Tag: Idaho

Recent report on Basque-Americans causes much food for thought

In 1901 the renowned philosopher Miguel de Unamuno remarked before a crowd gathered to celebrate traditional Basque culture: “[T]hat language you speak, Basque people, that Euskara, will disappear with you, and this is of no importance as you too must disappear. Hurry up and kill it, bury it with honor, and speak Spanish.”

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Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) in 1912. Although he was a Basque-speaker and wrote his dissertation on the language, he later rejected Basque as a “serious obstacle to extending European culture in my country.” Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Unamuno’s words, which centered on the language but which were also clearly aimed at Basque culture as a whole, have become synonymous in the Basque Country with a mindset that, at best, views Basque culture as anachronistic in–and at worst antithetical to–the so-called modern world. Indeed, such views, as Juan Madariaga Orbea demonstrates candidly in his prodigious Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language, were hardly new at the time and represented in many ways the culmination of a centuries-long tradition of claiming that Basque culture was in demise and would soon disappear.

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Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Philosopher, linguist, educator, and diplomat, Humboldt visited the Basque Country and wrote at length about its culture and language. On the latter he wrote in 1801, a full one hundred years prior to Unamuno’s declaration above: “Basque will possibly have vanished from the list of living languages in less than a century.” Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If anything, Unamuno’s views marked the beginning of a new era, namely that coinciding with the threshold of the contemporary world as it crashed into the twentieth century, in which the Basque language and Basque culture more generally would come under the critical spotlight from supposedly more educated, erudite, and urbane elites. By the late twentieth century, so this view went, Basques were part of a disappearing world and their antiquated ways had no place in contemporary society. And this mantra–which to be clear is embraced by many Basques themselves, as well as outsiders sympathetic to Basque culture like Wilhelm von Humboldt (see his Selected Basque Writings)–has been applied to questioning anything from the potential for such a small language as Basque to actually survive in the modern world to the “parochial” selection policy of soccer club Athletic Bilbao and “outmoded” sports like Jai Alaia or zesta punta (on the latter see this report from a few years ago).

Which brings me in a slightly roundabout sort of way to an interesting report published recently in the Idaho Statesman about Basque-American identity. Eric Quitugua’s “Cultural identity fades among Idaho’s second-generation Basque immigrants,” is a thought-provoking article that I would encourage anyone with an interest in Basque-American culture to read. It charts the decline of the Basque sheep industry in Idaho and a waning interest on the part of new generations of Basque-Americans to maintain the Basque language.

This all got me to wondering whether this was another example, albeit transplanted across the Atlantic, of the glass-is-half-empty view of Basque culture. After all, the changing nature of the sheep industry and the loosening of specifically Basque ethnic ties to this lifestyle have been long recorded. Indeed, Peruvian herders are mentioned in the classic Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World by William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao, published for the first time in 1975. And isn’t it typical of such immigrant communities to relinquish their ties to the hard and grueling niche industries that brought them to the US in the first place, once they are more settled, have enjoyed greater educational possibilities, and are socially mobile? Don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge many of the sentiments expressed in the report, and it should come as no surprise to anyone with an interest in Basque-American identity to note that the same general theme has been explored on multiple occasions by by Bill Douglass.* Indeed, he also critically questions the staying power of Basque identity within the changing social and cultural framework of the American West.

But I think it is also worth noting the historical evidence for Basque cultural endurance. After all, this is a country of just 3 million people, less than a third of whom actually speak Basque, and it still exists and people still speak Basque today. Such resilience is expressed in the US today by numerous initiatives to promote Basque culture and maintain a sense of Basque-American identity on the part of both institutions and private individuals and groups, many of which you yourselves out there, possibly even reading this, are largely responsible for.

I’m thinking here obviously about our own Center and its special commitment to research and publishing, but also the great work being done in Basque Studies at Boise State University and the remarkable Boiseko Ikstola preschool. I’m also thinking about the tireless efforts of NABO, the North American Basque Organizations, and the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in Boise to perpetuate Basque culture and identity. I’m thinking of the global network of Basque Clubs as well as the university network of Basque language and culture readers and chairs in the US and beyond developed by the Etxepare Basque Institute, both sponsored by the Basque Government. And I’m thinking of other initiatives at a more private, even personal level, like Buber’s Basque Page (surely a historic institution in itself by now?) and the National Basque Festival in Elko, Nevada, celebrating 53 years this year! This year, too, is particularly special because as I’m sure you’ll all know by now, Basque culture will be front and center at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And of course there are many, many more people, places, and events I could mention. My point is that, in the great scheme of things, it would seem to me that serious conscious efforts have and are being made to not only maintain Basque-American identity but also adapt it to the context of an ever-changing world. And by way of a counterpoint to the abovementioned report, check out the following article: “‘Ni Boisekoa naiz’: Keeping Basque alive in Idaho.”

One of the great benefits of being a small culture is that you typically know a lot more about your bigger and more powerful neighbors than they will ever know about you; and smaller cultures are sometimes much better adapted to withstanding the bad times and responding to changes in their circumstances creatively, having had to do so constantly throughout their history just to survive. Bigger cultures, in contrast, having enjoyed the reins of power, find it awfully difficult to cope when things don’t quite go their way and if they didn’t already know, they should take heed from Shelley’s warning, in his timeless “Ozymandias,” that even they may be susceptible to disappearing without trace.

So here’s to speaking Basque, Athletic Bilbao’s recruitment policy, zesta punta, and every other expression of Basque cultural identity! If I started with some words by Unamuno, a Basque, who believed that Basque culture would eventually die out, I’ll end with a thought by Mark Kurlansky, a New Yorker, who thinks quite the opposite. Perhaps, he speculates, in a thousand years, “relative newcomers” like the French and Spanish, won’t be around,.

But the Basques will still be there, playing strange sports, speaking a language of ks and xs that no one else understands, naming their houses and facing them toward the eastern sunrise in a land of legends, on steep green mountains by a cobalt sea–still surviving, enduring by the grace of what Juan San Martin called Euskaldun bizi nahia, the will to live like a Basque.

*See in particular “Basque Ethnic Resurgence: Consolidation or Crisis of Heritage,” paper presented to the American Association of Anthropology. San Francisco (1992); “Basque-American Identity: Past Perspectives and Future Prospects,” in Change in the American West: Exploring the Human Dimension, ed. Stephen Tchudi (Reno: Nevada Humanities Committee and University of Nevada Press, 1996); and “Creating the New Basque Diaspora,” in Basque Politics and Nationalism on the Eve of the Millennium, ed. William A. Douglass, Carmelo Urza, Linda White, and Joseba Zulaika (Reno:  Basque Studies Program, University of Nevada, Reno, 1999).

Euskara Eguna

December 3rd marked not only the day I presented for the first time at the Basque Lecture Series, but to open the presentation, we also celebrated Euskara Eguna, or Basque Language Day.

The International Day of the Basque Language, annually celebrated on December 3rd, was institutionalized by the Basque Government and the Royal Academy of the Basque Language (Euskaltzaindia) in 1995.

However, its origins go back to 1948, when the 7th Congress of Eusko Ikaskuntza-the Society for Basque Studies reached the following agreement: “a day of the Basque language will be celebrated worldwide once a year on December 3rd.” Following that proclamation, Euskara celebrated its first International Day in 1949 to vindicate the universality of the Basque Language.

December 3rd is St Francis Xavier Day, in honor of a missionary from Navarre born in the 16th century. According to the legend, his last words before dying on December 3rd 1552 were in Basque.

On the occasion of the International Day of the Basque Language, public and private entities alike, as well as various associations, organize several activities (roundtables, exhibitions, workshops, conferences, cultural performances, etc.) to celebrate and support Euskara. Check out any of the following events to help spread the Basque language and culture!

(courtesy of Basque Language Books in Boise, Idaho)

Check out some of our books on the Basque Language by visiting:

Basque Language Books

So, Happy Basque Language Day everyone!

 

July 18: Basque Soccer Friendly

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San Mames Barria, the new stadium of Athletic Bilbao. Photo by Euskaldunaa, via Wikimedia Commons

This Saturday, July 18, the Basque Country’s very own Athletic Bilbao (commonly referred to as Athletic Club, or just Athletic) will take on Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente  (commonly referred to as Xolos de Tijuana, or simply as Xolos) in a professional soccer friendly match in Albertsons Stadium on the campus of Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, at 7:00 pm.

All proceeds from the Basque Soccer Friendly will be for the Basque Studies Foundation to support scholarships and Basque Studies programming at Boise State University and soccer scholarships for Idaho youth provided by the Idaho Youth Soccer AssociationFor match details, including how to purchase tickets and merchandise, click here.  

CBS graduate Mariann Vaczi recently published a study of soccer that focuses on Athletic Bilbao: Soccer, Culture and Society in Spain: An Ethnography of Basque Fandom.  Mariann also edited Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, a collection of varied articles on different dimensions of sport, in which her own chapter addresses Basque soccer rivalry from the fans’ perspective.    

 

Boise TV station reports from the Basque Country

As a warm-up for the impending celebrations to be held at Jaialdi 2015, Boise TV station KTVB, Channel 7, has been spending time in the Basque Country as part of its Live Tour feature.  The tour also features a blog about the experiences of reporters Xanti Alcelay, Brian Holmes, and Mark Johnson.

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Basque Live Tour Web Header, from KTVB.com

The reports cover multiple aspects of Basque culture, with a special emphasis on links between Old and New World Basques and a general focus on significant aspects of Basque popular culture such as gastronomy and sports.

Check out the report on how efforts are being made in both the Basque Country and via Basque Studies at Boise State University to promote the Basque language here.  And see how one young man of joint Basque and American heritage is aspiring to make the grade as a professional soccer player with renowned team Athletic Bilbao here.

If you’re interested in reading more about some of the topics covered in the Live Tour, the CBS publishes books on many of these same subjects. For example, in Basque Pelota: A Ritual, an Aesthetic, Olatz González Abrisketa offers the most in-depth study to date in English of this traditional sport, focusing on the extent to which it is embedded within Basque cultural values.

Old and New World Basques in the News

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Handball players in the Basque Country. Photo from Basque Library archive.

 

Two recent media articles examine Basque culture in both the Basque Country and the United States.

First, on March 22 the UK edition of Esquire magazine published a travel guide to the Basque Country. In “Another Country: The Basque Region,” author Tim Lewis takes us on a cultural, historical, gastronomic, sporting, and architectural tour of the Basque Country, inviting us to “discover the secrets of the original Europeans.”

If you’ve read the artice, or if you are interested exploring the topics yourself, on Basque culture in general, see Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, by William A. Douglass and Joseba Zulaika, a comprehensive introduction to the topic, with chapters on a wide variety of subjects from Euskara and Prehistoric art to the contemporary literature, music, and art of the Basque Country, and including the personal experiences of both authors’ field research.

In Basque Pelota: A Ritual, an Aesthetic, meanwhile, Olatz González Abrisketa explains the social and symbolic importance of this most Basque of traditional sports, a sibling of jai alai (the “happy fiesta” in Basque) or cesta-punta, as it also known. González Abrisketa asks: “But why is it precisely this game that conquered the centers of urban spaces in the Basque Country and the neighboring provinces? Why do Basques play this game and not another? What is its specificity? What does it tell us about the Basques? Why do they consider it their ‘national sport’?”

Sports of a more modern variety are explored in Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion, edited by Mariann Vaczi. These conference papers address a wide variety of themes crisscrossing several sports and countries. General topics covered here include gender, social connections, the logic of games, and the affective dimensions of sports, Of specific Basque interest, individual chapters discuss pelota, Basque soccer, the Udaleku Basque summer camp, and the famous 1931 boxing match held in Reno, Nevada,  between Max Bauer and “the Basque woodchopper,” Paulino Uzcudun.

Finally, for anyone interested in reading more about the significance and impact of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao for both the Basque Country and beyond, see Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika and available for free download here.

Crossing over to the New World, “‘Ni Boisekoa naiz’, Keeping Basque alive in Idaho,” was also published on March 22, by Ryan Schuessler for  Al jazeera America. Idaho has the highest percentage of Basque speakers in the U.S. and this article reports on the numerous initiatives to maintain the language there.

If you’d like to read more about Basques and the Basque language in Idaho, check out Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture,  by Estibaliz Amorrortu, which includes chapters on Basque language maintenance in the United States.

On Basques in Idaho, more generally, see Boise Basques: Dreamers and Doers, by Gloria Totoricagüena , which charts the Basque settlement of Idaho;  From Bizkaia to Boise: The Memoirs of Pete T. Cenarrusa, by Quane kenyon with Pete T. Cenarrusa, the remarkable personal account of “a patriot and statesman in two lands, half a world apart”; and Kashpar : The Saga of the Basque immigrants to North America, by Joseph Eiguren, which provides a highly personal account of what life was like for those early immigrants.