‘Huellas de la Octava’ (‘Footprints of the Eighth’) – Mexico City, Mexico

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The Basque Country (Euskal Herria) is not independent, but rather an ethno-cultural divide that spans seven historic provinces between two independent European nations. The provinces of Labourd, Zuberoa and Nafarroa Beherea (or Basse-Navarre) are in France; while Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Nafarroa Garaia (or Upper Navarre) are in Spain.

The symbolic “eighth province” of Euskadi is its diaspora, present all over the world. North and South America have been the destination of several migrant movements from France and Spain, so it makes perfect sense that a large part of the Eighth of the Basques is in this hemisphere.

In the United States, the best example is probably the Basque block in Boise, Idaho. Meanwhile, in Mexico City, a series of eight mosaic plaques represent one of the clearest celebrations of these people’s contributions to their new home. They are the work of Elena Ospital, born in the community of Saint-Jean-de-Luz in Labourd, and Daniel González Gil (credited as Daniel G. Gil on the works).

One of the plaques is located in the pedestrian street of Echeveste, meaning “The Other House” in Basque. Francisco de Echeveste, born in Gipuzkoa, was involved in the military and economic affairs of the colony of New Spain in the mid-eighteenth century. He played a crucial role in financing the Colegio de Vizcaínas (named after the Bay of Biscay), located near this street. The mosaic shows the patio of the Colegio.

Another is on Tacuba Street, outside a bakery called La Vasconia. Its translation of “Euskal Herria” represents the Basque Country itself. Vasconia was the name of an early 7th century duchy, which occupies much of the same territory as the modern Basque Country. The mosaic shows an overview of the territory, often called in Spanish “Vasconia”.

Along the street that bears the name of Simón Bolívar, one of the most important liberators in the Americas, you will find another plaque. Fighting in South America, Bolívar led the independence movements of several countries, and present-day Bolivia bears his name. The surname is of Basque origin and means “Valley of the Mills”.

Another outside a bakery, Pastelería Elizondo, which is another common surname meaning ‘Next to the Church’, as well as a Basque town. The mosaic shows Elizondo’s main church alongside a bread-eating Mexican-style skull.

One on Mina Street, named after Francisco Javier Mina Larrea. Xavier or Xabier Mina (as his name is also spelled according to the rules of the Basque language) was born in Otano, Navarre. He fought in the Spanish War of Independence against France and would later join the Mexican War of Independence, this time against Spain. Mina is honored on both sides of the Atlantic because a sculpture is dedicated to her in Otano. The mosaic is a portrait.

Along Independencia Street, a mosaic bears the Basque word “Independentzia”. Both names mean independence, and its subtitle defines it as the “struggle for self-determination”, an important political point for the Basque people in their homeland. A star with the ikurrina/ikurriña, the Basque flag, is depicted in the photo.

A plaque is on a street named after the colonial painter José de Alcíbar, whose surname means “Valley of the Alders”. Of the plaques on display, this is probably the most damaged, apparently due to vandalism. It once represented the foliage of an alder tree, although only a few leaves remain.

The only one that was no longer on display (as of March 2022) was located outside a shoe store called Gurea. The name means “Our” and when the store closed, the owner liked the plaque so much that he had it removed and kept it. He depicts the lauburuor Basque cross, which was also the logo of the shoe store.

All plates have the same ceramic frame with the phrase “Vasco sin dejar de ser mexicano, mexicano sin dejar de ser vasco” (“Basque without ceasing to be Mexican, Mexican without ceasing to be Basque”). Inside this frame, a mosaic of black and white glass depicts the images listed above. The project was launched around 2012 with the help of the now defunct Mexico City government institution SEDEREC (Secretariat for Rural Development and Equity for Communities).

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