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The aurresku performed at exhibit opening. Photo: KoitzPhoto Koitz


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" immigration exhibit.

Related links:
 Ellis Island-eko euskal erakusketa
EuskalKazeta: "Pride, Fanfare Mark Opening of Basque Exhibit"
EiTB:  "Basque immigrant history exhibit on New York's Ellis Island
Ellis Island passenger lists: www.ellisisland.org
Basque Museum exhibit website:
Basque Immigration Exhibit
Video slide-show of the weekend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8zrgBX7VoE
Tara Morgan's article in www.boiseweekly.com

"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. 

N.A.B.O. President 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 opening ceremonies.

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 www.ellisisland.org).  Today, over 40 percent of America's population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. 

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.

The afternoon 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 Oinkari entrance.  Photo EuskalKultura.com

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 Jaialdi 2010.

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). >

Guillermo Echenique and Patricia Lachiondo unveil the exhibit. Photo: Koitz <Ribbon
with Patricia
& Guillermo

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 1920!

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.

The festivities 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 something special.

The 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.

Euskal ikuskizun eta festa edergarri larunbatean New Yorken Ellis Island-eko euskal erakusketa inauguratzeko

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 these halls.

Basque choir in the great hall. Photo: Koitz 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 Biotzetik 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; etc.  All 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, 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!"


Hidden in Plain Sight

Hidden in Plain Sight

Migration Exhibit