Josu Mikel Aldekoatalora
Interviewed by: Miel Anjel Elustondo
In Reno, Nevada
Index and translation by Kate Camino
Sound byte files by Pedro J. Oiarzabal
Born in a baserri called Bargundia in 1947 in Iurreta Bizkaia, it used to be part of Durango but now is Iurreta, on the Goiuri side. At the time of the interview, he was 47 years old. He grew up in Bargundia and learned how to play pelota at the municipal fronton in Durango in Ezkurdia. There he learned how to play (Zestan) Jai Alai.
He left home to do his military service in Palma de Mallorca. He was there for 3 years and that is where he debuted as a professional pelota player in 1964. He did his military service voluntarily and that is where he started his career as a pelotari. He served 18 months of military service and after his contract ended in Mallorca he left for the Philippines in November of 1967. He had $3 in his pocket and big suitcase along with 120 pesetas. It took 16 hours in the airplane. When asked what his family thought he said that he could have gone home and done many other trades but still been hungry so he decided to play pelota. He did not play pelota because he loved it, but because he wanted to make a little money.
In the Philippines, they gave him a good contract, not a lot of money but it was OK. He stayed there for 6 years. There he was with his dad’s friend. Ignacio Muñoz Guren, Arkalaz was the name of the Fronton where he played. Ignacio was there with his wife and kids and after 6 years Josu married Ignacio’s oldest daughter. They married in 1973 in the Philippines, his last year there.
They offered him more money to go to Indonesia. At the time, there were 3 pelotaris in the Philippines, his wife’s cousin Juan Antonio Leizburu, from Solouskoe? Jose Maria Placido Saldua from Zizurkil. All three left for Indonesia and spent 2 years there. At the time, Spanish was not widely spoken in the Philippines. They all spoke Spanish or Basque together but the natives spoke some English but mostly their native tongue Tagalong. In Indonesia, it was worse so they got by, by using hand gestures. No one in Indonesia spoke Spanish. After two years in Indonesia, they returned to the Basque Country.
They spent 7 months in the Basque Country before coming to Las Vegas. It was the first time that his wife was able to meet Josu’s family as well as her relatives on her father’s side still living in the Basque Country. Then they came from Iurreta to Las Vegas. They went because they got a better contract with more money, he played 8 years there 1975 until they shut the fronton in 1983. He did not speak English; the first he heard was in the airplane, then in the taxi, then on the street. He started English lessons in the Philippines and then he learned the rest on the street mostly in Vegas. Then when the moved to Reno he went to TMCC (Truckee Meadows Community College) for two years to study English.
8 years in Vegas where both of his sons were born. He played at the MGM Grand Hotel and he only played Jai Alai. The fronton closed because not many people attended and Jai Alai could not compete with other gambling opportunities there.
When the Vegas fronton closed, all the pelotaris were left without contracts and without work. At the time, he was 36 years old and he thought he would not play anymore, he had been injured and so decided that was enough. They stayed in Vegas without papers for a year when his wife decided that she wanted to become a lawyer. The place to study law at the time was in Reno Old College (it is now closed). She passed all her exams so they moved to Reno. They thought that they would find a better living in Reno so moved, selling their house in Vegas. He thought he would be able to find work but since he did not have any papers, it was difficult. His visa ended along with his pelota contract and he was illegal until 1989. Before his wife, Pilar could start her studies the college closed, so she started working and did night classes to become a CPA. During this time he stayed at home with the kids in the apartment took care of the kids, cleaned house, did the laundry and ironed the clothes. He stayed home this way for about 4 years.
He then 1988 he went to Spain to Madrid to fix his papers and then returned to the U.S. legally. Then he started working. When he returned to the states he was lucky in 1988 he started in a carpet store for $5 an hour. Then he started for Washoe County as a maintenance man, as in the Basque Country a funcionario. He comments that there were others that did not really do much work they just collected their checks went home drank beer and put their uniform on the next day. He, on the other hand, did do a lot of work. He had to wear a uniform too provided by the County including boots.
Now he does not play pelota anymore and does not even think about it anymore.
They are happy in the states now. They were young when they came and always thought the US would be the best place for their kids. Now there are many problems in the schools, worse than in the Basque Country. Kids bring guns to schools, gangs, and many big problems. They are thankful that both he and his wife are working. They do not have extra money but enough to live well. They continue to make money that he dreamed about when he became a pelotari. However, they are doing fine and have paid for their sons’ education.
He does not follow the Basque Country way of life, sociedad, big dinners etc. in Reno. He comes from work and does what needs to be done at the house and that is it. He does have Basque friends though, Juan Ignacio Azueta from Durango, Patxi Txurruka from Berriatua, Begoña Azkaiturieta from Bolivar, his wife, these are our best friends. Patxi did not come here as a pelotari, he came to work on a ranch. He now works for a construction company driving truck. They also have a good relationship with their in-laws. They come every Saturday and their house becomes the Sociedad. His sister-in-law also comes with her kids and they stay at home.
His kids do not speak Basque but son speaks Spanish, more than his daughter does. Arkaitz is 18 and is his son’s name; he studies to become an elementary teacher. His dream is to finish his degree and continue for a Masters and maybe a Ph.D. Katrin is his daughter’s name she is 13. He says she’s daddy’s daughter and his son is his mother’s boy.
He suffers from his back but doctors recommend that he continue working, but just not hard work or heavy lifting. He is returning to the Basque Country the following year with his whole family.
He sends his best wishes to all his friends in Durango. Now when he goes to the Basque Country he says some people say that the country is in crisis, others say they live well, he is not sure where the truth lies. They do not have the same mind set to go from bar to bar etc. anymore but that is OK for the younger set. Each one on his own.