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Basque Studies Debut

Linda A. Cicero

MOTHER’S LAND: Totoricagüena with guest lecturer Felix Bilbao, Nevitt and Etchemendy.

One student was interested in taking the new course because she owned an Orbea bicycle, handcrafted in Basque country. Some of the other 17 students had Basque boyfriends or grandfathers, or had been to Basque parties and enjoyed the pintxos (tapas) and Rioja wine.

Then there were a handful of nonenrolled students, including several from the general public. Real estate magnate John Arrillaga, ’60, one of the University’s top donors, had played basketball in Bilbao, Spain, in 1960 and said he wanted to learn more about the homeland of his ancestors. Professor of Spanish Michael Predmore was there to soak up the culture. And Provost John Etchemendy, PhD ’82, faculty sponsor for the class, said he couldn’t recall a single Basque class in the past 30 years, adding, “It’s about time.”

So began Spanish Literature 47SI: Introduction to Basque Studies. With an orange, green and white flag hanging above a display of pertinent titles—Boise Basques: Dreamers and Doers; Life and Food in the Basque Country; Picasso’s War; Euskaldunak: The Basque People—the classroom called to mind a village cafe in the rugged Pyrenees, where citizens on both sides of the Spanish-French border speak an ancient language and debate the tactics of ETA, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom), which has been fighting for independence from Spain for almost 40 years.

Offered by the Spanish and Portuguese department, the student-initiated course is the result of four years of lobbying by senior Casey Nevitt, whose great-grandparents were immigrants from the Basque country. Taught by Gloria Totoricagüena, director of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada at Reno, it’s designed to cover 100,000 years of Basque history in 10 weeks, from prehistoric paintings in the Altamira Cave to the sleek Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. “Having a class at Stanford is a huge success for the world of Basque studies,” said Totoricagüena, whose parents survived Franco’s 1937 bombing of Guernika. “It represents a presence in the academic world.”

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