In the emerging field of diaspora studies,
there is a need for empirical research and theoretical consideration
of the specific phenomenon of ethnonational diasporas, such as
that of the Basques. The essential questions are when
and why individuals and small groups of immigrants decide
to stay in their host country, maintain their ethnicity, and
form diasporic communities that preserve ties with their homelands.
This ability to establish and maintain international networks
is related to ethnic identity maintenance and diasporic nationalism.
They are at the same time local and international forms of social
organization. To investigate the Basque diasporic populations
it is imperative to understand and track the post-migration links
developed and maintained with their homeland. The various Basque
diasporic groups preserve their ethnic identities and are beginning
to consider and imagine themselves as a part of a
global Basque ethnic community.
Contemporary growth in world
wide international migration begs the question of whether or
not ethnic groups will eventually assimilate completely into
their new host states culture, lifestyle, religion, traditions,
etc., or, will continue to safeguard their own ethnicity and
maintain dual loyalties and combination identities. Different
Basque migrants have selected each path. Many have assimilated
and incorporated the host culture or a different aspect of identity,
and no longer define themselves as Basque. Others have preserved
and/or reconstructed a Basque identity, and continue, even after
four or five generations, to define themselves as Basques and
to maintain ties to the homeland. The results of my 1996-1999
Ph.D. fieldwork, including 348 personal interviews and 832 written
anonymous questionnaires of self-identifying Basques conducted
in Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Australia, Belgium, and the United
States demonstrate this is not dependent on time away from the
homeland, geography, gender, or generation. There are various
examples of latter generation Basques who continue to identify
themselves as Basque, and also there are abundant examples of
return to ethnicity from each generation.
Basque Populations as Diaspora Communities
How should ethnic
populations be defined and categorized, and with what criteria?
In arguing that these Basque collectivities outside the Basque
Country constitute a diaspora, I shall utilize Robin Cohens
definition of the concept of diaspora which highlights these
(1) dispersal from an original
homeland, often traumatically; (2) alternatively, the expansion
from a homeland in search of work, in pursuit of trade or to
further colonial ambitions; (3) a collective memory and myth
about the homeland; (4) an idealization of the supposed ancestral
homeland; (5) a return movement; (6) a strong ethnic group consciousness
sustained over a long time; (7) a troubled relationship with
host societies; (8) a sense of solidarity with co-ethnic members
in other countries; and (9) the possibility of a distinctive
creative, enriching life in tolerant host countries (Cohen 1997:180).
Utilizing a similar definition,
Sheffer (1996:39) estimates that according to this categorization
approximately four hundred million people are members of the
various diasporas. A growing interest in ethnicity in general,
and the revival of ethnic identity salience and transnational
diasporic consciousness in particular, brings us to the question:
Are the Basque populations outside the Basque Country a diaspora
as defined above, or merely separate ethnic comunities of immigrants
and their descendants?
Do the Basques Constitute
Cohens common features of diaspora, I have been able to
distinguish these Basque communities as indeed diaspora. Their
dispersal to many lands over time has been traumatic and forced,
as it was for nineteenth century Carlist War veterans and twentieth
century Franco era political exiles. However, it has also resulted
from choice, as exemplified by the Basque mariners, military,
cleric, and commercial migrants inside the Spanish imperial diaspora
to the Americas and the Philippines. Basques departed their homeland
in pursuit of commerce and because of established trading networks
that provided information and improved possibilities of success.
The shared understanding and
collective memories of a particular nationalist Basque history
creates a perception of victimization and continuous attempted
domination by Castilla. For Basques, their golden age
includes defence from invaders such as the Romans and the Moors;
autonomy from Castilla; superiority of seamanship; the democratic
and collective society ruled by the fueros, foral laws;
and a rural lifestyle where Basque culture and language are maintained.
These collective memories are a part of each Basque diaspora
community regardless of recent or old migrations, large or small
community. This foments ethnicity maintenance and diaspora consciousness.
Basques feel they have a responsibility to their ancestors and
to "maintenance, restoration, safety and prosperity"
(Cohen 1997:26) of Euskal Herria, even if they rarely
act politically upon these feelings.
The common idealization of a
pristine homeland with a mental picture of a baserri frozen
in time, often extends to misunderstanding it as when latter
generation Basques return or visit for the first
time. Many are shocked to discover relatives have new fashionable
automobiles, the latest European electrodomestic appliances,
computers and VCRs. Basques on the fringes of the diaspora networks
have a dated understanding of the Basque Country. However, no
culture stands still, and like it or not, increased contact with
homeland people and institutions is educating and updating the
Basque diasporas understanding of reality in Euskal
Herria. In other diaspora communities, for example with the
creation of the Israeli state, Croatia, democracy in Poland,
and the Ukraine, the political restructuring in their homelands
has eroded diaspora populations ideas of themselves as
a superior ethnic group- above political corruption and inefficiency.
There will be problems in the Basque autonomous communities,
as there are in any administration, and diaspora Basques will
be confronted with this cognitive dissonance of not being able
to blame all wrongs on "the Spanish".
Diaspora specialists include
the idea of a return to the homeland as another common
factor of diaspora populations. Many migrants left the Basque
Country believing they would return after making their riches
but these were individualized plans and there was no collective
return movement for Basques to their homeland- until
the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) wave of exiles. Previously, emigrants
had chosen to leave Euskal Herria, albeit pushed by economic
hardship and war reparations, and had moved as individuals or
families. The Civil War exiles counted to 150,000 Basques that
evacuated at once- traumatically and involuntarily. Their return
depended upon the elimination of Franco and the restoration of
democracy in Spain, and sadly became another myth as the decades
wore on and these people established their families, and themselves
economically, in the new host countries. Today there is no evidence
of a contemporary collective permanent return movement to the
Basque Country. The majority of exiles that lived long enough
to return did so trickling in from after Francos death
in 1975 to the early-1990s. Nevertheless, though it may never
come to a physical fruition, some continue to speak of the day
when they will go back to Euskal Herria. For most Basques
there is no desire to as they live successful and enriched lives
in their host countries. The idea of return need
not be permanent, and the research demonstrated that a large
number of research participants have visited and/or regularly
visit their homeland. Basques in Uruguay were the least likely
to have visited their homeland with 37% having lived in or visited
Euskal Herria, and in the other five countries 66% of Argentineans,
83% of those from the United States, 90% of Australians, 93%
Peruvians, and 100% of the Belgians had lived in or visited their
homeland. This is their individualized return.
Basques have exhibited their
salient ethnic group consciousness by preferring each other in
trade, labour, and chain migration networks since the 1500s.
This time proven cohesiveness separates diasporas from recent
immigrant communities and though the Basque communities in Belgium
and Australia are relatively recent compared to those in South
America, Basques in Peru, Uruguay, and Argentina continue to
maintain their ethnic identity after more than six generations.
They do not perpetuate the idea of a common fate
for all Basques, and when this was discussed in interviews many
tended to associate the idea with the Jewish diaspora and a negative
punishment and banishment which they said had nothing to do with
their own situations. Neither had they collectively experienced
problems as Basques in their host societies. For other
diaspora communities this defence of their ethnic group increases
ethnic solidarity and identification with ethnicity. For the
Basque communities, the reported isolated problems came from
being Catholics in the western United States, and from being
mistaken for Italians in Australia. However, there were no reports
of collective discrimination in any of the six countries.
The shared history and experiences
as immigrants contribute to diaspora Basques sense of empathy
and solidarity with other Basques. This fellowship transcends
the single Basque community-to-homeland bilateral relationship,
and recently incorporates diaspora-to-diaspora and diaspora Xèdiaspora
Yèhomeland multilocal relationships. For example, Basques
in Australia reported feeling a similar connection to Basques
in Belgium, in Argentina, or in the homeland. What is salient
in categorizing the Basque phenomenon as a diaspora is their
consistent commitment to maintain ties- sentimental, economic,
political, religious, and kinship- with the homeland and with
Having utilized Cohens
nine common features of diasporas here, the one that does not
apply to the Basques is the troubled relationship with
the host societies. The remaining eight, as summarized
above, do pertain to these communities abroad in varying degrees
though some have been more salient than others at different times
in the formation of the Basque diaspora.
These minorities permanently
reside in their host countries though they individually and/or
institutionally maintain personal and information exchanges with
others in the Basque Country. They demonstrate solidarity with
fellow Basques through social, political, and economic activities;
one example being from the United States where many Democratic
Basque voters in Idaho reported crossing party lines to vote
for Basque Republican candidates. Research results also demonstrate
a dual loyalty to both host country and Euskal Herria.
Fully 74% of these diaspora Basques define themselves as hybrid
Basque-host country or host country-Basque, 18% identifying themselves
solely as Basque. In the conjuncture of Basque-American,
Basque-Argentine or Uruguayan-Basque , the
hyphen marks a non-hierarchic union.
Data results showed that Basques
are not choosing to maintain their ethnicity for economic benefits,
nor are they making political demands for special recognition
or treatment in any of the communities where they are congregated
in these diverse countries. The ethnicity maintenance in the
Basque diasporic communities follows sociological and psychological
arguments of belonging to a group, individual self-fulfillment,
and positive social status (Tajfel 1982) in relation to others.
This element of choice by individuals, termed ethnic option
by Mary Waters (1990) is yet to be investigated in studies of
Basque identity, as are the varieties of Basque identity and
degrees of saliency and participation. Basque ethnics range from
Basque ethnic fundamentalists to annual San Ignacio festival
attendees, similar to Christmas Catholics.
Basque diasporans transnational
identities tie them to host and home country simultaneously.
They feel primordial ties to Euskal Herria and their ancestors,
but also feel pride in and a connection to their host countries.
The Eusko Jaurlaritza grants for computers and Internet
hook-up for all registered diaspora Basque Centers has greatly
facilitated inter-communications and the imagination of an inter-connected
Basque diaspora which is likely to continue to grow.
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Gloria Pilar Totoricagüena,
London School of Economics
and Political Science. 8006 West Silkwood Court, Boise, Idaho