The University of Nevada, Reno’s William A. Douglas Center for Basque Studies celebrated the donation of a notable basque sheepherder statue to the university campus and the culture it represents on the Day of the Basque Diaspora, Sept. 8.
The outdoor program and reception was hosted in front of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center and began with a performance of traditional basque music before everyone was welcomed by the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Debra Moddelmog, and Director of the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies, Xabier Irujo. Irujo introduced the event by discussing the celebration of the Basque diaspora.
“Basque men and women came here with a tradition of hope, hard work, and to become better citizens, and I’m sure the people we have lost would be happy with what we have achieved and what we still can achieve,” Irujo said. “We can achieve a land of opportunity, diversity and a legacy of hard work.”
The Basque Country encompasses a region located in northern Spain, on the Bay of Biscay at the western end of the Pyrenees mountain range, straddling the frontier between southern France and Spain.
The term “Basque diaspora” describes people of Basque origin living outside their traditional homelands.
Diaspora Day, Sept. 8, is an annual event that celebrates Basque culture outside of the Basque Country. Juan Sebastian Elcano, a Basque navigator, finished Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe on this day in 1522.
Irujo’s words were followed by a traditional Basque dance called Aurresku,
performed by Enrike Corcostegui in front of the sheep herder statue in tribute to the Basque Diaspora. The folk dance is traditionally performed to honor prominent figures and includes solemn and elegant movements and spirited acrobatic displays.
The traditional Basque statue shows a Basque sheepherder holding a lamb with his dog by his side. It now sits on the university campus in front of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, but was originally located in the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada.
Owners of the Nugget Casino, John and Rose Ascuaga, had the statue sculpted in 1998 by Douglas Van Howd for the casino’s Basque-themed restaurant as well as to represent their heritage.
The current owners of the Nugget Casino Resort, Marnell Gaming LLC, donated the statue to the University of Nevada, Reno in 2017 upon the Ascuagas’ request, and it was officially installed on the university campus on May 27, 2020.
The celebration of the statue’s arrival to campus was delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Basque Day was put together by the Center for Basque Studies to officially welcome the statue to campus, celebrate Basque people and Basque culture and honor the lives of the recently deceased John and Rose Ascuaga.
“A tribute to our parents, who were among the many Basque immigrants whose courage helped to shape the American West,” reads the dedication plaque on the statue written by John and Rose Ascuaga. “Their old world values of hard work and honesty set the standard and America provided the opportunity.”
Among those who spoke at the event were Michonne and Stephen Ascuaga, children to John and Rose, who reflected on their parents, what the statue of the Basque sheep herder meant to them, and the process of moving it to the university campus.
“When we completed the west tower at the Nugget in 1997, the ground floor was really a tribute to restaurant Orozko, which was the name of the village that my dad’s side of the family comes from,” said Ascuaga. “The creation of the statue was our way to recognize our heritage, food and drink, music and celebration.”
“The sheepherder’s qualities were hard work, compassion, and love for the land and I think this statue captures that so well,” Ascuaga said. “We couldn’t be more pleased to see this piece find a permanent home in a very special place, with the sheepherder overlooking the campus and all the students.”
Sydney Peerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @NevadaSagebrush.