The Santa Fe

The Santa Fe Restaurant
by Clare O’Toole

There has been a Basque boarding house or hotel in the location of the current Santa Fe Hotel since the first decade of the twentieth century. Current owner, Phil Zubillago, recalled how his great uncle worked for the original Basque hoteliers during that early period. That hotel burned down in 1948, to be replaced, a year later, by the current building. There was a change of ownership, and the hotel passed into the hands of the Zubillago family, where it has remained ever since.

Santa Fe restaurant, by Mike Schembri. Click to enter the virtual-reality environment.

As a member of a first generation Basque family, Phil Zubillago grew up a native Basque speaker. His father only spoke the native tongue to him and, as was so often the case with young Basque immigrants, the Basque hotels offered a home-away-from-home atmosphere where it was quite possible to get by without the need to learn English. They were a magnet to the lonely sheepherders, providing a virtually self-supporting culture that insulated transient Basque workers from the wider American experience. The seasonal nature of sheepherding work provided ample opportunity for the Basques to find repast for mind, body and soul among the welcoming local, ethnic community who congregated at these local havens. Alliances were formed, marriages, births, deaths, all took place under the roof of the Basque hotels. The migrant workers socialized and did business under the guiding arm of their own community.

Santa Fe restaurant interview by Mike Schembri

The hoteliers readily learned English themselves. To Phil Zubillago, it was his second native tongue and he speaks English as any American might. He remains grateful he he was able to sustain his command of Basque. As he points out, it is not an easy language to learn in comparison to Spanish or French. The Basque tongue has unique roots, uncommon to the normal family of Indo European languages. And, though a small country, there are seven provinces and seven different dialects within the language. After exposure to the language during the naturally, linguistically attuned years of childhood, it is much harder to acquire, and very few non-native Basques are able to speak it. Zubillago is glad there has been a resurgence of teaching the Basque language in his home country.

Nowadays, although the restaurant at the Santa Fe trades under its Basque character offering authentic cuisine, the clientele are mixed, indistinguishable from any other small hotel in town. The days of major migration from the Basque country are over since it was mainly the post-war economy that saw the intense wave of immigration in the early days of the hotel’s life. Zubillago maintains contact with members of the local Basque community who, he says, are a cohesive group when standing as one against adversity. He says Basques have enormous pride in their culture, and that pride usually has a bit of stubbornness with it. Even though there is cohesiveness, there is also tremendous diversity within their culture and if among a group of Basques on their own, the differences become apparent.

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