This December, the Basques in Antioquia are celebrating a very important event: the 15th anniversary of the Center for Basque Studies, which has been working hard to preserve the legacy of the Basques in Colombia.
The cultural, social, and even genetic footprint left by the Basques in the Andes is hugely important. Despite that, there is very little awareness in the Basque Country of the important contributions of the Basques in South America over the past four centuries.
This may be due to the fact that the last great migration of Basques, the one caused by the Francoist insurgents, was aimed mostly at other South American countries, like Venezuela and Argentina, even thought there was an interesting yet frustrated attempt to create a colony of Basque exiles in Colombia. This project even got a name: “Guernicabarri (New Guernica)”.
Therefore, the strong roots that join Colombia and the Basque Country are overlooked. Nevertheless, this close bond has left an extremely important “genetic fingerprint” for the study of Alzheimer’s and even with the organ at the Bogotá Cathedral. And let’s not forget the school-ship of the Colombian Navy, or the language expert who taught himself Basque and considers it to be “his favorite”.
These are just a few of the topics we’ve collected regarding this important legacy. But, as we’ve said, those who are making a real effort to maintain and share this Basque contribution to Colombia are the members of the Center for Basque Studies of Antioquia (CEVA: Centro de Estudios Vascos de Antioquia), who combine their passion for research with hard work opening up Basque Centers throughout the country. Starting up Basque Centers is the same as awakening the memory of belonging to the history of the Basque Community, of reminding the descendants of our compatriots who traveled to that country throughout the centuries of that. A Basque Center is always a nexus of diffusion of Basque culture and a place where people discover and nurture their roots.
So, more than just thanking them for their effort and dedication, we also wanted to do something special for their 15th anniversary, something that goes beyond words. That’s why we’ve asked one of those hard workers, John Alejandro Ricuarte, to prepare an article for us that would summarize this long and fruitful decade and a half.
15 Years of the Center for Basque Studies of Antioquia
TheCenter for Basque Studies of Antioquia is a research group founded in 2004 by John Alejandro Ricaurte and Catalina Fernández, and since then, it has been responsible for founding two Basque Centers in Antioquia that are currently recognized by the Basque Government. It’s also taken charge of offering Basque language courses, and has participated in research, outreach, and circulation of all the cultural manifestations of both people (the Basques and those from Antioquia). Currently, it is participating in the Gure Mendietakoak Basque Cultural Center Foundation (Fundación Centro de la Cultura Vasca Gure Mendietakoak), which is in charge of developing projects for the Basque language as well as the research, publication, and circulation of Basque culture. During these fifteen years, the Center for Basque Studies Group has carried out several academic events, with local guests and guests from the Basque Country; it has published virtual magazines, bulletins, blogs, and books; and it has participated in local book fairs and other events organized by public and private entities. All this undoubtedly represents a monumental amount of work due to the amount of material that has been compiled and published, to the cultural events, to the transmission of the knowledge gained both locally and internationally, but especially, to the recovery of the historical memory of both territories. The result is that today, the region is recognized as one of the places in the world where Basques migrated to, were take in, and where they left behind positive stereotypes and values.
In Medellín in mid-2004, the Center for Basque Studies in Antioquia was founded by a group of students from the University of Antioquia under the leadership of John Alejandro Ricaurte and Catalina Fernández. At first, it was dedicated to researching and recovering the Basque presence in Antiouquia and Colombia. In 2005, the CEV’s website was launched, through which the history and presence of the local Basque culture was shared. At that time, the CEV continued carrying out projects and getting in contact with interested people from near and far, which served as a base for creating a virtual community where information about and fondness for the Basque culture was shared.
Creation of the Euskal Etxeak of Antioquia
In 2009, the first statutes for creating the first Basque House in Medellín were drawn up, and the first contacts made with the Basque community of that city to invite them to formalize it and get the recognition of the Basque Government. That same year, the institution itself was founded and is still in operation. In 2010, John Alejandro and Catalina stopped working at the Basque House in Antioquia to continue their research and sharing work via the Center for Basque Studies of Antioquia.
In 2012, John Alejandro Ricaurte, Catalina Fernández, Sebastián Machado, Víctor Chavarría, Iñaki Fernández, and a dozen more founded the Gure Medietakoak Basque Center, located in Caldas, Antioquia, in the Medellín Metropolitan Area.
Basque Weeks and Participation in Community Events
In 2006, the CEV organized its first Basque Cultural Week. The event started with a conference titled “The Basque-Navarrese Presence in Colombia”. It was organized by Alejandro Ricaurte, and ended with a presentation of Basque musicians, led by University of Antioquia music researcher and presenter Margarita Velásquez.
At the end of 2007, new conferences were organized about the Basque presence in Antioquia, at the University of Antioquia and the Medellín Fine Arts Institute. One speaker at the event was Pererira-born José Miguel Ramírez, who offered a talk on the Basque language and its influence on the region. There was also a photo exhibit run by David Ricaurte, a culinary presentation, and a film festival, with short- and feature-length Basque films.
On April 30, 2011, the CEVA took part in the Global Village Fair, put together by the EAFIT University, by having a stand showing Basque dances, mythology, and photography, showing the culture and contributions of the foreign communities in Medellín. There was also an etymological exhibit about the most common Basque surnames in Antioquia led by historian John Alejandro Ricaurte, who has put together a database of almost 3,000 immigrants, thanks to more than a decade of work on the Basque presence in Antioquia, from the first colonies to the modern day.
In August 2013, the “Basque Festival of Antioquia — Antiokiako Euskaldun Jaia” was held. On the 23rd, poet Kepa Murua gave a presentation at the University of Antioquia, and on the 24th, there was a music recital and culinary fair, and on the 25th, there was a presentation about Basque dance and mythology.
From September 10-14, 2014, the second “Antiokiako Euskaldun Jaia” was held, with the main event on Friday, September 12, with an event at the Akelarre Restaurant, where folk musicians Kordazero played. The trio is a part of the Basque Center, and they played several Basque songs by Jesús Guride and other Colombian folk songs.
From 2015 to 2019, the event was held at the end of the year, and was called the Basque Festival of Antioquia, with the same goals regarding the promotion, spreading, and celebration of the Basque culture in the region.
Participation in the Antioquia Book Fairs
On Apil 24-25, 2015, the “Días del Libro” Book Fair was held in Medellín; it’s the second largest in the city after the “Fiestas del Libro”, the second most important in Colombia, and the fourth largest in South America. The Gure Medietakoak Basque Center participated in this popular event with a stand, in order to help share the Basque culture of Antioquia thanks to Basque literature, books in Basque, and the book “Vasco Navarros en Antioquia, 1890-1970. Una aproximación a la historia de migrantes, religiosos y exiliados (Basque-Navarrese in Antioquia, 1890-1970: an approach to the history of migrants, religious, and exiles)”.
On May 13-14, 2016, the 10th Días del Libro Fair was held in Medellín, in order to help encourage reading and culture in the city. The Gure Mendietakoak Basque Center had a stand sharing information about the goals, activities, and path of the Basque Center. Basque culture was also shared with a showing of Basque literature, books in Basque, and the presentation of research findings in “Vasco Navarros en Antioquia, 1890-1970. Una aproximación a la historia de migrantes, religiosos y exiliados (Basque-Navarrese in Antioquia, 1890-1970: an approach to the history of migrants, religious, and exiles)” and “Los Vascos en Antioquia durante el reinado de los Austrias ( 1510-1700) (The Basques in Antioquia during the reign of the Austrias (1510-1700))”.
On November 25-27, 2017, in Caldas, Antioquia, the first reading festival took place to share culture and literature. The Gure Mendietakoak Basque Center again had a stand to share information about the goals, activities, and pat of the center. Basque culture was also shared with literature, books in Basques, and the presentation of the CEVA’s most recent research.
Family Reunions with Basque Descendants
In 2005, the CEVA attended the first Montoya family reunion. The Montoya surname came from Berantevilla, Alava to Colombia in the 17th century. Several individuals in this town starting creating colonies in Antioquia starting at the end of the 16th century, they were all part of the same clan, though bearing the surnames Ortiz, Montoya, Salcedo, Salazar, Jauregui, Ospina, and Caicedo, among others. This is one of the most abundant Basque surnames in the region. The Casa Montoya Foundation was founded in this reunion.
The CEVA also participated in the Casa Montoya Foundation’s encounters held in 2010, 2012, 2016, and 2019. In them, the CEVA shared the results of its research regarding that surname and Basque surnames in the region in general.
Similarly, on September 20, 2016, the CEVA and the Gure Mendietakoak Basque Center attended an event which brought together the Saldarriaga family in Antioquia. A presentation about the Basque origin of this surname was given, highlighting the participation of the heirs of Baztán Valley-born Francisco de Saldarriaga Irigoyen, who reached the region at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th centuries.
The foundation’s books, experience, and knowledge about the Basque migration to Antioquia were presented at both events.
In November 2017, the Gure Mendietakoak Basque Center reached an agreement with the Euskadi School in the city of Medellín to hold events to share Basque culture in the educational community. This agreement was led by John Alejandro Ricaurte Cartagena.
Similarly, in February 2019, an international agreement was reached with the NGO Amets Ederra and the mayor of Ortuella, Biscay, to run extracurricular activities with children and young people at the Euskadi School in Medellín and another in Comuna 13, with the goal of healthy sharing, promotion of values, and the spreading of Basque culture.
Project to Recover Historical Memory 2008-2019
In 2008, several important projects came together for the CEVA, such as recovering the historical memory of the Basques in the local press through the “Basques in the New World Press” project, developed via the Basque Center of Bogotá.
In 2009, we collaborated with the Lead Research project on finding documentary and bibliographic sources about the Spanish Civil War in the Basque Country (1936-1939), being run by the University of the Basque Country.
The CEVA, as a research group tied to the Gure Medietakoak Basque Center, in February 2013, under the leadership of historian John Alejandro Ricaurte, started the project to recover the historical memory of the Basques in Antioquia, consisting of research about the Basque presence in this territory, highlighting their contributions and activities over the past 500 years.
In 2016 and 2017, the compiling of documentary sources and historical archives continued for writing up the second volume of the research project titles “The Basques in Antioquia during the Borbon Administration”, covering the Basque presence from the 18th century to 1810.
At the end of 2018, author John Alejandro Ricaurte finished writing the book “El ideal de lo vasco en la literatura antioqueña (The Ideal of all Things Basque in Literature in Antioquia)”, which is as yet unpublished and looking for a publisher.
In 2019, the research phase was begun to find documentary sources for the third volume of the research project, to be titled “Basque in Antioquia in the Modern Era”, corresponding to studies on the Basque presence in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Presentation of the CEVA’s Books
At the end of 2015, the first volume, titled “Los Vascos en Antioquia bajo reinado los Austrias (1510-1700) (The Basques in Antioquia Under the Reign of the Austrias (1510-1700))”, which had been presented at the World Congress of Basque Communities in 2015, was published.
On December 20, 2017, the CEVA and the Gure Mendietakoak Basque Center presented the book “Los Vascos en Antioquia durante el reinado de los Austrias (1510-1700) (The Basques in Antioquia Under the Reign of the Austrias (1510-1700))” at the University of Antioquia.
On December 18, 2019, the CEVA and the Gure Mendietakoak Basque Center presented the book “Los Vascos en Antioquia durante la administración borbónica (The Basques in Antioquia during the Bourbon Administration)” at the University of Antioquia.
National and International Awards
In 2011, John Alejandro Ricaurte won the Andrés de Irujo prize, awarded by the Basque Government’s Directorate for the Basque Community Abroad, for his work on “Vasco Navarros en Antioquia, 1890-1970. Una aproximación a la historia de migrantes, religiosos y exiliados (Basque-Navarrese in Antioquia, 1890-1970: an approach to the history of migrants, religious, and exiles)”, which showed the contribution and impact the Basque and Navarrese immigrants had in Antioquia at the end of the 19th through the 20th centuries.
In 2017, John Alejandro Ricaurte won the IDEA Prize, awarded by the Institute for the Development of Antioquia, for his historical research in Antioquia, with the work “Hasta los gallinazos tienen rey (Even the Buzzards Have a King)”. This story is based on a Biscayne family, the Zulaibars, who support the royalist guerrillas, with the intention of preventing independence, but that means they have to cut their historical ties with the peninsula and especially with Biscay. Therefore, they also founded a social circle where they could recall the tremendous feats of the people from Biscay had had in legendary times, thereby keeping their links with their ancestors alive.
The CEVA and the Basque Language
One of the areas where the CEVA has been most active is in the promotion, sharing, and teaching of the Basque language in Antioquia. The project started in 2005 when an agreement was reached with the Basque Center of Bogotá to participate in the Euskara Munduan (Basque in the World) project, whose goal is to train Basque teachers to give classes in Basque Centers. On that occasion, John Alejandro Ricaurte, who had also been a Basque teacher during all those years, signed up.
In 2008, the official Basque language course started at the Basque Center in Bogotá, led by John Alejandro Ricaurte. Given that it was the first official Basque language course in Medellín, it got an excellent turnout from the students of the University of Antioquia. About 40 people expressed interest, and in the end 22 people signed up.
The Basque course being taught via the Gure Mendietakoak Basque Center, which continues even today, got started in October 2013, with a total of 14 students taking five hours of class a week. Several dozen students have taken the course, and it has been led by teachers such as Josu González Casado and John Alejandro Ricaurte.
Throughout all these years, the city of Medellín has supported all these Basque language activities, including five korrikas, in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019. In addition, every year since 2005, the International Day of the Basque Language has been celebrated, as well as other international initiatives whose goals are to share and promote Basque in the world.
Colombia, December 2019