Week 11: Essay
On the basis of Sweet Promised Land, discuss the Basque immigrant experience in the American West. What transformations and challenges did Basque immigrants go through as they came to the United States and settled? How does the novel show the transnational “in-between” identities of migrants, of belonging here and there, or fitting in neither here (host country), nor there (old country)? And finally, does your family have an immigration story? Can you relate the challenges of the Basque American family to your own family’s immigration story or the stories of persons you know?
Week 11: Essay
Basque immigrant experience in the American West.
“Sweet Promised Land” tells the tale of several Basque immigrants to the American West, not only Dominique Laxalt’s. The book does more than just describe the experience of Basque immigrants in America; it also acts as a metaphor for immigration in America as a whole. “Sweet Promised Land” defended Dominique Laxalt’s position as an immigrant Basque sheepherder in America and his fortitude in the New World.
Challenges faced by the Basque immigrants
The trip to America was initially seen by Dominique and the others as a chance for a brief adventure and to generate enough money to go back home. Adjusting to a new environment, which can occasionally be drastically different from that of the Old World, is one of the first difficulties an immigrant faces in America. Laxalt also calls attention to the problems with loneliness and isolation that immigrants face. The situation is made significantly more difficult for the Basque sheepherders (McDaniel, 2019). As was typically the case with other immigrants, their loneliness is not just a result of their recent immigration, their limited language skills, or the negative perception of their line of work.
Immigration has substantial challenges that must be overcome, and “Sweet Promised Land” places a strong emphasis on this concept. Laxalt shows that, in addition to coping with appalling working conditions, immigrants frequently struggle to make a living in the New World, as in the case of the aforementioned Basques. Although there are many opportunities in America, just working hard won’t get you very far. The newcomer needs to be ready to compete, even with aggressive methods.
These immigrants and the cattle ranchers may be openly fighting over food and water. They also discuss how difficult it was for them to control the desire to spend their money carelessly in the city and how concerned they were about saving in the book. Laxalt also introduces the livestock crisis of the 1920s as a final illustration of the erratic economic conditions and how they had to struggle to be accepted by society.
The transnational “in-between” identities of migrants, of belonging here and there, or fitting in neither here (host country), nor there (old country)
Even though his main focus is on the difficulties the immigrant faces in integrating, Laxalt discusses how the immigrant gradually gets to know America and its people and even establishes connections with them (Berrebbah & Halaby, 2021). This process started with the immigrant’s capacity to unquestionably adjust to their new environment.
However, a few elements that represent the immigrant’s gradual integration into the host community aid the immigrant in more quickly coming to identify with American culture. Laxalt uses his father’s first experience of not feeling like a foreigner in America as an example of this.
Reflection on the immigration story
I do not have any family history of immigration. However, one of our close neighbors often shares with us their stories of struggle and beauty about the time when they had to migrate from Basque to America. There are often certain traits of the family that amuse me owing to the fact they are somewhat different compared to our American culture. There are many areas where they stand out. Though these sometimes offer them a special place in society, there are many times when they have to face certain issues and challenges to settle in society. For example, they are often cast out from social gatherings or treated differently owing to their different cultural practices. Moreover, they are sometimes their economic status. They often feel left out due to their different accent and their language.
Berrebbah, I., & Halaby, L. (2021). “Neither here nor there”: A Conversation with Laila Halaby. 2 December 2020. Commonwealth essays and studies, 43(43.2). https://doi.org/10.4000/ces.7740
McDaniel, W. C. (2019). Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America. Oxford University Press. http://www.nber.org/papers/w27268