The unique and colorful history of the Basque people will soon be showcased during a high-profile exhibit at Ellis Island in New York City. The exhibit — “Hidden in Plain Sight” — is being spearheaded by the Boise-based Basque Museum and Cultural Center.
The exhibit, to open February 2010 and run through April, will put Basque culture on an international pedestal at one of the most visited tourist sites in New York.
“Everyone around here is very excited, because it’s a huge opportunity for a little museum,” said museum curator Michael Vogt. He noted that about 300,000 visitors are expected to see the exhibit.
The staff at the Basque Museum is seeking artifacts from Basques throughout the U.S. for the exhibit. The museum would love to have passports or travel documents that people brought with them when they came over, said Vogt. They have already collected many historical photographs for the exhibit. Anyone wishing to contribute items should call the museum at (208) 343-2671.
The presentation will highlight the unique origins of the Basque people and their language, Euskera. The exhibit will also feature information about the history of the Basques and discuss the factors that prompted them to leave their homeland. One section will be devoted to real-life stories of Basque immigrants in the United States, as well as the contributions made by Basque people here and in the Basque Country. It will be located on the third floor of the great hall where all the immigrants were processed.
A significant portion of the exhibit will afterwards be disassembled and moved to Boise, where it will be on display during the huge Jaialdi International Basque Festival in July 2010.
Millions of immigrants — including multitudes from the Basque Country — were processed through the port of entry at Ellis Island after it opened in 1892. Located at the mouth of the Hudson River and New York Harbor, the 27-acre island is now a national monument that includes Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty is located. Today, over 40 percent of the U.S. population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island.
Basque Government officials encouraged the Basque Museum to submit a proposal to Ellis Island in 2006. According to museum director Patty Miller, the museum followed through and applied for the temporary exhibit program and received notice on May 30 of this year that the museum’s proposal had been accepted.
The museum is also seeking donations to help with the costs of preparing the exhibit.
For genealogical information on the passengers who passed through Ellis Island, visit this link.