The United States has been called a "melting pot," a colorful stew of race, culture and ideology that borrows from all over the world. As a result, ancestral lines have blurred over the years, breeding affection for many lands and people without full understanding or appreciation of what it means to be Irish, Mexican, German or Greek.
There are pockets within the U.S. where people live the traditions of an ancient way, and Boise is home to one of the most rare and remarkable-Basque. General knowledge of Basque culture seems to stop with chorizo and ethnic dance. Non-Basques see names like Urquidi, Enchausti and Yzaguirre and wonder what brings these people together to celebrate, eat, drink, dance and worship in a way that honors the unusual purity of their lineage and richness of their heritage. In trying to answer this question, we tracked down local Basques of all ages and professions to ask what it means to "be Basque."
Phil Goodson (Echevarria), 30,
Basque Center bartender
I have a deep sense of the history of my culture and a strong connection to my ancestors. There's the old countryb where my grandparents grew up and the community they started when they came over here; each has its own identity. I've never been to the Basque country, so all I know is the subculture. It's very close and tight-knit with a strong emphasis on the family unit and the extension of that family unit. We take pride in the fact that we consider third, fourth and fifth cousins "family." Sometimes you can't even remember how you're related to someone, but it doesn't matter. I'm not 100 percent Basque, but it's the one part of my heritage that I relate to more than anything else. When my grandpa came over from the old country, he didn't want my dad to speak any Basque; he wanted to Americanize him as quickly as possible because they had been so discriminated against. It has come full circle since then, with an influx of people wanting to learn the language and cultivate ties to the Basque country. I was fortunate enough to grow up here and be a part of that community, but it's almost intuitive-my pride in the Basque culture is in me. When I took this job two years ago, I had the overwhelming feeling of being back in a family. I moved all over the country, but you only have one home.
Susan Gamboa, 49,
wife and mother
I'm Italian and my husband John is Basque, and the cultures are very similar in the way they celebrate. So when we got married, we had an amazing party. It really was like a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. We moved away for about 12 years and didn't get back into the Basque scene until our kids started dancing with Oinkari. We feel really lucky to be part of it, and we have so many friends that we wouldn't have known otherwise. I think one of the reasons Basques are so hospitable is that they had so many problems in Spain. They were repressed and not allowed to speak their language, so it's really important to them to preserve their heritage and way of life. It's such a great community of people. Everybody just has fun; it's a big huge family.
Dave Bieter, 45,
Mayor of Boise
It has been a profound part of my growing up. I remember going down to the Basque Center when I was 6 or 7, but things really transformed when I was living in the Basque country. My whole family lived there for two different years and I went again after law school to teach English and study Basque. Spanish dictator Franco was still alive the first time I went, and it was amazing-I gained a whole different perspective. You grow up with this folkloric view of your heritage, and being there provided a very striking contrast between America and Spain at that time and a sense of the political setting. I was 14, and there were roadblocks and sub-machine guns everywhere. It makes a big impression on you, and the combination of growing up here and living there made me appreciate my roots. There's a real communal aspect to the culture that has kept it alive all these years. Despite the influence of history, they've maintained a language that is unlike any other and transferred here a stubbornness that lends to the preservation of things. My grandfather came over in 1913, and it's still a very active community that's very well versed in having fun. At this point, I have real clarity on what and who I am-an American with Basque roots, not hyphenated.
Dave Lachiondo, 58,
President of Bishop Kelly High School
My father emigrated from Spain, so Basque culture has always been part of my life. It's like air or water: integral. Basques as a people are adventuresome, inclusive, intense, and I have to admit, competitive-particularly in games. Our music reflects our life spirit; we take life head on and are not really subtle about a lot of things. We have pride about being who we are and our unique genetic make-up. There are pockets of Basques in other parts of Idaho, central California, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New York, South America and even Australia. They're linked, all of these "Basque clubs," and that's what Jaialdi is all about-trying to bring the people of the Basque diaspora together. I'm happy that I am who I am, happy with my culture, but I feel that way about people who are Irish. I love anyone who feels like he has a connection to that expression of pride in culture. But I don't speak Basque; I speak English. I'm an American first.
Jake Murgoitio, 18,
It's an honor to be Basque-to be part of a culture so vibrant and full of life. We express ourselves through music and dance and conversation. The personality is welcoming and friendly, and we have good, solid morals and know what hard work is. We're proud of who we are and proud to show our culture to others and all the things that make us unique. But being Basque is part of our normal routine, so when you ask what it means to be Basque, I had to take a moment to really think about exactly what makes us stand out: honor, welcoming sprit, work ethic, strong morals and pride.
Christina Gamboa, 19,
Being Basque is really cool because living in Boise allows me to be part of a culture that is so unique. Not everybody gets to be involved in the language and dancing and singing of their ancestors, so that separates you and makes you feel kind of special. It's about keeping tradition going and understanding your heritage and roots. It's important to keep the culture alive because it's a big part of where you come from and who you are.