“I take my hat off to the system they’ve developed in Argentina for teaching Basque”

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.

2018-11-15

The director of the Etxepare Basque Institute, Irene Larraza, spent seven days in Argentina to take part in the Basque Week celebrated in Mar de Plata. The trip allowed her to attend several events associated with the promotion of Basque language and culture. We caught up with her on her return to talk about the details of the trip.

The director of the Etxepare Basque Institute, Irene Larraza, spent seven days in Argentina to take part in the Basque Week celebrated in Mar de Plata. The trip allowed her to attend several events associated with the promotion of Basque language and culture. We caught up with her on her return to talk about the details of the trip.

What was the purpose of your visit?

The first thing that brought me Argentina was the Regional Meeting of Basque Communities of Central and South America held in Mar del Plata as part of their Basque Week. The objective of the Institute´s participation was to publicize our work and present the Euskara Munduan programme, so we can begin to develop it with them for 2019. One of the goals of this programme is to oversee the teaching of the Basque language at the Basque Centers, or Euskal Etxeak, all over the world. This line of work is new to us.

With the regional meeting as an excuse, in the second part of the trip I visited Buenos Aires to meet with several representatives of the academic and cultural areas of the city.

What areas did you focus on in meetings with cultural representatives in Buenos Aires?

I met with several cultural management organizations and with local and national government officials responsible for culture policy, together with Sara Pagola, Basque delegate for Mercosur Argentina (trade bloc agreement between five South American countries). We saw how they manage cultural activities and considered different opportunities for collaboration. We also visited several cultural centers, including the Kirchner cultural center, Usina del Arte and the San Martín cultural center, to see if we can open new avenues for collaboration. Along the same lines, I also met with the organizers of the Buenos Aires festival and the National Endowment for the Arts, Argentina.

And your meetings in the academic sector?

I spoke with several heads of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). It is a highly significant research agency in Latin America, and is in charge of several centers of activity in Argentina. The framework agreement we signed with them aims to develop a lasting academic project which promotes an interest in Basque Studies and attracts researchers. We will work on developing an academic programme that brings Basque and Argentine experts to different Argentine universities every year (CONICET will determine which universities are most appropriate).

I also met with the Basque Language and Culture Reader at the University of La Plata, and received several offers for collaboration from other universities. Therefore, I’d say that was a very fruitful visit.

How were you received at the places you visited?

The Basque diaspora in Argentina was very welcoming. At the Etxepare Institute we’ve been working for a long time on teaching Basque in universities around the world, but we’ve worked very little with the Basque Centers, and it was time to start with the Euskara Munduan programme. The first step was to get to know each other, and that part was successful on this trip. The people were very kind and generous, and they really want to work with us.

What was the function of the Etxepare Basque Institute at the Meeting of Basque Communities?

That was a meeting promoted by the Basque Government. My role was to introduce the Institute (our mission and functions), on the one hand, and on the other, to present the Euskara Munduan project and explain how we plan to move it forward. It was a good idea to be at the meeting, since we managed to dispel many doubts from the groups that were there.

How important is Basque culture in Argentina?

I was really impressed by the Argentine diaspora. I think they do an incredible job of preserving Basque culture, especially of transmitting a sense of identity and pride from generation to generation through dance and music. Some continue the process as adults by learning and passing on the language.

In Argentina saying that you’re Basque is a source of pride; they see us as hardworking and reliable. They have an expression, “el vasco es conocido y reconocido” (loosely translated to mean that a Basque person is recognized and well-regarded). Plus, we should bear in mind that considering the Argentine society is a melting pot, there is a very high percentage of Basques: more than 3 million Argentines have a Basque surname.

What is your overall assessment of the visit?

The experience was both rewarding and exciting. Professionally, it was essential to learn more about the Basque community in Argentina so we can develop the Euskara Munduan programme; and opening new avenues of collaboration with universities and cultural centers has been a major step forward. But, above all, on a personal level, I was given a very warm welcome, and the work of the Basque-Argentine community really moved me. I’d like to underline the work they do in teaching Basque. I take off my hat to the system they’ve developed. There are many third- and fourth-generation Basques who started out from scratch and have ended up being teachers of Euskera; they’re not only familiar with the language, but they speak it like we do.

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