the other white: basque and irish in occupied territory

Don’t start me talking
I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I’m putting the world to right
Called careers information
Have you got yourself an occupation?

-Elvis Costello “Olivers Army”



Just read a fascinating article that I want to share from the Basque Tribune called “Basques and the American Indians”

Basque author Mark Bieter grew up in Boise and shares his experience of hearing the Basque people described as the “Indians of Europe.”  Avoiding too much colonial equivocation, he insightfully remarks:

The Basques are the Indians of Europe: I liked the idea. I’d grown up in the Western United States with Basque ancestry, and I suppose I felt a kind of solidarity with Indians. But when I did my own amateur archaeology and dug into it, the solidarity crumbled. I looked at my own life. Shoshone and Bannock tribes lived(sic) close to my childhood home in Boise, Idaho. They might have been on the same spot where I played as a kid. What happened to them? Looking even further back in history, I knew Basques had a role in Spanish colonization in the Americas. It’s hard to stand with the indigenous when you’ve had all the advantages as a descendant of the newcomers.

Echoing the Irish experience on this side of the pond, I appreciate the time and willingness it take to explore the tensions created by a history of colonization intersected by the assimilation into whiteness and it’s advantages within the Empire.  Sleuthing out the grounds for solidarity while not overlooking the cultural gaps created by settler colonialism is touchy, but this article turned up a gem; one that resonates deeply with the Gael:

A German doesn’t have to do anything to be a German. A Basque or an Indian has to do something more. That can be a blessing or a curse. An Apache woman can move into a city, do nothing, and a piece of the tribe dissolves. Or she can do something else. Basques and Indians, separated by thousands of miles and years, actually might have a few things in common, a similar past and some of the same questions: Does your background mean something to you? And if it means something, what are you doing about it?

Of course this made me think of Elvis Costello’s song with the words “white n*gger” and certain Indians referring to us Irish as the “Blacks of Europe.”  Really?  The only real answer is Yes and No.  No because whiteness is a very effective mechanism that cannot be ignored.  But YES because our stories do present a grounds for solidarity that has a past, present, and future that needs to be actively cultivated.  Much like the Mi’kmaq and Acadians together in Elsipogtog, a willingness to understand each others stories has more power to bring people together in solidarity than it does to perpetuate the divisiveness of privilege.



Some Basque Lessons

Super interesting and personal, as I live a (relatively) short drive west from Boise. My mom went to Bend Senior Highschool (as did I) in the 60’s with Basque students who would bus all the way in from eastern Oregon every day. There was a lovely Basque flag on the ceiling of the Pub on Inis Oírr today, and the Basque flag has often flown next to the Cascadian flag (and others) at our local haunt in Bend, OR. So here I am looking out on Galway Bay, becoming a Gael….hoping to be reading ‘Cith is Dealán’ on the Oregon coast this summer and understand all I’m reading.
After meeting SO MANY people in Ireland who mention their families in Butte, Montana sending money home (often returning themselves after a generation) I am kicking myself for still never having made it to the largest St. Paddy’s day festival in the world that happens there every year. (some friends from Butte go every year) Butte, Boise, and Bend; all in the same watershed, all Cascadian….and Irish….and Basque. Can’t wait to visit Boise again when I get home!!


Celebrating at Jaialdi 2010 on Boise’s Basque Block (Íomhá: The Blue Review)

This article on the resilience of the indigenous language of the historic Basque nation in north-eastern Spain and neighbouring France is filled with the sort of optimism that one rarely hears in relation to the Irish language. From The Blue Review, a publication of Boise State University in the United States:

“Steve Mendive is a history/government teacher who spends his summer breaks in the Basque Country (Euskadi) and enjoys the literary challenge of reading Voltaire’s Candide in Euskara. He has informally studied the Basque language for many years, first speaking with his family and progressing to advanced language coursework in the Basque Country. For Mendive, learning Basque is personal. “I am an Euskaldun (Basque speaker). Before, I was just Basque. There is a big difference.””

A point of view that many an Irish-speaker in Ireland, be they native…

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