Nowadays, maintaining instantaneous and reliable connectivity with loved ones back home is a dream come true for anyone among the Basque Diaspora.
A group of youth from a Brooklyn Basque group in 1940. Photo: EuskalEtxeak.net
Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal, a research scholar at the University of Deusto, was completely surprised when he got an e-mail from social networking giant Facebook at the beginning of the summer showing their interest on the Basque people and their diaspora. As surprised as the Basque scholar was Dionisio Choperena in 2000, when he was contacted by AT&T. Choperena, a Basque immigrant that went to the United States at 17 to work as a shepherd, became the star of its quarter-billion-dollar campaign to introduce wireless service.
Both Oiarzabal and Choperena shared something else on Tuesday when Facebook released the latest installment of their "Facebook Stories" initiative, this one involving the Basque diaspora. "I was stunned, Facebook, the largest social network in the Internet history, interested in the Basque diaspora?" says the Basque scholar.
Jeffrey Gerson, Editor Producer at the Communications Department at Facebook, commissioned Dr. Pedro J. Oiarzabal to write a story on the Basques and technologies for a new initiative called Facebook Stories— "a new distribution platform for us where we'll be hosting high-quality written and video stories about the interesting or amazing ways in which people are using Facebook".
For Gerson, it seemed "as though the activities of the Basque diaspora fit that exactly as a way to look into issues of cultural and language preservation on Facebook." For Oiarzabal it was "a challenge," he admits.
It was a two-month project for Dr. Oiarzabal,one of the most relevant experts at this subject who has just co-edited with Dr.Ulf-Dietrich Reips, from the University of Deusto, a special issue titled "Migration and the Internet: Social Networking and Diasporas" for the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, which also includes an article on diaspora Basques on Facebook. Oiarzabal is also the author of “Diasporas in the New Media Age.”
"In a digital ecosystem of over 900 million active users monthly, and with dozens of larger diasporas (for instance the Jewish, Irish, and Chinese) than that of the Basque, the simple fact of featuring it on a new initiative is something to be proud of. It is remarkable!" Oiarzabal argues.
The Basque researcher found strong support from the Facebook team throughout the entire writing process, being very receptive to his ideas, and showing great deal of sensitive about the Basque culture itself. Indeed, "The Basque Diaspora: Finding a Digital Home" has also been translated into Basque by Facebook.
For his article, the Basque scholar chooses Dioniso Choperena as a member of the Basque diaspora. "Choperena, a humble shepherd, being chosen to become the central
strategy of one of the biggest phone companies in the world to promote mobile phones is a Cinderella story, something that puts the Basques in the middle of the technology world. We go from being the “black baskos” of the American West to the elite of the technorati", explains Dr. Oiarzabal.
Back in 2000, Choperena's mobile phone meant the distance between him and his relatives across the Atlantic suddenly bridged. Now, as Oiarzabal explains maintaining instantaneous and reliable connectivity with loved ones back home is a dream come true for anyone among the Basque diaspora.
The article goes on to review the efforts that Basques have made to retain connection with their homeland and the resourced that they have used to overcome the barriers of distance. It includes references to the 128 Basque associations present on Facebook; to Blas Uberuaga, a Basque born in Idaho who built the first Basque website in 1994; to Henar Chico, a blogger that moved to Idaho over a decade ago; or to José Antonio Alcayaga, who created in 2008 the Facebook group “Alcayagas of the World” to unite those who share his last name.
"The history of the Basques has always been mobile, both inside of and across geographical borders. From early commercial entrepreneurship in Europe, whale hunting in Newfoundland to Atlantic trade between the New and Old worlds, Basques carved out new lives in widely diverse ends of the labor industry, in widely disparate places. Now, with an
organized presence in over twenty countries throughout Europe, North and South America, Asia and Oceania, the web has, for many, become 'home'", the article concludes.