Place Names

Argentina. Integración social de los inmigrantes vascos

The Basques appear, a priori, as an atypical case of integration. On the one hand, they appear to be linked to certain elements that would predetermine the scarce possibilities of forming a collectivity, understood as a "refuge" against rapid or traumatic integration. Coming from a region that was politically dependent on majority national groups is perhaps the most important. Being a small group and not having - as we shall see later - their own institutions are not minor elements in the sense we have been analysing. However, it is impossible to deny the transcendence that this national group achieved in Argentine society. The labour contribution - expected and opportune - to a situation thirsty for alternative productions and the insertion in highly profitable tasks must have been - together with notable economic progress - part of the explanation. We are convinced that the geographical mobility, the clothing and some typical sports worn by the Basques, as well as the meetings in folklorically distinguished places and the social participation of some of their leaders, were enough to shape an external and internal image of a "strong" collectivity.

But perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Basques' social experience is that, despite the implementation of mechanisms for rapprochement with compatriots, they did not become obstacles to "rapid" social integration. The acts that distinguished the Basque group from the rest of the social spectrum were neutralised by another important number of neighbourhood actions -massive and individual- that were seen by society as clear intentions to take root. Thus, although there were many marriages Basques, the characteristics of their areas of sociability -the inns and hotels, the pilgrimages or the frontons- and their manifest intentions to participate in the scenarios in which they were inserted, lead us to think that this national group must have undergone a process of integration that was not very traumatic compared to the late Danes, the Irish and even -although to a lesser extent- the Spanish and Italians. If we add to this the fact that they did not have their own institutions until well into the 20th century - and therefore leaders could not draw them into their social boundaries - and that in the towns of the interior they participated in every municipal commission and event, the attitudes and intentions - to be observed by the rest of society - were evident.

But as we have already said, there were elements for the Basques themselves and the rest of society to feel the presence of an important community at an early stage. Although they boasted of being "separatists", the rapprochements Basques in the new place were not few, although in general they were not very extraordinary undertakings. We refer, in the first place, to the spontaneous rapprochement fellow countrymen outside their place of origin. These undertakings, in which most Basques - and possibly foreigners - took part, were expressed in regular meetings in the inns, in the fronton, in the workplaces, in the chapel and were reflected, for example, in attitudes such as lending money, hiring compatriots, testifying or signing the paperwork of unlettered Basques.

Informal gatherings such as the pilgrimages must have been ed in shops and inns run by Basques throughout the province. They were certainly not just for entertainment. There they would exchange labour data, for example wages paid in other areas, animal and land prices; they could even be the starting point for employment or association among parishioners and the appropriate place to obtain information about single Basque women. But this social sphere, which was open and whose economic success depended on attracting a cosmopolitan clientele as well, served to exchange the same data with other non-Basque neighbours. Without a limited geographical location, there is an abundance of literature that mentions these meetings in places as distant and different as Barracas al Sud, Flores or Lobería.

We have already said that those places where Basques usually gathered had a series of elements that allowed them to be identified as Euskaros, despite the presence of other immigrants or natives. The ever-present berets, sashes and espadrilles, the sonorous name of the establishment and the games that were played inside were all elements to support such an association. It seems impossible that, even in a space as large and cosmopolitan as the city of Buenos Aires, people hitting a ball against the wall of a dairy or a saladero could go unnoticed; how could a picture of several matungos or - a little later - carts with their milk jugs go unnoticed, together with a group of strapping young men in traditional costumes running after a retobada, and then having a few drinks together? Even in the 20th century, the Basques - sometimes with their descendants - continued to monopolise the game.

It is possible - and to be expected - that the impact of these spaces on the rest of society was different a big city like Buenos Aires and inland towns of the size of Tandil or Lobería, 400 kilometres away from the place of arrival to the south. The port city was, from the outset, clearly differentiated into neighbourhoods; from this point of view, it would seem that its contribution to the shaping of a Basque image -a minority group- of the community would be weakened. In addition to the number of demonstrations -massive as opposed to Basque- coming from other larger groups, there was also a significant co-optation of Basque speakers by Spanish and French institutions. Despite this, the early presence of Basques in Buenos Aires, some trades clearly associated with this group, such as milkmen or salt-works labourers, clothing and pelota courts, would have made it possible to maintain a certain degree of independence. The identification of some neighbourhoods or districts as "Basque" -such as Barracas al Sud- could have temporarily balanced the situation against Italians and Spaniards. As we shall see below, this would have been reinforced - in Buenos Aires and Rosario - by the emergence of the first Basque institutions early on in the big cities. As far as the image of collectivity on a national scale was concerned, this would have been considerably underpinned by the rapid progress of many Basques linked to sheep farming -and livestock breeding in general- who, despite participating in Spanish or national institutions, maintained their Basque identity.

In small towns, where the formation of neighbourhoods was late or non-existent and -for much of the period- there was numerical "parity" Basques and other groups, the impact was quite different. It could be said that Buenos Aires presented -mainly because of the presence of institutions such as Laurak Bat or Euskal Etxea and because Basques who had made considerable progress lived there- a strong image of the Basque community in Argentina. But this image was strongly supported by dozens of small towns in the interior of Buenos Aires where the Basques were able - even without institutions - to be seen by the rest of society.