Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Basques of San Francisco

This book review about the history of the Basque Community in California and more specifically in San Francisco has been published by EiTB:

'Gardeners of Identity' pays homage to Basques in San Francisco


A book that brings together the accounts of Basque immigrants living in California's San Francisco Bay, written by doctor of Basque Studies and current researcher at the University of Deusto, Pedro J. Oiarzabal, with material compiled by members of the city's Basque-American community, will be one of the newest publications to feature at this year's Book and CD Fair in Durango (Biscay), starting on Friday 4th December.

Entitled Gardeners of Identity: Basques in the San Francisco Bay Area and written in English, the book pays homage to those members of the Basque-American community who made it possible, more than a century after the first waves of mass immigration from the Basque Country began arriving to the United States, for Basque culture and identity to continue to be a reality in the San Francisco Bay area of today.

"I tried to reflect who these people are; normal, everyday people who don't need an academic background, or to be specialists or linguists in order to appreciate what culture is and their own cultural legacy," explained Pedro J. Oiarzabal in an exclusive interview with in Bilbao.

"People born in farmhouses with a minimum level of school education who had to work hard in order to survive in a foreign country where the language is neither Spanish, French nor, of course, Basque and where they may have achieved a certain level of success in life while at the same time struggling hard to maintain their culture and language," Pedro says of the people who feature in his book.

The book is also of great historical value visually, bringing together as many as 123 photographic documents, much more than any other book of the same length. "In this book I've tried to give particular significance to photographic evidence in itself. It is important to be able to see the evolution of this community in terms of its style of dress, clothing, and other symbols which represent the world we live in," explains Pedro.

A seed

The creation process behind the book involved actual members of the Basque-American community, who were responsible for carrying out 93 interviews and organizing the compilation of visual material.

According to the author, his objective was not only to gather together witness accounts, but also to ensure that the community itself was central to the book; that the book's creation was the seed to make the Basque-Americans realize their own abilities to carry out such a project.

"You don't need a history degree per se to make history. A good methodology plus training in specific techniques for (compiling) oral history would make it easier for all those Basques living elsewhere to document and conserve their own immediate history. The importance of compiling firsthand accounts of emigrants from the 1930s or 1940s is invaluable, as well as a race against time, which we must try to win," explained Oiarzabal. "The communities themselves are in the best position to carry out such tasks.

"We hope this marks just a beginning; that the Basque community now continues to take care of its own history," he added.


For Pedro, the Basque migratory experience during the diaspora can help modern-day Basques to understand why immigrants of other nationalities settle in our lands and work so hard at jobs that these days nobody wants to do.

In the same way, discovering how Basques were received in the various countries to which they emigrated helps us in turn to understand immigrant cultures, try and integrate them with our own and enrich ourselves through their experiences.

According to Pedro, Basques have always known how to convey very well - though without ever imposing - the importance of their own culture to those countries in which they have settled. "What we can do, in return, is try to learn from those that come to our land and try to combine their culture with ours. I think that we could all learn a lot from that," he concludes.

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