Eneko Bidegain: "Personal relationships keep the Basque diaspora alive and travelling to the Basque Country is key"

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.

2021-11-10

How do people of the diaspora gather information about the Basque Country? What kind of relationship do they have with their relatives? How do they interact? Eneko Bidegain has conducted research on the Basque diaspora in Reno, USA, at the University of Nevada’s Center for Basque Studies through the Jon Bilbao Chair promoted by the Etxepare Basque Institute. "The emotional stories have made the experience very enriching and moving," said Bidegain, “and I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting and generous people."

From 10 September to 9 November, Bidegain was working on a research project on how members of the Basque diaspora in the United States access and follow information about the Basque Country and their vision of Basque territoriality. His project focuses mainly on media sources and the channels used -- from letters and magazines to the digital age.

After completing the theoretical framework for his study, Bidegain analysed various documents at the University of Nevada. The Center for Basque Studies has one of the largest collections of Basque-related materials in the world, with 55,000 volumes at present. He was particularly interested in the letters: “I wanted to read the letters sent from the Basque Country to study the topics they mentioned and their language they communicated in. Most of the information in the documents was about relatives, often associated with special dates. They were in touch at Christmas and birthdays, for example, and kept each other informed about the health of their relatives, the most significant local news and sometimes, the political situation in the Basque Country, although the topic lost momentum over time,” said Bidegain.

The researcher returns with a great deal of material. "I’ve turned the research into a diary. I was able to gather information from the letters I read and the experiences I was told about in interviews." Bidegain took advantage of his time in the United States to get to know the stories first hand, traveling to places such as Boise, Sacramento and San Francisco.

“I wasn’t merely an observer or a neutral spectator. I was also in communication with people. I found that contrast very interesting: reading a letter from 100 years ago, taking a photo with my mobile phone and having a video call with someone to talk about that photo. In a way, I went through the experiences of people in the diaspora."

In these conversations, he paid particular attention to how the means of communication has depended on the age group. "The telephone has prevailed over the last 40 years. Young people, on the other hand, mostly use social networks, such as WhatsApp and YouTube. As a result, they communicate more now, since it’s easier and cheaper. However, most of the conversations are still about family matters," Bidegain explained.

Will there be a diaspora in the future?

After talking to many people in different parts of the United States, Bidegain´s main conclusion is that the most effective way to ensure a connection between the Basque Country and members of the diaspora is for them to visit the Basque Country itself.

Today, there are many third- and fourth-generation Basques in the United States. Bidegain explains that they are young people who “have a connection to the ´euskal etxeak´ Basque centres and Basque culture, are familiar with Basque dances and play the card game ‘mus’, but are not particularly attached to the Basque language, for example. As a result, the older first-generation members fear that there will be no Basque diaspora in the future". They see the connection to their roots in danger.

After conducting the interviews, however, Bidegain believes that "if you travel to Euskal Herria and make friends, if there is contact, the bond will be preserved. I think it is more difficult to create this connection around the language, since many of the members of the Basque diaspora never learnt Euskara from their parents, and few are willing to make the effort learning the language. Groups of friends keep in touch, and that´s where Facebook and similar social networks are key.

Bidegain has written a report containing the information he gathered and will put together a talk to explain what he saw and learned. The material is "very extensive", so he does not rule out returning to the University of Nevada to continue his studies.

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