By: Miel Anjel Elustondo
Index and translation by Kate Camino
Sound byte files by Pedro J. Oiarzabal
In the states, he is called Brana since ñ is not used in English. He was born in Almandoz on April 9, 1959. He met Jesus when he moved from Almandoz to Mugairi where he was Jesus Goñi’s neighbor. They lived a stone’s throw away. Both moved from the country to town. He was 18 years old when he came. He worked before chopping trees. He learned how to be an aizkolari on the farm using either his brother or dad’s ax. He has two brothers in Bakersfield.
He came to the states because then he was in a quarry in Almandoz and he worked loading trucks. Then he did his military service and there were some people that had returned from the states so that got him thinking about going, and he left shortly after. He came with Jose Ignacio Tellechea whose in Bakersfield now. He came as a sheepherder. He had worked with sheep on his farm; they had around 120 head, 4-5 cows and around 100 chickens. His farm’s name is Iraperi, but it has been abandoned and is falling down.
He came to Idaho first to Rupert with Jesus and worked for the same boss, Jean Pierre Etcheberry. He was a good boss and they worked for him for 8 years, then that was enough. He had a big ranch so they worked with both sheep and cows, but most of the time they were with sheep. The ranch was called the Eular (spelling?) Ranch. The sheepherder’s way of life is full of good and bad days, just like anywhere. Sometimes you get mad at your boss, or the supervisor, or the sheep, or the horses, dogs or everything. They worked with other Basques, Mexicans, Peruvians, and Chileans a little bit of everything. They all got along well though; he said the worst were probably he and Jesus.
They decided to move because he was engaged and before marrying, Jesus and he had decided to start working for them. They went and started cutting posts and then they ended up in Reno hoping to do better but found work in Construction here. He has been in Reno for 11 years. He says construction is much harder work than being a sheepherder. As a sheepherder you go with the sheep in the morning, water them, you have 4-5 hours to take a nap, but here you have 30 minutes for lunch and you go back to work. He works anywhere from 8-14 hours a day. His wife waits to eat supper with him sometimes or sometimes it is cold.
He used to have a group of Basque friends Errastio from Dona Maria, Periko, Zubiria from Lesaka, and they asked him to start chopping. They showed him how everything worked and that is how he started chopping at the festivals. He gets the wood from wherever he can, from the mountains (Dena altxapeka). Then they have to bring it home. They do not sell the wood he needs to chop because he needs green wood. He bought his first axes from Mark Etcheberry another woodchopper that lives in Lake Tahoe. He thought they were good but they realized that he was selling him his used axes. So then he found another friend that had an uncle in Australia and that is where he gets his axes now, they are a lot better. He gets them from Australia unsharpened, so he sends them to the Basque Country to be honed for different types of wood, hard, soft etc. Jose Luis Ajesta, who is married to his cousin, in the Basque Country and he sharpens them for him. He started chopping in 1985-86. Therefore, he has been chopping for around 10 years. When he started, he used to work with another friend, 6 trunks, between partners taking turns. Now he chops on his own against Tellechea, he is a good competitor. There are different kinds of wood here, one white that is soft, but there are others red woods that are harder than the devil. The red wood is Aspen and it is very hard. There are 2-3 different types of wood.
He married in Idaho and has two daughters both born in Reno Amaia, and Stephanie. He thinks he will stay in Reno until he dies. He has been back to the Basque Country about 4 times since he has been in the states. When he goes, he goes to Mugairi and stays at home with his mother and brothers & sisters. He eats, drinks, and relaxes.
Juan thinks you can live in the states just as well as you can anywhere. In the Basque Country, he has friends who are laid-off or unemployed with not too much money in the bank. In the states, though if you want to work then there is work. Work is hard everywhere.
He learned English by listening to others as they spoke. He memorized a lot learned by talking to listening to others. In addition, at work the only language is English so you have no choice. Juan is currently working for Granite Construction. He works with as well other Basques. Last year he worked all year round with Jesus but this year there not. He works with two other Bizkaians the Txurruka brothers and with a Gipuzkoan Igancio Larraga. He is retired now but he used to work with Juan. Erramun Jayo works in another company. When they used to work for Helms there were many Basques there. Out of the 160 there were 30 Basques working there. He thinks the Basques started there from word of mouth hearing it was a good company etc.
Juan is happy in Reno. He used to have many friends in the Basque Country but with time, they have lost touch. Back home most people work in agriculture as well as in the marble quarry. Alternatively, some may work in Lesaka in the factory. His next contest will be in Winnemucca, Elko and then Gardnerville, and maybe even in San Francisco.