72 Zenbakia 2000-03-24 / 2000-03-31


Basques Around the World: Generic Inmigrants or Diaspora?


Basques Around the World: Generic Inmigrants or Diaspora? Basques Around the World: Generic Inmigrants or Diaspora? Gloria Pilar Totoricagüena 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 state’s 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 Cohen’s definition of the concept of diaspora which highlights these common features: (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 a Diaspora? Benefitting from Cohen’s 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, asit 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 diaspora’s understanding of reality in Euskal Herria. In other diasporacommunities, 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 Franco’s 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 havevisited 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 similarconnection 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 each other. Having utilized Cohen’s 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 ‘ethnicoption’ 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. Bibliography of Sources Anderson, Benedict.1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso. Basch, Linda, Nina Glick Schiller, and Cristina Szanton Blanc.1992. Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialized Nation States. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers S.A. Castells, Manuel.1997. The Power of Identity. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Volume II. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Limited. Cohen, Robin. 1997. Global Diasporas: An Introduction. London: University College London Press. 1996. "Diaspora and the Nation State: From Victims to Challengers", in International Affairs, Volume 72, Number 3, pp. 507 520, July. Douglass, William A. and Jon Bilbao.1975. Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World. Reno: University of Nevada Press. Elkins, David J. 1997. "Globalization, Telecommunication, and Virtual Ethnic Communities". International Political Science Review. 1997 Volume 18, Number.2, Pp.139 152. Gellner, Ernest.1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self Identity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Jauregui Bereciartu, Gurutz. 1986. Contra elEstado Nación. En Torno al Hecho y la Cuestión Nacional. Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno. Lavie, Smadar, and Ted Swedenburg, editors. 1996. Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity. London: Duke University Press. Sheffer, Gabriel. 1996. "Wither the Study of Ethnic Diasporas? Some Theoretical, Definitional, Analytical and Comparative Considerations". In The Network of Diasporas, by Georges Prévélakis. Paris: Cyprus Research Center Kykem. Tajfel, Henri. 1981. Human Groups and Social Categories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Van Hear, Nicolas 1998. New Diasporas: The Mass Exodus, Dispersal and Regrouping of Migrant Communities. London: UCL Press. Vertovec, Steven.1999. "Conceiving and Researching Transnationalism", in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Volume 22, Number 2, March. Pp. 447 462. Waters, Mary C.1990. Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America. Berkeley: University of California Press. Gloria Pilar Totoricagüena, London School of Economics and Political Science. 8006 West Silkwood Court, Boise, Idaho 83704 (U.S.A.) G.P.Totorica@lse.ac.uk totorica@micron.net Euskonews & Media 72.zbk (2000 / 3 / 24 31) gratuita | Abonnement gratuit | Free subscription Eusko Ikaskuntzaren Web Orria webmaster@euskonews.com http://ikaskuntza.org/cgiBanner/banner.cgi?datos=ejgvordena&link=www.euskadi.net http://ikaskuntza.org/