Things like this
do not happen very often for Basques. Patty Miller,
Director of the Boise Basque Museum, called it "a perfect day"
and indeed it was as several hundred gathered for the
inauguration of the "Hidden in Plain Sight: The Basques"
Island-eko euskal erakusketa
Fanfare Mark Opening of Basque Exhibit"
"Basque immigrant history exhibit on New York's Ellis Island
Ellis Island passenger lists:
Basque Museum exhibit website:
Video slide-show of
Tara Morgan's article in
"Have you ever
had a perfect day?" That is how Boise Basque Museum
director Patty Miller began her remarks, and in a sense, in
really was for Basque people who were fortunate enough to have
been able to attend the inaugural ceremonies of "Hidden in Plain
Sight: The Basques" exhibit of Basque immigration as Ellis
Island in New York City. Luck played a role, because this
part of New York City barely escaped a massive snow storm that
shut down parts of the East coast. So the Basque visitors
from Idaho, California, Nevada, Wyoming and Montreal, Canada
were fortunate in their travels.
Valerie Arrechea and the director of relations with the
Basque Diaspora of the Autonomous Basque Government
Julian Celaya awaiting the ferry to Ellis Island for the
The Saturday morning session took
participants out to Ellis Island with a transport via the ferry.
The introductory ceremony began in the main hall which once
served as the waiting room for immigrants. This segment
included entertainment by the Boise Bihotzteik choir and Oinkari
Basque dancers, as well as local singer Amaya Arberas. The
Basque music, song and dance of the opening program filled the
large, cavernous room.
Some of the dignitaries at the inauguration included Guillermo
Echenique, director of foreign affairs for the Basque
Government, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, Director of the Boise
Basque Museum Patty Miller, Director of the relations with the
Basque Diaspora Julian Celaya, and exhibit coordinator Michael
Vogt. Photo EuskalKultura.com (Mikel Arrazola)
Opened on January 1, 1892, the facility at Ellis Island was the
nation's premier federal immigration station until 1954, by
which time over 12 million immigrant steamship passengers had
walked through its aisles. Those entry records are now
available online if you'd like to search to see if one of your
relatives came through this port of entry (click on
Today, over 40
percent of America's population can trace their ancestry through
||Basque singer Amaya
Arberas performed at the opening ceremonies.
The acoustics of the large hall were really something; her
voice un-amplified filled the place and she sang some
inspired renditions of traditional Basque songs.
session shifted the action upstairs were several people spoke,
including the dean of Basque Studies in America, Professor
William Douglass. He said that the Basque immigrant,
sitting in that waiting room, never would have dreamed that one
day there would be an exhibit there to commemorate their trek to
America. Then the ribbon cutting ceremony followed and all
now had a chance to view the exhibit.
The Boise Oinkari dancers performed in the main hall of Ellis
Island that once served as the waiting room for immigrants.
The dance program included a variation of "Ikurrina" dantza that
featured both the Basque and American flags. To view a
video clip on
What an exhibit!
It spans six rooms with a combination of large banners featuring
text on various aspects of the immigrant experience and Basque
culture, as well as several audio-visual elements. It will
remain in place at Ellis Island through early May 2010, then it
will shift to the Basque Museum in Boise to coincide with
Part of the N.A.B.O. delegation
at the inaugural included Martin Goicoechea (right), our bertsolari from
the Rock Springs Basque Club in Wyoming, here singing bertso at
the ribbon-cutting of the exhibit. Serving as master of
ceremonies was Dr. John P. Bieter with the Basque Studies
program at Boise State University (left). >
There is something for everyone in the exhibit. With text
and visuals, it covers aspects of Basque music, song and dance;
Basque historical moments like the bombing of Gernika; the
impulse to migrant; adapting to the challenges of a new
homeland; etc. Several videos also relate the Basque
story, including a poignant interview with Lucy Garatea, 104
years old relating her story of passing through Ellis Island in
Some interested observers
taking in the exhibit on the first day.
The exhibit will
remain on display through May 2010, from where it will
then go to the Basque Museum in Boise, ID.
continued with a dinner-dance that evening, and people danced
the night away to the music of the Boise Basque band "Amuma Says
No." It was a chance for all to "bask" in the glow of an
extraordinary event, that in a word, was classy. The
speakers were impressive, the entertainment moving, and the
exhibit itself captivating. I'd say that everyone in
attendance was left moved that day that they had participated in
exhibit at Ellis Island spans six rooms, with large
banners featuring text on various aspects of the
immigrant experience and Basque culture, as well as
several audio-visual elements including a video that
greets visitors featuring an interview with a surviving
Basque immigrant who came through Ellis Island.
There was even a
postscript to the perfect Basque day, when visiting Basques were
hosted by the oldest Basque Club in the United States: "Euzko
Etxea" or the Basque Club New York. It was a fitting
conclusion, as New York area Basques opened up their Basque
home. There was more singing, and when Itziar Albisu,
(President of the Euzko Etxea) spoke she said that this event
exemplified the N.A.B.O. motto of "Izan zirelako, gara, eta
garalako izango dira: Because they were, we are, and because we
are, they will be." Basques may have been part of the
quiet multitude that passed through Ellis Island, but we are not
quiet anymore. There we were singing and dancing in the
large auditorium generations after our ancestors passed through
||The Boise "Bihotzetik"
("from the heart") Basque choir opened the inaugural
event with the song "Agur Jaunak" filling the large
auditorium. They also sang a Basque version of
"America the Beautiful." To view a video
clip, click on
at Ellis Island.
As speakers at the event affirmed, the collaboration to make
this event a success was truly impressive. The Autonomous
Basque Government of Euskadi supported the endeavor from the
outset; the Boise Basque Museum marshaled its resources to put
together the exhibit; visiting and local musicians, singers and
dancers enlivened the festivities; area Basques served as hosts;
the pieces came together to make for a perfect Basque day.
Those who contributed to this effort should be rightfully
gratified because it turned out very well indeed.
And this collaboration is not over. For example, it was not just
a "one-and-done" in New York City. The New York Basques
are inviting us back when they host the 2013 N.A.B.O. Convention
in conjunction with their 100th anniversary. So start
saving up your money, and sing along:
"Start spreading the news, I am leaving today, I want to be a
part of it, New York,
Saturday night's dinner included some toasts,
so here's one more:
"Here's to ongoing collaboration, so that together we
can continue to find ways of keeping our "Basqueness"
alive in our communities! Here's to putting the
pieces together for another perfect [Basque] day!"