For my partner’s first visit to his village, my father brings us to the highest peak of the Pyrenees. My partner asks why the word etxe appears everywhere, from road signs to restaurants, town halls to hotels. My father explains it means ‘house’, and that the house is very important for the Basques.
My father doesn’t mention a Basque would rather immolate himself and his family than lose his house. Gabriel Aresti had his people in mind when he wrote ‘My Father’s House.’ My father doesn’t admit losing his house would be a mutilation.
My father tells us the etxe is so important here his neighbours know him by the name of his house. My father forgets to add he regularly threatens to disinherit me of his every time I stand up to him.
My father explains that the eldest child used to inherit the family house so the other siblings had to emigrate to Argentina to earn a living. What he doesn’t say is many of them refused to buy land in America because it would have meant bidding farewell to their Basque house.
Many Basque surnames have etxe as their root, like Etxegaray. My father deciphers our own: Iri = the city, garay = above, and at last I understand this is all about place – my surname, this visit, my angst and anger at never feeling at home in any country –
My father concludes with: it is very Basque, to leave and return.