|La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti|
the Southern Hemisphere Christmas was in summer, and we felt discriminated
against because the cards had the Magi with their heavy winter clothing and
camels. We wanted lightly clad kings, aboard yachts coming to our shores from
the sea, where we were almost every day at this time. Our postcards instead of
snowy landscape would have had to be sand and palm trees. But
the reality was different, we were told, because the city of Bethlehem this time
of year is very cold with wind and frost from being so close to the desert; and
there was snow in the highlands, and that’s why the manger itself was located atop
a small hill.
for us children was a sweet word that conjured in our mind fond memories and
great food and gifts. For
our parents this time was somewhat bittersweet longing for the far-away parties
they had left behind.
These were the Christmases of exile, as aita called. Our mother when this
time arrived displayed her artistic talents to build a beautiful paper mache
Bethlehem trying to imitate the elements of the country's arid and rocky
landscape into which she put the sacred figures in the manger.
Christmas our good friend Arteche would show up at our home with delicious sweet
bread, a dessert food that always accompanied the rich menu that ama prepared.
sang and waited until midnight, sometimes praying the rosary after we were older
before opening gifts. When we little we went to bed very early to open the toys
the next day.
because of his age, was the fastest-changing, first when he started to crawl.
Then when he was taking his first steps it was a pleasure to watch him as
he felt victorious with these achievements. He
was a happy child. It
was easy to love him. I loved to observe the teaching, patience and motherly
love that ama used to teach him the names of different things, and sing to him
little songs like "Txalopin Txalo" “Anton Pirulero" and how
successful it was for all of us when she responded positively to his efforts.
South American environment I learned different games from those that were played
in Europe, or at least many of them had different names.
Not more game of marbles, but now we played payana
and used stones instead of jacks; el truco,
which they said was a gaucho game; blind man's bluff; and a la mancha, (Dutch ball).
This was my favorite and I played it a lot at school.
Nearly all of them today are out of style except jump rope and hopscotch.
The latter we play with our grandchildren perhaps because it began in the
primitive world of the Roman Empire and the Roman soldiers used it as military
imitated it and it soon spread throughout Europe and the Americas.
brothers and sister were emerging and developing, as I was. Bingen generally
took everything in life very seriously, including religion from an early age.
He was clear in his speech, quiet, very intelligent, independent, drew
the highest marks in all subjects, and when he was asked grades he had received
in a given subject he would point his finger at the large sign painted on a
building across the street where one could read the word OPTIMO (the best,
equivalent to A+).
He also liked sports, especially handball. Xabier played with the cars he had and putting things
together was his passion.
He had the soul of an engineer; he was very playful and had a very jovial
followed Bingen everywhere and they played together very well. Arantza
had now replaced her doll with a notebook and pencil. She
lived in her imaginary world with characters that she read about, and she gave
them life in his stories. She wrote much prose, but she also wrote poems.
Her first poem was dedicated to the hands of our mother, which ama kept
in her purse so she could show it proudly to her friends. My
age difference with my brothers and sister became more obvious every day.
I started high school, I went at different times to school and every day
my friends were becoming more important in my life.
parents would not let us forget that we were an exiled family dreaming of our
return to Euskadi. At home, ama, who cooked very well, prepared mainly Basque
when we were out with friends we ate pizza, which as I remember it was not round
but square, we also liked faina, dulce de leche, and empanadas, all foods that
were typical native Uruguayan that we did not eat at home.
I ate Uruguayan food when I was with our friends, the Biraben on
their chacra, a ranch in Uruguay, in
the Department of Canelones, about 48 kilometers from the city of Montevideo.
I got to try yerba mate, a kind of tea served in a gourd used as a cup to
serve the drink, and with a silver straw to drink in the afternoon accompanied
by delicious sweet rolls. Ma Luisa was very fond of ama and they worked together
in the basque Center, Euskal Erria. She was my sponsor for Confirmation. Her
youngest daughter, Graciela, was two years older than I and when they visited
the farm they always invited me to go with them. Graciela and her mom were great
fans of French music of the moment, and when I was with them on the farm we
listened constantly to Maurice Chevalier and the ballads of Edith Piaf, songs
that Graciela and I were able to memorize completely.
we were on the farm we went shopping in the only shop in the town of San
Jacinto, five miles from the farm. This small town of San Jacinto had a church,
which we attended on Sunday, a small school next to a plaza and a club where
once Graciela and I went to watch as the townsfolk danced.
the two weeks of vacation that our father had each year the Biraben family
extended the invitation to the whole family, and we had the whole farm for us.
And everything the farm produced that our good friends left at our disposal.
It was very beneficial for the health of our father to breathe the peace
and tranquility of this place. The farm had a windmill to pump water and
electricity for the small villa of the Biraben family. The vast plantation was
for the production of table grapes, muscat grapes that were on the grapevine. My
first paid job was picking grapes in this vineyard.
We put the grapes in large baskets; my salary was one peso per basket,
and there sitting on small stools in the vineyard, Graciela and I did, sometimes
spent all day until snack time, when we had creole cakes waiting for us baked by
Maria, the lady who was the cook and housekeeper. Beautiful fruit trees were all
around the place, where ama picked the fruit in thinking of the delicious jam
she would make later.
On a nearby ranch lived an Italian family who were refugees from the
Second World War. They were a family of five people who took care of the place
and helped harvest the crops too.
liked the competition and challenge. At school I enthusiastically participated
in the basketball games. And I was enthusiastic and we played soccer from time
to time among the siblings. Bingen and I were very enthusiastic about sports;
ama and aita were also interested, perhaps remembering their younger days when
they were fans of Arenas. Bingen was a fan of Peñarol and I liked Nacional (the
two principal Uruguayan soccer teams).
I liked them more for the color of their uniforms, which were sky blue
and white. Peñarol's uniforms were black and yellow. Xabier supported whoever
won. Arantza was not interested in sports. In 1930 Uruguay was champion of the
first World Cup in history. In 1950 it was the first world champion after the
Second World War since many European countries were in ruins. Germany was
prevented from participating as a repudiation of the crimes committed during the
Second World War by the Nazi leaders. On the “dia del Carmen,” July 16,
1950, Uruguay had beaten Brazil 2-1 in the championship game in the newly opened
Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the largest in the world at that time, which
was crowded with 250,000 fans. The end was so unexpected that there were
suicides among Brazilians, and death threats for the coach and some players of
the Brazilian team. Some friends invited me to go to receive the Uruguayan
champions at Carrasco Airport. When the plane arrived with the heroes of the
moment, the emotion and commotion were awesome. I felt a mixture of excitement
and fright. At the foot of the plane was a bus waiting for the players. As they
descended the aircraft steps factory horns started sounding in unison with the
horns of cars. The players quickly got on the bus and everyone went to the
was truly a Sunday of glory. When I got home everyone was celebrating. Bingen
who was 5 years old told me happily that he had heard on the radio with aita
when the goals were scored. Our parents were celebrating this victory with
almost the same enthusiasm that had hailed the "Arenas" team years
before, singing "Uruguayans, champions of America and the world ..."
lives were a combination of Uruguayan friends and the friends of Eukal Erria
(Basque Centre of Montevideo), founded on March 30, 1912. Euskal Erria began to
promote Basque language courses when they formed an entity called Euskaltxaleak
(Friends of the Basque Language) in order to spread the maintenance, development
and exaltation of the Basque language. Aita was the honorary president of this
entity. At the same time I started school I started going to Basque classes on
Wednesdays taught by aita. I would leave school at 4:30 and go straight to the
house of the Beldarrain sisters who were waiting for me with a tasty snack.
Together we did the homework for the class. At 6:30 we would leave for the
Basque class, which had two dozen students, including ama. I remember Karmele
Storace, two Oxacelay sisters, three Beldarrain sisters, Estela Gomez Haedo, José
Mendiola, and Dr. Michael Banas, who was the best informed person in Euskal
Erria the origins of the Basques in Uruguay. He was always dressed in a suit and
bow tie, which gave him an air of elegance and eccentricity.
He never wore a hat, coat or gloves even if it was a very cold winter. I
was the only girl in the class and and I kept going until aita left Uruguay. The
study book, which I still have, was "The Basque Language," with
grammar, conversation and dictionary by Isaac López Mendizabal.
I also attended the classes of culture that our father gave in the
auditorium of the University. Aita taught with energy, love and enthusiasm; you
could see that it was his life.
Tuesdays La Tata had the day off, so I was responsible for taking my brothers
and sister to the plaza. Crossing the heavily trafficked Canelones Street was
dangerous, and once under my care and to my horror, Bingen slipped away from my
hand and was hit by a taxi driver, but without serious consequences.
I had a great shock. For a few weeks he wore a cast which his friends
filled with their autographs. After this episode aita told us of the legend of
the Man of the Bag, a folk character.
If my siblings did not obey me, the man with the bag was going to put
them in a big sack and carry them to an unknown location. Although our brother
Bingen did not like following instructions, this idea scared him, and there were
no further accidents. Sitting on the grass in the park I would tell stories to
them and their friends, six in all. It was not difficult to talk about the rich
experiences of a world where I had lived and that in a certain way still missed,
and they did not know.
I got their full attention of all except the Xabier who, more than
hearing my stories he liked to play with his collection of cars which fascinated
him and he spent his time playing with them at my side.
compensate for my work caring for my younger siblings, from time to time our
parents took me to the theater at night.
I always liked the theater. María Luisa Iribarne Battle Berres,
sister-in-law of the then-president of the Republic, Luis Battle Berres,
provided the tickets.
Our parents were devoted to attending the shows. Of all the shows the
ones that I remember were the comedies of "Paquito Busto" where aita
and I laughed a lot. We also went to the ballet and musical theater at Teatro
Solís. Sometimes we had tickets for the circus, but neither ama nor my sister
and I were very fond of it. Our father and brothers enjoyed enough of this
father's health began to suffer with so much work and responsibility. He had
dizziness, ringing in the ears, and nervous tension. The doctors said the ear
problems were produced by his stomach and ordered him complete diet and rest.
The continuous tests to which he was subjected meant that the medical costs kept
rising and aita decided to sell his two apartments in Algorta. They did not sell
well at the time, but there wasn’t much he could do from so far away.
those days (1950) the United Nations, established to maintain international
peace and security admitted Spain as a member, and then came the recognition of
the Franco government by the United States because of the Cold War, to
strengthen the European countries against communism. These steps killed the
hopes for political exiles like my parents to return to their homeland. Aita was
sad because his dreams were shattered. It was hard for me not to feel the
sadness and disappointment that surrounded our parents, but I did not want to
feel the same. It was not easy for me to talk to my friends about it, because
they did not even understand the meaning of the word "exile"; they
barely understood the meaning of the word "Basque" because I told them
about it from time to time. In Uruguay, the saying "the word of a
Basque" was well known and it meant that a Basque could be trusted; what he
promised he fulfilled. The two terms, “Basque” and “exile” were the
center of life in our home, but they were unfamiliar words out in the world
where we lived with our friends in Uruguay. With our parents we lived
differently. We had a fully connected life with the world of Basque language and
culture and social development in the Basque Center, Euskal Erria.
was a member of the Women’s Social Welfare Committee, which was the principal
project of the Center, which began at that time the work of helping the elderly
Basques living in nursing homes. In February 1951 she was named president of the
Committee for Charity and Instruction of Euskal Erria and there was more
emphasis to participate in Euskal Erria. Since I was old enough, I did it in
various capacities in the Basque Center. I was part of a dance group led by
txistulari (player of Basque musical instrument, the txistu) Antonio Michelena,
chairman of the Festival Committee. These dances were offered in the various
Basque festivals during the year held by Euskal Erria, held on the outskirts of
the city in the playground of Malvin which had a huge field.
The whole family attended the many festivities. My friends and I helped
by serving 30 to 40 tables dressed in poxpoliñas (traditional Basque dresses).
The participants played rummy canasta, a card game invented in Montevideo in
1940, that spread to the rest of the world to be very popular in 1950s and that
soon became one of the great parlor games played everywhere.
was a huge turnout that filled the Euskal Erria meeting room, which had been
recently decorated in rustic style reminiscent of a caserio (Basque farmhouse).
I remember serving pizzas, sandwiches and desserts such as pastries that my
friends and I savored with our eyes as we served. They were brought from
"La Mallorquina,” one of the most famous pastry shops in Montevideo. Ama
was tireless in this social work and went from shop to shop getting awards for
give during these events. Seeing
her so full of vigor Ma Luisa Biraben once told me that despite the "sweet
fragility" that ama exhibited, she was a woman of extraordinary strength
games brought in money that was used for distribution of Christmas baskets that
were given to elderly Basque living in nursing homes or who were relatives of
members. These baskets were filled with candies, dried and glazed fruits,
pastries and English style puddings entirely appropriate for the Christmas
season. To see the faces of those old people was a rewarding experience that I
had the opportunity to see and learn that with a modest contribution towards
making someone so happy.
received the sympathy, support and affection of her friends with her
responsible, dutiful and loyal personality. Her life now was almost full; her
faith in God, her love and devotion to our father and us was her life. The
absence of Begoña was her only regret. She continued to write to many of her
friends from Uruguay until her death, friends like Ma
Luisa Biraben Besides, Ma Luisa Battle Berres Iribarne, Maria Ana Bidegaray
Janssen, Esther Ma Real Idiarte, Paquita de Duvigneau, Antonia Salaverria,
Aurora Ezcurra, Ma Luisa Bidegaray, daughter of Marion. All her social
life was in Euskal Erria and completed her world.
time Maria Ester and Pepe Real Idiarte gave a big party at their villa that our
parents talked about a lot because the dinner was cooked in the ground,
something we had never seen or heard of before. When Ma Ester became a widow,
she spent time with her daughter, Ana Maria and family, who lived near us and
several times it coincided with a visit by ama, and the two were happy to see
each other and catch up on news of mutual friends in Montevideo.
later, having been invited to dinner, Bob and I had the same experience when we
were served dinner cooked in the ground. And
this time I was curious to observe all the details. Our
friends told us that the day before a big hole was dug in the ground and covered
with green leaves.
Inside they added the meat and vegetables and covered with heated stones
taken from a fire. This was all covered with soil and they waited for the
heated stones to cook the food, a process that took about 24 hours. This
was not a turkey but rather a large pig and the fire threw off a lot of smoke.
We were a large group (60) gathered in the garden around the dead pig. A
helicopter was circling around us and soon the police authorities came to ensure
that a fire had not reached the house.
Also they realized that they had to have permission to make such a fire
in the leafy neighborhood. All ended well and it was a fine dinner.
courage and selflessness of ama in the family was present many times. In
Montevideo she put her life in danger for us all. One
day when coming home we heard a noise like a whistle that came from the master
the small window above the door we could see that a lot of steam was escaping. We
were terrified and we thought to leave the apartment because we realized that
the water heater was about to explode. But
ama did not waver and to our astonishment she opened the door and the vapor
enveloped us for a few seconds that seemed like ages. She realized the problem,
and without thinking twice closed the valve.
The noise stopped and steam vanished, saving us all from a gas leak
was also the spiritual soul of the family. She
tried to continue the intense religious life in which she grew up and the two
struggled to continue that tradition with us, but our lives were different from
those they lived.
Nonetheless, every night all of us together participated in the praying
of the rosary with litany in Basque before a lighted painting of the
Virgin of Begoña. For
ama family unity and world peace were very important for the family, and so we
asked for those things. At that time there was a popular saying from Father
Patrick Peyton from Ireland who said "The family that prays together stays
together" and "A world that prays is a world at peace," slogans
that were important for our parents.
They wanted our family to be together, but mostly they wanted us to be
do not think there was one night that we did not gather before retiring to bed
to pray the rosary. During Holy Week we walked the seven churches as they
had done when they were engaged. Fasting and abstinence were also observed
that I remember did we miss Mass on Sundays.
There was a time when there was an epidemic of infantile paralysis and we
were prohibited from attending any public place, but we heard Mass on the radio.
The preferred site for our Sunday obligation was the Church of the Help of Mary
on Canelones Street or the chapel of our school. The chapel was eight blocks
from home, but with one or the other family member fasting we Amezagas ran
through the streets of the city to be on time for the 8:30 Mass. The
choir of the Dominican Sisters and the pretty fower-decorated chapel were so
pretty and worth the race; at least that's what aita said.
is one of the worst punishments for human beings because one is uprooted from
all that taught him: family, culture, friendships. It is true that our parents
were lucky to have two important social structures to depend on for the support
of both material and emotional needs: the Catholic Church and the Basque
Government in exile (and the dream of Basque nationalism).
If they could not have relied on this support they could not have carried
on more than 30 years as they did. In their book Migration and Exile,
Leon and Rebeca Grinberg tell us that life in exile is a life of denial of the
lives of our parents were dominated by the past full of fantastic memories and
the future represented only by the hope of return.
like our parents were few in Montevideo. All
the Basques who escaped from the clutches of Franco lived in Argentina, Mexico
or Venezuela. The Basques who were in Uruguay were Basques who had left Euskadi
in the early twentieth century for economic reasons, or descendants of Basques
of one or several generations that had been there forty years before. Our
parents were some of the few who had suffered a recent imposition of exile.
Although ama would have
wanted to return to Euskadi she was happy living wherever she was as long as she
was beside our father, but aita felt passionately about their exile expressed
his frustration, working tirelessly day and night to make known the cause and
the Basque culture in Uruguay. In Euskal Erria celebrations of traditional
festivals such as Aberrieguna (Easter) San Ignacio (July 31) and the day of
Euskera (Culture Day, 3 December) were celebrated with infectious enthusiasm and
energy. These celebrations strengthened the bonds of community and made a strong
impact on everyone who knew our father since he transformed a simple act into a
solemn and exciting event.
time it was our father who intervened to save ama’s life. Ama
had gone several times to the Worker Catholic Circle, a health care
co-operative, for the birth of our brothers, Xabier and Bingen, both times by
Dr. Aguerre. This time it was to have a surgical treatment to address her
incontinence, and when they gave her a blood transfusion. The blood was
incompatible and she had a severe hemolytic reaction that could have been fatal.
She said that aita’s prayers in the chapel of the clinic at that
time saved her life.
mother was named social reporter of the newspaper of Buenos Aires; Euzko Deya,
which in Basque means "The Voice of the Basques".
The first issue of this paper was May 10, 1939. The managers were
delegates of the Basque Government. Ama wrote for the newspaper with information
on the life of the Basque community in Uruguay, to raise awareness in the port
city of Basque activities in Montevideo.
those days there was no TV and to go see news report was of common interest. One
of the technological advances we witnessed living in Uruguay was the rising
production of television.
We saw only one and it was in a public place.
The other change was the traffic lights, which we saw two years before
leaving the country. They started in a specific section on the Avenida 18 de
Julio, and I remember we tried to memorize the meaning of the three colors of
amber, red and green. Bingen was the most enthusiastic because they reminded him
of the rich colors of lollipops.
of the trips we made with our parents downtown was going to see films. The bus
left us near the Monument to the Gaucho near City Hall in the Avenida 18 de
Julio. The gaucho, standing in bronze on a marble pedestal, is a national folk
hero who symbolizes the freedom and independence of Uruguay. Aita talked about
the anonymous protagonists of the struggle for independence as he identified
with the nationalist sentiment and personal autonomy of the gaucho. We crossed
the street and entered the American Institute (I don’t remember the exact
name, to watch educational films.
The one I remember most was a documentary, “38th
Parallel,” that dealt with the Korean War. The parallel was established as a
boundary line between the Soviet occupation zone in the north and American zone
in the south. I
don’t think we liked the subject but for our aitas it was an interesting
in Montevideo has never reached the fame of those of Rio de Janeiro, but we did
have Brazilian girls dancing the candombe and African music that in Uruguay was
not heard at other times of year. Carnival is always celebrated for the three
days before Ash Wednesday, but I think in Montevideo we heard the sounds of
drums for many days. The main character of Carnival is King Momo (Momus in New
Orleans), who was tall and fat, and was the god of mockery and madness in Greek
mythology. This is a period of excess allowed before abstinence of Lent. People
painted and disguised themselves. There are dances and parades that cover all
the different neighborhoods with street musicians.
There are men disguised with painted faces that act, sing and dance the
candombes to the rhythm of drums and cymbals, and in the evening performances
are presented in on stages. The whole family went to see the stage performances,
and then we talked about it at home later. The carnival was theater par
these moments with so much noise and disorder celebrating carnival, I thought of
the peace that we breathed in school and which I preferred. Aita teased me with
a little song about the Dominican Sisters celebrating the carnival, which began
with, "We Dominicans have everything, happy body and crazy soul, and we
have fun at the convent ..."
On 20 November I graduated
from high school, but I could not make any plans for the future because I had
not yet decided what I wanted to do. There is a Portuguese poet who said one’s
homeland is the place where you live during your adolescence because that is the
age where friends are made. And I agree.
The friends I grew up with were here in Montevideo, and I was leaving for
good, but I continued to fight against this reality. I could hardly believe that
it was real and I did not want to leave the country, and even less did I want to
go for an indefinite period. And amid all this confusion, ama knew how to pacify
my character. She
told me I could take piano lessons, which was something I had always wanted, and
with this gesture I could not complain any more. I took lessons for two months
until the day before boarding. The reality didn’t change, but I realized the
sacrifice ama had made and I took with resignation the decision of my parents.
I) Vida de Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga -Gure Ama - Tributo a nuestra Ama, por Mirentxu Ametzaga
II) La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti - por Xabier I. Ametzaga
III) Mis manos quieren hablar - mi poema a mi Ama - por Xabier I. Ametzaga
IV) Publicaciones en Internet relacionadas
|Vicente Ametzaga Aresti - His Biography and his works Published on Wikipedia
Mercedes Iribarren Gorostegui - La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga - published on Wikipedia
Xabier Iñaki Ametzaga Iribarren - Information published on Wikipedia