Béarn, a small region in southwestern France located on the border with Spain, like its Basque neighbor, is a large land of migration of the French to Argentina – Alicia Sempé, a story of Béarnaise.
In the second half of the 20th century, many Béarnais tried their luck on both sides of the Rio de la Plata. The reasons given are always the same: to flee the misery exacerbated by the overpopulation, to listen to the arguments of Argentine agents who have come to boast of their country’s wealth, and to know that the language said there, very close to Béarn, impossible. to facilitate integration. In demographic terms, immigration to Béarn is far from anecdotal. Let us quote Professor Alberto Sarramone, author of several books on French migration: from 1870 to 1900, 80 emigrants left Aste-Béon for La Plata, one-sixth of its population (…). Bilhères of 470 inhabitants in 1870 lost about twenty families, (…) Louvie-Juzon inhabited by 1679 inhabitants saw 118 people leave in 1888. In 8 years, Laruns lost two hundred of its inhabitants. Like the Basques, Bearnese associations emerged in Argentina, such as the Association franco-argentine des Béarnais.
Alicia Sempé is a descendant of Béarnais. The story he tells us begins with an article from the regional daily “La Dépêche” dated August 12, 2017. Its title: “ An Argentinian has returned to the country “. We are in Pontacq, in the heart of Béarn, a small town located in the department of the Pyrénées Atlantiques with less than 3000 inhabitants. Alicia is in France because she is looking for her French cousins. A years after his first visit to Pontaquais, he came to thank everyone who welcomed him during his research to find the signs of his ancestors.
For that, we have to go back almost 150 years. In 1887, Jacques Sempé left Pontacq for Argentina. He is 22 years old. He is the youngest in a family of five children. According to family sources, he immigrated with one of his cousins, Jean Léon Sacley. Jacques ’life was probably an unpredictable life composed of hard work, sweat and self -sacrifice, like most migrants at the time. Initially, he moved to Mar del Plata where he found members of his family already living in this city. There he also met and married Angela Castro of Balcarce. The couple will have eight children. After a detour to Coronel Pringles, in the south of the province of Buenos Aires, then to a farm very close to Carmen de Patagones, the couple settled in Lamarque, in central Patagonia, probably in the early years. 20th century. At the time, everything had to be built in these regions where Jacques and his family lived. Settling these regions means trying to venture into lands that are still almost virgin, it’s a real leap into the unknown. Colonel Pringles and Lamarque, founded in 1882 and 1900 respectively, are still the only embryos of the agglomerations created when the development of territories formerly occupied by the original peoples and gradually expelled from their land. . Lamarque is a small town in the Rio Negro province between Bahia Blanca and Neuquén on the island of the river Choele Choel. a fertile oasis whose land, ridden by the Rio Negro, is favorable to commercial cultivation and fruit growing. When we travel to these dry and deserted regions where rocks and thin trees dominate the landscape as far as the eye can see, we are suddenly amazed to discover a land with green vegetation and worked by man. Rodolfo Walsh, famous writer and journalist, author of “Operación masacre” who died tragically on March 25, 1977, a victim of the military dictatorship, was born there in 1927. It was only in 1930 that the town was named Lamarque in honor of Facundo Lamarque, a judge who, after the flood and the complete destruction of Viedma, the provincial capital, in 1898, accepted the direction of the new tribumal of Choele-Choel. This name, Lamarque, also comes from Bearn. By a strange coincidence, the town of Pontacq-Lamarque is less than a kilometer from Pontacq…
Jacques never left Lamarque. He died there in 1944 at the age of 79. Alicia’s father, Domingo, was born in October 1910. He married Ana Delia Ormeño Cufré with whom he had two children: Alicia, born in 1954 and Graciela in 1959.
Married in 1978 to Rafael Lousada, Alicia had a child, Marianela, born the following year. Teacher, former headmistress, now retired, she is the author of a collection of writings taken from her students and colleagues under the title “Andando caminos” which can be translated as “By browsing paths”.
We asked Alicia why she was looking for her ancestors: “ As I have only known my maternal grandmother, Narcisa Serviliana Cufré, whom I have loved forever, I have always wanted to know more about the history of my grandparents. Thanks to her, I learned what it means to have the unconditional love of a grandmother. She lives in Bahía Blanca and she was happy to receive us when we were on vacation with my parents. Each meeting was a series of unique moments, full of joy, laughter and long exchanges. With my cousin María Sempé, I registered a Facebook group about my last name: Sempé from France to Argentina and around. One day, I came across the page of Christiane Bidot Naude, genealogy specialist. I immediately contacted him and told him that my grandfather Jacques Paul Sempé was from Pontacq. His response, when he told me that his family is also from this city, touched me deeply ”.
From this moment on Alice decided to go back in time. After research and contacts, he went in 2016 to the native village of his grandfather, who, one day in 1887, left there never to return. A return to origin. A loop closes.
What is the story of Jacques ’cousin who also came to Argentina? Here, the information is the most unique. Unlike Jacques, he went to Buenos Aires where he still lived in 1914. He had a daughter, Susana, who was born in 1896. We find descendants living in Mar del Plata and the surrounding area.
Like many of Béarn’s descendants, Alicia is fully integrated into Argentine society. But he did not forget that Béarn’s blood continued to flow in his veins.
Interview by Jérôme Guillot