KCET, a public television station in California, and one of the most important in the US, has published a really interesting report on their website about the fleeting history of an area of LA the author of the article, Cedric Drake, called “French Town”. This name, to our mind, is a misnomer, because, as he himself states in his article, the population was made up of Basques.
Throughout most of the 19th century, most Basques came from the Northern (French) Basque Country, Iparralde, and just as those from the Southern (Spanish) Basque Country, Hegoalde, they were euskaldunes: their mother tongue was Basque. This can be clearly seen in an awful report written in the middle of the French Revolution on the existence of languages that were harmful to the Republic.
In the article itself, KCET jumps from one side of the border separating the Basque communities with great ease. It’s not easy from outside to distinguish which side of the Pyrenees which Basques are from. They all speak a strange tongue with unusual sounds; they’re all hard workers who are used to putting in an effort; they enjoy outdoor spaces; they tend to join up and form communities for mutual aid and support; they have a tendency to integrate well within their adopted homeland without losing contact with their homeland and traditions. Moreover, it focuses on elements that clearly identify the initial Basque presence in the US: shepherds, inns, and jai alai courts. Even in the part of the article on the structure the Basque descendants have today, it can be seen how references to Basques from all different regions get shared and mixed-up.
We do understand that at that time, it must have been hard to explain one was Basque, unless speaking with another. For those who took them in, they were either Spanish or French. After all, that’s what their passports said. The Basques were not as well-known in the US as the Irish, which was under the British yoke at that time. Also, the number of immigrants was smaller, and so too was their influence on society.
It has been the determination of the Basques of the diaspora to keep their roots alive that, over time, has meant that, in some parts of the US, when one speaks of a Basque, they are considered Basque, regardless of which side of the Pyrenees they come from.
But there was one thing that left us concerned: that cesta punta is a variation of the Basque handball that was born in the US. Similarly, we believe that stating that pelota vasca comes from the French “jeu de paume”, that is at the very least highly questionable, as it is usually accepted that the juego de pelota was extended all across Europe during Roman times.
In any case, this is an amazing article covering a fascinating aspect of the presence of the Basques in Los Angeles and the history of their arrival to the US West Coast.
KCET – 4/4/2012 – USA
Boarding Houses and Handball Courts: The Fleeting Story of Los Angeles’ French Town
Stroll down any street in Los Angeles, and you see diversity. You hear different languages, whether at a gas station, 7-Eleven, or supermarket; you are submerged in a multicultural environment. Ethnic groups such as Mexicans, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, and Germans all shaped L.A. in some way, but with few traces of their once vast influence remaining, one group is often left out of the equation: the French. So how did they contribute to the growth of Los Angeles? Was it through art or agriculture? Or religion?