Basque in the glory
For a local Basque club, it’s not all beret and sheepherding. Basque culture also includes film, poetry and rock ’n’ roll.
Seven days of a cultural festival usually equates to seven days of feasting, but there’s more than just chorizo on hand for the Reno Zazpiak Bat Basque Club.
Starting this Saturday, the club will host Basque Cultural Week 2005. Anybody could guess that the University of Nevada, Reno will host folk dancers, and dinner will be on at Louis’ Basque Corner, but this festival has contemporary twists, too, and Record Street Cafe and the Green Room will host official events.
The Basque people, who come from a small region on the border of France and Spain, have had roots in Nevada for decades, and this week’s festival offers a primer for those who want to learn more about the culture.
The initial Basque diaspora started when a wave of Basque people made it to South America because of political and economic exile, beginning early in the European invasion of the Americas. Word of gold had reached Europe, and when that didn’t pan out, some turned to sheepherding. The rise in Basque sheepherding shifted the diaspora to North America, and Basques filtered into Northern Nevada. According to the 2000 census, Nevada has the third-highest Basque population in the United States (behind California and Idaho). Basque influence is evident throughout Reno, from prominent Basque community members (Anyone heard of John Ascuaga?) to UNR’s Center for Basque Studies. The program offers the nation’s only minor and doctoral programs for Basque studies.
The University of Nevada Press’ Basque Book Series is another local nexus of Basque culture. Started in 1967, the center was originally called the Basque Studies Program, formed as a part of the Desert Research Institute to explore different facets of the Great Basin. Now, the press publishes memoirs, books of photography, historical novels and other Basque literature.
It was in the same year that the Zazpiak Bat Basque Club was formed in Reno. The year before, 33 Basque men pooled their money to host a dinner-dance in honor of San Martin, a favored Catholic saint. Based on the enthusiastic reception of the event, they wrote a constitution, elected officers and chartered a club. Today, the club boasts more than 200 members.
Janet Inda, one of the first members, stays involved with Basque happenings. Inda not only had a hand in the local affairs, but she also helped establish North American Basque Organizations, Inc., a federation of groups from around the continent.
Inda, 60, born in Fallon to a Danish mother and Basque father, is proud of her heritage. She said that Basque people are too often pigeonholed into being seen as sheepherders, when in fact they have a rich culture.
“I was very proud of being a sheepherder’s daughter,” she said. Inda’s older brother was never one for advertising his background, but she did so unashamed, and others noticed.
“I went to high school with a particular young man who carried a very American name, looked very American,” she said. “It wasn’t until we started the Basque club, he came years later and told me, ‘I was so proud of you, that in spite of getting teased, you said you were Basque.’ He asked me why, and I said ‘You are what you are,’ and I’ve always felt that way.” Her enthusiasm is contagious to other members of the club.
Kate Camino is the program assistant and office manager for the UNR’s Center for Basque Studies and former president of the Zazpiak Bat Basque Club. She said she strives to uphold her culture because it’s a defining part of her.
She laments that Basque emigration has diluted the culture. “Some people decided when they came to America that they were going to be American,” she said. “As a result of that, they didn’t transmit any of their culture or language to their children, and I find that very sad.” She caught up by studying Basque language and culture here and in Europe, and she now teaches UNR’s Basque language and culture classes.
Camino also sees a problem in the stratification between the younger and older generations of Basques as a rising trend.
“The old generation doesn’t want to see change, and the new generation wants to get involved but get frustrated because they’re not allowed to change or modify the activities,” she said. “In some areas, it’s created almost two Basque clubs. It’s kind of heartbreaking because a lot of those communities don’t have the numbers of Basques for both of those clubs to survive.”
Basque Cultural Week Coordinator Carolyn Van Lydegraf says the festival will present traditional events like pot lucks and Bertsolaris (Basque improvisational poets) as well as events that feature rock music and a film, showing in conjunction with the Great Basin Film Society.
“I think it’s important to include youth-focused events in the repertoire of the Basque club,” said Van Lydegraf, 23. “I don’t feel like our traditional events necessarily do a good job of attracting people around my age, so I’m glad to do it.”
But there’s one thing most people agree is good—the traditional Basque dinner, followed by a dance in honor of San Martin. The offerings then expand to include the hardcore punk music of Basque band Berri Txarrak, dancing, more food, Bertsolaris, and yet more food.
“I want to both show Basque culture and provide an opportunity for people to participate directly,” Van Lydegraf said. Two events that she hopes will inspire participation are dance performances that include lessons and a cooking demonstration by Janet Inda.
Inda says preserving Basque culture for future generations of her family isn’t her only goal. She also wants to show her culture to non-Basques.
“Life is very interesting if you take little paths away from the mainstream,” she said. “I think that events like this serve that purpose.”