Place Names

Argentina. Integración social de los inmigrantes vascos

The pilgrimages were, following this line of analysis, a regular meeting place in most of the towns in the province during the second half of the last century and the beginning of this one; and the presence of Basques was constant among the organisers and the attendees. This seems to be a tentative example that the first stage towards structural assimilation was quickly reached by the Basques who arrived before the last quarter of the last century. A review of the collection of the magazine La Vasconia, from 1890 onwards, illustrates festivals that lasted several days and brought together the whole village and organising committees with more than thirty people; but above all, it reveals the predisposition of the Basques towards integration with the rest of society, taking an active part in both the committees and the attendance. The pilgrimages are also presented as another example of continuity in terms of the customs that the Basques carried in their cultural baggage. But like almost all manifestations that can be traced back to some part of Spain and even Euskal Herria itself - sports, meals, labour contracts, etc. - these festivities modified some aspects to adapt to new environments.

With regard to the possible social networks that would trigger these events, consider that until the end of the 19th century, the pilgrimages - as well as the pelota court and the chapel - brought together representatives of different social sectors. These festivities, organised only a couple of times a year, were not, however, an unequivocal symbol of the Basques; on the contrary, as we have seen, they were shared and to a certain extent capitalised by the Spanish group. This weakened them as an image-building element of the Basque community, an image that was being shaped - according to our hypothesis - with a predominance of "cultural" elements. But to say that the Spaniards capitalised on the organisation of the pilgrimages in favour of their cultural heritage is to transfer a current problem - at least after Sabino de Arana - to a period when surely being Spanish and Basque or French and Basque were not antithetical positions. During almost the entire period of immigration, the Pyrenean people had formed -for several hundred years- a region -divided into provinces- of Spain. The concept of an encompassing homeland seems to define well what must have happened to a Basque-speaking majority until almost the end of the period we are analysing.

But the immigrants were people and as such, with more or less fortune in business and with more or less pretensions of reaching social spaces in the new place. This is a reality that we must always bear in mind in order to understand that the immigrants were not a homogeneous group acting in unison, but people with personal or family projects who sometimes came together to carry out an experience and who today are compacted by researchers to try to visualise their experience. Feeling themselves Basque or Spanish - or both - at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, some of the protagonists of those festivities in important cities achieved certain material progress, began to disengage themselves from the pilgrimages and to frequent clubs and other more select and less ethnic places. However, in some parts of the interior, in the first decades of the 20th century, Spanish and Italian pilgrimages were still frequent and successful. But 1910 and 1920, something must have happened for the Basques to have their own pilgrimages for the first time in some of these more remote places: the echoes of Sabino de Arana's preaching, the climate of nationalism that was invading every corner of the planet, the celebration of Argentina's centenary celebrations with international personalities and public displays of their compatriots, or perhaps it was the Spanish and French who distanced themselves from the Basques? Possibly a little of each played a part in bringing about the change that was to deepen after 1940.

The neighbourhood or zonal grouping of the dwellings also appears, at first sight, as another characteristic that allows us to assume a rapprochement immigrants. In the census cards of the First National Census, Basque surnames frequently appear (both in Barracas al Norte, Barracas al Sud and Chascomús), completing entire pages of the notebooks and then disappearing and so on. If the route followed by the person in charge of taking the Census is logically reconstructed, it is clear that many Basques were to be found occupying the same block or block, even the same houses. By not discriminating inhabitants by dwelling, the same source makes possible the cohabitation -subletting of rooms- frequent in almost all immigrant groups. Such neighbourhood or zonal grouping of dwellings must have been a phenomenon that made it possible to suspect an intermingling fellow countrymen. In fact, many "ethnic neighbourhoods" were formed precisely from the sharing of housing newly arrived immigrants and others who had previously settled, a phenomenon that naturally led to the acquisition of land nearby. This use of adjoining plots of land - often cheap - and the pressure from local lenders to acquire them quickly, seems to overshadow the possibility that geographical proximity was an attempt at ethnic cohesion, at least in the early stages. In new towns such as Tandil or Lobería, it is also to be expected that the size of the settlement would make it easy to bring together the neighbours of one's choice. We know that the settlement of plots of land followed a certain logic in the demand of the new neighbours, who wanted to live near the stream or the main street, generally the most accessible.But although these and other explanations can be attributed to the residential proximity immigrants, it seems clear that there were centripetal forces that led to trying to be close to a fellow countryman. The Basques and their descendants interviewed for a study on inns and hotels in Tandil recalled with emotion how gratifying it was to move around in a "Basque atmosphere" such as that which could be breathed in Paz Street, Pinto and Mitre. There were shops and inns run by locals as well as many Basque neighbours. The posters of those establishments (El Bilbaino; Hotel Euskalduna; Hotel Kaiku; Hotel Maritorena) that could be seen in barely 200 metres would serve as a shelter for more than one nostalgic person. The symbolic elements carried and reproduced by the Basques in the new place constructed and underpinned, unconsciously, an image of collectivity for themselves and the rest of the people. A geographical concentration of another national group that did not, unlike the Basques, have typical attire or marked building characteristics - even with resonant surnames - could well have gone unnoticed. But in reality - with the exception of a few tradesmen or artisans - people tend to reside in one place but work and spend a large part of their days in another. This meant that living close to a paisano would not equate to being treated more highly than a work colleague or inevitably lead to getting a Basque woman as a partner in that neighbourhood, or other issues. What hindered integration with the rest of society was not the sharing of a party wall with another Basque, but refusing to participate in institutions or neighbourhood committees, not sending one's children to churches or schools with the rest of the neighbourhood, or simply having strong intentions about not wanting to learn the local language. In some ways, attitudes that Irish and Danish immigrants had in the same places and at the same times.

But other types of contact Basques can also be recorded. Two frequent moments reconstruct the rapprochement them in both vital and less transcendental circumstances. Let us look at some examples taken from testamentary documents from immigrants who arrived in the second half of the 19th century. Juan Etchart (a French Basque) died shortly before 1920, already a widower and childless; in such a situation he willed his only assets - a house and a debt in his favour of 2000 pesos - to his fellow countryman and friend Gregorio Etchevest. Another French Basque, Fernando Etchevest died on 6 July 1878, of angina, at the age of 55. Two Basques, Santiago Hourcade and Bernardo Mignatborde, signed as witnesses to his death. When Lorenzo Etchart, a native of Isturits (1886), who lived at Victoria 104 in the city of Buenos Aires, died, the merchant Guillermo Landerreche and the baker Bautista Etchart signed as witnesses. When Candelario Echeverría, from Navarre, aged only 28, died in January 1894, two witnesses were called, Larrea and Iriarte, both Basques. Did the neighbours or relatives who reported the deaths name these witnesses because they had knowledge of a closer relationship with the Basques who had died? It is possible that the call of fellow countrymen and women was a way of concealing the circumstances of the death from their relatives and acquaintances in their place of origin, since in many cases they must have been responsible for sending the bad news to their villages. But as we said, the Basques were also ed in less transcendental or crucial circumstances. If we observe, on the other hand, what is reflected in some protocol documents found in the archive of the city of Azul, we will see many other examples of daily collaboration. In Tandil, in 1876, the Basque José Salsamendi asked his fellow countryman Juan Gardey - because he could not read - to intercede with the Banco Provincia in a transaction of 100,000 pesos; but on the same day he did the same with a native, Luis Miguens. Some time earlier, the same Salsamendi had asked his compatriot Basilio Urruti to intercede in another similar operation. That same year (1875) José Salsamendi initiated a Protesto to another Basque, Salvador Ibarlin, for 20,600 pesos in equal value received six months earlier. Another Basque, José A. Lavallén, signed for Ibarlin. On 6/5/1876, in the same town of Tandil, a special power of attorney was issued by Miguel Aldunsin to Graciano Ayzaguer (both Basques) because he did not know how to write, to intercede in a document before the Banco Provincia. Six days later, in a lease transaction - for a plot of land and brick kiln - the Basque Arrillaga (owner) and his compatriots Altolaguirre and Achaga (interested parties) for 30,000 pesos a year, two Spanish (non-Basques) people signed in place of Altolaguirre and Achaga who did not know how to do so. As can be seen, the Basque immigrants we are trying to recover led a daily life that was spent on the edge of contacts with their fellow countrymen and other people, according to convenience; they could go to ask a favour from a fellow countryman or any other neighbour. But we must not forget that reconstructing history does not mean piecing together the documents found. There must have been an infinite number of transactions and daily contacts that were not written down, that were done by word of mouth. We do know, and this is important, that these documents found must have been representative of what happened on a daily basis.

A third type of approach refers to the for loans, a situation that did not only involve fellow countrymen, nor did it always have ethnically harmonious endings. Some examples also taken from testamentary documentation will suffice to imagine these recurrent situations. When Beltrán Etchemendi, a French Basque, 52 years old and already ill, decided the fate of his assets, he d that he owed Emilio Ayhens (possibly French) 300,000 pesos, a sum that had been provided at interest, 2 or 3 months earlier, in March 1878. But he also d that he owed Juan Iribarne, from Lomas de Zamora, the sum of 10,000 pesos. For his part, when the French Basque Bernardo Echegoin, 44 years old, settled in La Matanza, made his will in 1878, he d (among other assets) "a mortgage obligation constituted by Juan Echeverri in his favour for 170. 000 pesos; he also d that he owned several promissory notes: one for ,000 (n/d), one for ,000 and another for 8,000 signed by Pedro Altapano (probably Basque), as well as a debt of ,000 from the Basque Pedro Isuribehere", of which "there is no document but which the debtor acknowledges". Lending money could be a sign of ethnic solidarity but also a profitable possibility; it is clear from the moment that interest was involved.

In any case, the main cause of the frequency of this phenomenon must have been - together with the custom of the practice of portada - the absence of an official lender (bank or other), mainly in the interior of the province, which led to the need to ask for help from neighbours or fellow countrymen. In most of the interior of Buenos Aires, grocers, and later on, hoteliers and hotelkeepers, made up for this credit deficiency. This last possibility, the most feasible, also tells us about the complexity of the networks in which immigrants were immersed, especially before 1880/90 when space forced them to find solutions to the deficiencies. It also reminds us that many mechanisms that appear as tokens of ethnic fraternity were far from being obstacles to rapid integration.