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Iparralde — the French Basque Country.

I imagine these aren’t complete, but they do give a very nice visual display of the towns and villages of the Basque Country.  I think it would be great to also have something about the origins of each individual coat-of-arms, but that is asking a lot.

There are versions of these on the Spanish version of Wikipedia as well, which do give more detail, such as the actual description of the coat-of-arms.  For example, see this page for Bizkaia and this one for Nafarroa.

Castles of the Basque Country

I received this query way back in June (ugh! I’m so far behind).  It describes the efforts of a group of historians and archeologists that are trying to document and save the historic castles of the Basque Country.  If you have interest in their project, please leave a comment and I’ll make sure they see it.

Estimados amigos de la tierra vasca.

Desde la lejanía y con el recuerdo de la historia de nuestro pueblo os escribimos con la intención de hacer participativo nuestra ilusión y trabajo.

Antes de nada presentarme: me llamo Iñaki Sagredo Garde. Historiador navarro y cooperante del grupo arqueológico: Gestión Cultural Larrate –Bera de Bidasoa-.

Hace ya unos años, en el 2006, publicamos el primer libro Navarra. Castillos que defendieron el reino –Editorial Pamiela-, un trabajo donde repasamos y localizamos casi los cien castillos que tuvo el viejo reino de Navarra.  Posteriormente publicamos los siguientes tomos de la misma colección donde se recogieron los castillos de la Navarra occidental del 1200: Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, Araba, la anterior que llegaba hasta la Rioja y Bureba –lugares donde la toponimia vasca es notable y por lo tanto recordamos con ahínco para evitar su pérdida.

Cada libro intentaba sensibilizar sobre nuestra historia: Localización de los restos, la toponimia, los documentos, etc.

Nuestra intención es la recuperación histórica de los castillos. Tras la conquista de Navarra en el  año 1512, Cristóbal Villalba, coronel castellano que ejecutó las órdenes del regente de Castilla Cardenal Cisneros. Dicho coronel escribió lo siguiente:

Navarra está tan baja de fantasía después de que vuestra señoría mandó derrocar los muros que no hay hombre que alce la cabeza.

Es posible que de esos cien castillos apenas queden 5 en pie y por esa razón estos años hemos trabajado en un proyecto de volver a levantar de manera simbólica o estudiar estos castillos coincidiendo con el quinto centenario de su conquista. De esta forma nos pusimos manos a la obra. Ajenos a otros proyectos arqueológicos que pueden acometer trabajos parecidos nuestro fin fue divulgar y explicar la historia in situ, en el mismo lugar y poder acceder a su conocimiento desde la perspectiva histórica de un reino independiente que tuvo un protagonismo en la Europa de entonces.

En Mayo trabajamos en Eskoriatza – castillo de Aitzorrotz-, y allí explicamos su historia a cientos de estudiantes que a través de los centro escolares visitaron el yacimiento.  En Junio trabajaremos en la Burunda y en agosto será en el valle de Ollo; en Urdax y Bera durante los meses siguientes, etc.

Queríamos haceros partícipes de nuestro esfuerzo y compartir nuestra ilusión. La idea es lenta por los problemas de toda índole que sugiere realizar un trabajo desde la tutela gubernamental  y con los problemas lógicos económicos pero seguimos intentándolo. Si desean conocer algo más de nuestro trabajo, en la editorial Pamiela, en su parte del patrimonio, pueden obtener información. Cada libro que puedan solicitar es un impulso a nuestro trabajo de recuperación. http://www.pamiela.com/

Gracias por su tiempo.

Nor Naiz, Gu Gara: Guillermo Zubiaga

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.

Identity is a very personal matter; I believe it is up to individuals to define themselves to their own ascription even today given the “Global Village” effect.

I don’t want to generalize, especially after reading Pedro’s beautiful “jungle” of rationalization, but, in all fairness and in the most possible realistic as well as legal terms, I think identity can be defined ethnically and culturally, as well as politically.

Quite frankly, I think these are elemental criteria in order to define any given group, whether the Basques, the English, the Apache, the Welch or the Hutu etc, and are what characterize any ethnic group. I also think they are not necessarily exclusive of any other. I do believe that nothing prevents the inclusion of any given ethnicity into a larger one, such as a Basque-American for instance, just as the inclusion of an ethnicity within another one doesn’t deny or negate the existence of either ethnicity, no matter its size.

I do however think it is very, very dangerous to measure degrees of Basquesness or any other group in ethnic terms. Yet it is also true that there has been a great deal of endogamy among Basques, especially in the old times and surely in the diaspora as well. Call it some kind of survival Eugenics, perhaps?

Regarding culture, I would not want to bore anyone with defining the term. However, by its own description, as a collective expression of any particular group, it is its capacity to evolve and endure that determines it. Culture by its own virtue can only exist if it can be passed on and kept alive through subsequent generations.

Particularly in this regard, Euskara, our “flag ship” of Basque culture, is the living paradigm of the development of a primal form of communication, linguistic values, norms of conduct, behavior, etc of a very, very — in our case — ancient heritage that has persisted till our own time, since I also believe that to speak a particular language determines quite a bit about the character of a given group as well as molding its perception of its own surroundings.

Regarding the political issue, this is a topic that for a long while I have wanted to avoid and omit. But I am afraid that in addition to the ethno-cultural aspect I have addressed I also have to include this one. The one that in all actual legal terms, whether we like it or not, is the one that establishes reality from the administrative, fiscal or legislative perspectives. I believe this principle should apply to all peoples or at least to those people whose voices simply want to be heard.

As is true of the Basque example, as well as many other should we say “medium to easily” identifiable stateless-nations, the Basques generally claim for themselves both a territory and sociopolitical structures. In other words; they claim to have a legitimate identity and presence.

I am nobody to hand out badges of good and bad Basques. I believe that as long as it is done in a lawful manner, choice will always be a very healthy exercise for any democracy. However I also think we must not forget that Basque nationalism, whether in the form of today, or in its past, in previous incarnations, whether as “foralism”, “larramendism” or any other form of expression or impetus for self-government, has done a lot to ensuring that Basques were capable of preserving more than just our language, but our sense of direction, our character, our laws, our democratic institutions.

As John Adams once wrote about the Basques: “Those people….who have had the skill, courage, and fortune**, to preserve a voice in the government.”

But then again I am also a romantic, so what do I know?

(** Ha,ha!! I’m sure fortune had something to do with it! As a very wise man once said: “That’s why we Basques are optimistic, Because our number was up a long time ago!”)

Guillermo is an illustrator and graphic designer who, born in Bilbao, now resides in New York with his wife and son.  He recently began work on his own graphic novel based on the history of Basque whaling; the first issue was released just last year.

Basque Soil, Literally

Can you tell that I’m trying to catch up on things today?  In any case, here is one of the more bizarre links I’ve gotten recently, though maybe this is something people have been wanting for a while and I’m just not aware.  Maybe if you are a gardener, this is the perfect thing for you.  Or the perfect gift for that Basque gardner in your family.

Euskadiko Lurra, Basque Soil, is a company that sells, literally, Basque soil, from the heart of Gipuzkoa.  If you want Basque soil to grow your Basque txuritxeros in, this is the way to go.

If anyone tries it, let me know how it went.  Not being a gardner at all myself, I can’t imagine this would make much of a difference, but maybe it does.  And, if nothing else, I guess it would be neat to be able to say that your plants are grown in soil from the Basque Country.

Championship of Pintxos!

Food is such an important aspect of Basque life and nothing defines the role of food better than the pintxo, that small morsel that you find on every counter in every bar throughout the Basque Country.  As I mentioned earlier, in my most recent trip to the Basque Country, my friend Gonzalo Aranguren took me to some of his favorite bars and I was able to sample some great pintxos in Donostia.  I was unaware, though, that there was an actual championship of pintxos, the brought together the best of the Basque Country to determine who made the best pintxos.

The last edition of the Euskal Herriko Pintxo Txapelketa was held in October in Hondarribia.  The winning pintxo, “huevo al oro con migas de pastor y txipiron” by Bixente Muñoz, is pictured above (not sure exactly how this translates, but something like “golden egg with shepherd’s crumbs and squid”).  On the website, they show pictures of other entries, all of which look amazing.

This is the fifth Pintxo Txapelketa and since 2008 they have also released a book of the best pintxos of the competition.  Information about the books can be found here.

I personally think it is awesome that they have this championship.  It pushes the boundaries of what the pintxo is, and keeps Basque cuisine on the cutting edge.  It forces chefs to experiment and bring out their best ideas.  If anyone has been part of the championship, please let us all know more about it!

Memories of a Basque Exile

My friend, Gonzalo Aranguren, who wrote this Nor Naiz, Gu Gara entry, has a fascinating history.  He is one of those rare people who is American-Basque, rather than Basque-American.  That is, his mother is American, but he was born and raised in the Basque Country, though he has spent a lot of time in the US.

His interesting history extends to his great-grandfather, Luis Aranguren, who was the vice-mayor of Bilbao before fleeing to Caracas during the Spanish Civil War, where he died in 1957. Aranguren wrote of his experiences in a book, “Memorias de un Exilado Vasco,” which has just been re-edited and re-released by Inaki Anasagasti.  In the book, Aranguren talks about, other things, Bilbao at the turn of the century and his interactions with characters such as Sabino Arana and Horace Echevarrieta.  More information can be found on Inaki’s blog.

House keeping complete

Just in time for Christmas, I’ve completed the house keeping on the main subject pages, the pages that are linked to in the menu on the left.  I changed the format and cleaned up the links.  If anyone sees any important links that are missing or has comments about the new look of those pages, please feel free to leave a note here or send me an email.

Zorionak eta Eguberri On denari!

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