In 2019 I flew across the ocean, took trains across France, and then hiked over mountains
to an inn called ‘Artzain Etchea’ (which means “sheepherder’s house”) in Estérençuby, France.
This inn was founded by my great-great-grandfather, and was the birthplace of
my great-grandfather, Bernardo Bidegain, and his ten siblings.
Visiting the birthplace of my great-grandfather made me realize that I can’t even imagine
what things must have been like back then. Bernardo Bidegain immigrated to America in 1906 when he was 17 years old.
America was looking for sheepherders, and many Basque men came over here for that work during that time.
It must have been very exciting for Bernardo to be going to America.
He was successful and married Jesusa and they had a family (which is part of how I came to exist).
He never returned to the Basque Country.
Did he ever see his parents ever again? I don’t know. Did he ever miss his homeland? I don’t know.
Did he worry endlessly about his family during the Basque oppression? I have no idea.
Only in recent years did I learn that we know the whereabouts of his birthplace, and that is how I started on this curiosity quest.
Believe me, the quest has offered more questions than answers.
Many of the Basque people that I spoke to in Spain and France were mind boggled that
I didn’t know anything about Basque culture, even though I have a Basque last name.
That is when I started realizing that America may be unique in this way.
Many Americans’ family history was lost when they immigrated to America.
Those people were looking for a “new life” and often times they never looked back.
Many never even wanted to talk about the old times or the old country.
Much of the history of my own family, on both my father’s and my mother’s side has been lost
because the people who knew the history didn’t pass it on, and have since passed away.
I hope that as more and more people immigrate to other places,
they recognize the importance of passing on their family history, where they came from,
and all the ancestors that helped to bring us to where we are now.
Believe me, your great-grandchildren will care deeply about this.