314 Zenbakia 2005-09-16 / 2005-09-23


Boise, Idaho Jaialdi 2005: The Intersection of Basque American Identity


The transnational identity -belonging to different cultures in several different physical places- has taken a strong hold in numerous people that attended the 2005 Jaialdi International Basque Festival in Boise, Idaho. Friendships were reconnected or newly created and hundreds of postal and e-mail addresses were exchanged, fortifying the Basque international network of communications. A prominent observation by Basques visiting Jaialdi 2005 from Euskal Herria regarded the lack of division between the “French-Basques” and “Spanish-Basques” and their descendants in the United States. “Here, everyone is simply ‘Basque’, and that has no political or partisan judgment tied to it,” commented one participant. Boise’s sister city, Gernika-Lumo, was represented by a group of Vice-Mayors and City Councilors. The visit of the Lehendakari represented the maximum democratically elected authority of Basque society, and with the overwhelming majority of spectators not knowing -or caring- about his party affiliation, Juan José Ibarretxe was welcomed emotionally and with boisterous cheers everywhere he went. Trace out of the basque block.

The first Jaialdi International Basque Festival -sponsored jointly by the Boise euskal etxea, Euzkaldunak, Inc., and the Boise Oinkari Basque Dancers- was celebrated in 1987 under the leadership of Albert Erquiaga and Gerri Achurra, and hundreds of volunteers from the Boise Basque Center. Erquiaga and Achurra had met the Basque Autonomous Government’s international representative, Jokin Intxausti, at a North American Basque Organizations meeting in 1985, and he had encouraged them to organize and produce an international event to celebrate and promote Basque culture. The original idea was to highlight local and Basque Country artisans, athletes, and dance and music groups. The Jaialdi of 1987 was a cultural and social success, and also made a financial profit for the Euzkaldunak, Inc. Because of the significant numbers of people that attended from all around the United States as well as Basques from Euskal Herria, Mexico and Canada, the festival was again announced for 1990.

Street of the Basque block. The Jaialdi celebration of 1990 experienced such an incremental growth in the scope of activities and numbers of people attending that the preparations for the event grew to be quite cumbersome, consequently the Board of Directors decided to put it on a schedule of once every five years. In 1995, the location had to be changed from the Idaho Historical Penitentiary to the larger Western Idaho Fairgrounds to accommodate the thousands of attendees. Every five years the reputation has grown as additional Basques from around the United States travel to Boise to celebrate with friends from other States. At Jaialdi 2005, eleven different Basque dancing troupes from the United States participated, along with the Andra Mari group from Galdakao, Bizkaia. Ten singing or musical groups entertained (mostly accordions), and the Biotzetik Basque Choir from Boise performed for the crowds. Basques traveled from Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Florida, New York, and Maryland to participate and share their festival with friends and family. In 2005, international revelers surpassed the numbers from previous years and included hundreds from the Basque Country as well as groups from Australia, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. The official count not yet being exact, Chair David Eiguren estimated the total number of participants in all events over the five days at approximately 35,000 people.

The positive social status of Basques in the Boise area has resulted in substantially high media visibility and positive coverage. In Idaho, Basques have earned solidly positive reputations in ranching, farming, trucking, business, real estate, education, law, architecture, music, and the arts. Basque politicians such as Pete Cenarrusa, Ben Ysursa, David Bieter, Dave Navarro, John Bastida and Gary Bermensolo have also contributed to the Basque community being well-known and well-respected. This history added to Idaho’s generally homogenous population combine to where Basques are acknowledged as ethnic and exotic, yet integrated and celebrated. Jaialdi 2005

The official activities program began on Wednesday night, July 27th, at the Boise Egyptian Theatre with an academic seminar presented by Professor Joseba Zulaika, Director of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, attended by approximately 1000 people. His anthropological discussion of combination identities and layers of identities included telling Basque Americans that they are no ‘less’ Basque for living outside the homeland, and that English is spoken by thousands of Basques, therefore English is also a language of Basques as is Euskera. This argument drew spontaneous applause from the audience. Blasque block in the evening.

Thursday was designated as “Sports Night,” and again this year had so many thousands of spectators that there were no seats remaining, and only standing room in every corner of the large exhibition hall of the Fairgrounds. The Mutriku Sokatira Taldea demonstrated agricultural and work-based sports and contests, such as lifting bales of hay by pulleys, soka-tira, swinging weights, relay races picking-up and throwing pieces of wood into baskets, wood-chopping, weight-lifting, weight-dragging, and weight-carrying. Those in the crowds who had never seen these displays of strength were amazed at the quantity lifted by the athletes José Luis Lete, José Antonio Ostolaza, and Juan José “Goenatxo” Unanue. Non-Basque spectators from the United States were unlikely to recognize the cube and granite ball shapes of the weights and without having seen the event had no idea how they would be used. The originality of these exhibitions also intrigued the local media, and television and newspaper reports highlighted Basque sporting culture for the entire week. The American style of cheering, similar to that at a football or basketball game, is not usual in the Basque Country, and Basques from the homeland marveled and laughed at how intensely the Basque-American cheering continued. “You would never see this kind of animation or even interest in Basque traditional sports in Bizkaia where I am from, nor in Nafarroa or any other territory. This is amazing! The athletes must feel like rock stars,” said one spectator from Durango.

Friday’s program began on the Basque Block, an area of downtown Boise that historically incorporated the Basque boarding houses and today includes the euskal etxea Euzkaldunak Inc. Basque Center, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, the Anduiza Fronton, the Bar Gernika, the Basque Market Place, and a traditional boarding house in renovation and opening as a contemporary Basque boardinghouse and upscale restaurant named Leku Ona. The streetscape of the zone was pedestrianized in 2000. It is landscaped with red and green flowers, and red and green colored cement was poured in the shape of lauburuak. Granite stones are placed with the engraved surnames of Basques from the Treasure Valley area, and two twenty-feet high sculptures of Laiak are placed at the welcoming entry. A reception hosted by the Lehendakaritza at the Boise convention hall, the Center on the Grove, combined a spectacular audio-video presentation, with a speech by Lehendakari Ibarretxe, a performance by the Boise Biotzetik Basque Choir, and a lunch cocktail exemplifying Basque cuisine. Many spectators wept during the video presentations, “... because I feel so proud of my countrymen. Did you see that? Did you see how they have recovered our Basque Country?” Others mentioned how proud they were to have a democratically elected leader after so many decades of dictatorships and monarchies. “The young people in the Basque Country have forgotten that there was a time when they couldn’t trash each other’s political parties because there were no political parties. Our parents left that political repression but they have not forgotten it,” said Aitor Amuchastegui from Boise. Dancers from Oñati in from of Ignacio Saint.

This is one aspect about the diaspora that is difficult to explain to homeland Basques. Homeland Basques often criticize diaspora Basques as being out of touch with reality in the Basque Country, as not understanding contemporary events as a result of not living there, and as being folkloric (in a disparaging manner), and that is if they know anything at all about diaspora Basques, which most do not. Diaspora Basques often return to their homeland to find it so changed materialistically, and younger generations so unconscious of their own history, that they criticize older generations for not teaching the young about the hardships of the Spanish Civil War and Franco dictatorship, and not even mentioning the trauma and crisis of exile and migration. “Yeah, they all think I am just the rich cousin that abandoned the family to make big dollars in America. They have never believed me when I said I lived for ten years in a sheepherder’s tent. But you know, they also don’t really believe that we have a real ikastola, or university programs teaching Basque history. Maybe we’ll have to save the Basque Country from the outside since they aren’t doing it themselves.” This gap in understanding between homeland and diaspora groups is common in other ethnic groups as well.

Friday’s all day affair included pelota and pala championships, live music by accordionists Miren Lete, Mercedes Mendive, Bernardo Yanci, Ann Marie Mansisidor, Edu Sarria, Mary Lou Guerricabeitia, Ray Mansisidor, Dan Ansotegui, Sean Aucutt, and Dave Lachiondo. Later in the afternoon, former students of the 1970s and 1980s Boise State University Basque Studies program in Oñati, Gipuzkoa reunited to reminisce about their Basque studies and how their year living in the Basque Country had changed their lives. Dr. Carmelo Urza, Director of the entire Universities Studies Abroad Consortium, headquartered at the University of Nevada, Reno, organized the reunion and hopes to create another annual scholarship for a student to study Euskera in Euskal Herria.

Friday night’s Morrison Center theater performance was an exhibition of Basque dance and song. The Boise Biotzetik Basque Choir performed, but the remainder of the entire show was all traditional Basque folk dancing. Though the dance performances were spectacular, several in the audience have tired of always seeing the same representations of Basque culture as being traditional and not contemporary. They hope future Jaialdis will be more representative of homeland and diasporic culture and include other more modern aspects of the performing arts. Following the theatre performance, the crowds descended upon the Basque Block, however, by approximately midnight the Basque Center bar was closed by authorities due to breaking the fire codes of the city of Boise; there were simply too many people inside the building trying to order drinks. The outside sidewalks and street were crawling with hundreds of people singing, dancing, and sharing stories. Jaialdi dancers.

Saturday’s events began at the Fairgrounds with a procession of several hundred participants, speeches by the Lehendakari and the Boise Mayor David Bieter, and then followed by an all day ethnic production of music, sports, dancing, singing, card playing, mandolin and accordion playing, and eating and drinking. Exhibition booths included photography displays, several art and book displays, the Basque Book Series by the University of Nevada Press in Reno, Basque Studies on-line university courses, and the Basque gifts, souvenirs, and food booths were kept busy by thousands of customers and spectators. The emphasis was on commercial sales though many “customers” were looking for educational stands and activities.

Several would argue that the most interesting educational display at the Jaialdi is the exhibition of the authentic sheepwagons used by Basque sheepherders as their homes in the hills. Though there are very few continuing Basque sheepherders in the United States, sheepherder culture remains the most significant factor in the collective identity and community history of Basques in the American West. It is a determining variable in United States Basque diaspora identity and is used as a defining element by Basques themselves and by non-Basques as well. Eight original sheepwagons were available for people to inspect and enter. Basques from the homeland were shocked at the living conditions that they had finally witnessed and now understood. Future Jaialdis

In general, the 2005 Jaialdi was a spectator fiesta with repeated dancing performances at every activity on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Future improvements could include Basque theme activities, competitions, exhibitions and games specifically for children, which would facilitate attendance and friendship for young families. Additional booths and stands could incorporate homeland institutions and organizations from museums, universities, and programs of Eusko Ikaskuntza to tourist attractions and cultural events promotion. The Jaialdi International Basque Festival, and all Basque Centers’ activities around the United States, could be utilized to inform and educate (and update) the diaspora population’s knowledge of their homeland. The festivals are model settings for exemplifying the variety of the seven provinces and of the numerous Basque diaspora communities in the United States, and significantly, for celebrating the many ways of ‘being Basque’. License plates.

Following each of the Jaialdi International Basque Cultural Festivals held in Boise, there has been a marked increase in the number of new members joining the Euzkaldunak Incorporated organization. This is likely to be repeated in 2005 as well. Though there is a commercial aspect to Jaialdi that attendees sometimes notice as “overwhelming,” the funds raised from the sales of merchandise do support various educational initiatives and building maintenance projects for the next five years. The Boise Basque community cultural institutions and organizations are each nearly completely self-funded and self-maintained. The Boise Jaialdi Festival is a unique example of Basque ethnic identity maintenance and cultural pride manifest jointly by diaspora Basques descended from all seven provinces and resident in many different countries. Though a bit over-commercialized for some people, and with a definite United States component for T-shirts, car bumper stickers, and pop culture souvenirs, the future of Basque cultural celebrations points to increased interest and success.