Last April I entered an essay contest that the North American Basque Organization (NABO) held. I was hesitant at first to even delve into attempting to answer their questions, not feeling quite educated enough or cultured enough to answer accurately, in spite of being Basque. The process was actually quite cathartic and miraculously, I won the essay contest!
Pretty funny, no?
I thought this was a good forum to share my essay and share more about our most amazing and unique culture. It's a little lengthy, but hopefully worth the read!
Gero Arte ~
NABO Submission ~
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18
1. What does it mean to be Basque, yesterday, today and tomorrow?
In order to wrap my head and my heart around this question, I feel it necessary to approach the answer from two different angles or vantage points; the first being an emotional or spiritual-type response and the second referencing the actual history and factual foundation which this great culture and nationality were built upon.
For me, being “Basque” is something ingrained in my DNA and in my being. Since the first day I entered this world, having both parents of Basque decent, I quickly learned that this great and unique culture set me apart from others simply by the fact that I always knew where my family roots resided and from where we came. Wearing a beret, sneaking sips of red wine at the table, helping my Aitatxi shear sheep, sitting on both of my grandfathers’ laps and intricately learning the shape of these strange yet familiar profiles that mirrored only the faces of strong Basque men – these are memories of my yesterdays which linger into my todays and most definitely into my tomorrows.
I believe that the answer to this question is a very complicated and personal one, with nor right or wrong answer…only the very individual and soulful connection to one’s heritage can adequately begin to explain the feelings a Basque person has inside for his or her culture. Being Basque to me means knowing who I am, knowing my soul and what inspires me to live and to delve deeper into many aspects of life, but most importantly, believing strongly in the preservation and growth of this great culture we share with so few, yet so many.
Being a Basque woman is the essence of who I am, of who I will become in this life and beyond, I believe. The way that I see the world and shape my future is absolutely influenced by knowing that I come from a culture that is rich, abundant and unique in its heritage; one that values God, tradition, family, the earth, and can be traced back to the beginning of European civilization. Knowing these facts and standing on the soil of Euskadi is all that I need to know about where my soul truly resides and there I can feel the connection to my past ancestors and these connections are God-given and can never be denied.
Being Basque means sharing a deep love of family and for God and preserving these traditions established as devout Catholics. It means remembering the hardships that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents endured for us as they bravely set sail to a strange new land, far from the comfort and warmth of their own families, their basetxe, villages, farms and towns. It means never forgetting the values which they have instilled in us and the work ethic, sense of pride and determination to overcome obstacles which cross our paths. It means respecting the differences in generations within one family and the ways that each view the world, depending upon their order of birth. It means preserving our language through continued education and instilling the value of its roots in our children and grandchildren, while focusing on the future and what lies ahead for the future generations. It means sacrificing and taking the time to study and learn the importance of this culture through the great abundance of resources available to us due to painstaking research, well-preserved documentation of our forefathers and great literary contributions to the Basque culture.
Pointing the “Basque boat,” so to speak, in the same or similar direction might seem quite impossible or daunting when we take into consideration how spread apart on the globe we all are, yet there seems to reside within our worldly community a great inner-strength or magnetism, which pulls us back to center around what is important and crucial for the survival and proliferation of our culture. With this said, I do not profess to understand all of the politics nor inner workings of the Basque government; however, globally speaking I believe that most Basques know no other way than to persevere and persevere without a governments’ guidelines for rowing in the same direction, but with that said, we do face a considerable challenge to maintain and grow the culture, especially in the United States.
Growing up and becoming a young adult who is passionate about the future of our people, language and ethnicity, I take the time to educate myself and constantly learn more and more about who we are as a culture and how/why we have survived as a unit for so long, and will continue to do so. It’s quite beautiful to attend annual Basque festivals throughout the west and to see the continued growth of education for our youth, the Ikastolas and the rich Basque Studies/educational programs offered through the University of Nevada, Reno and in Boise, Idaho and the collaboration with the Basque Country to facilitate such amazing programs that not only educate our Basque children but non-Basques alike. Education is a key component for our “tomorrow” and without acknowledging this fact and continuing to develop new and on-going programs, as well as archiving the past relics of our history, we would be facing great difficulties in the next generations.
In addition, I have been privy through my profession in public relations to be aware of and assist on some levels, with the nationwide and global effort to promote our culture through a variety of mediums with the hope of driving an influx of tourism to Euskadi, and this is apparent through the great amount of press received in the past five years. In my opinion these efforts to learn and see the Basque County for what it is, prospering, resource rich and ever increasingly more progressive, are all very positive spins on our home land and culture, and continues to peak the interest of travelers worldwide whose interests have been peaked by this greater level of awareness and information about the Basque people.
Through government-based tourism programs, education programs in the United States, and the proliferation of Basque “celebrities,” such as Gerald Hirigoyen, restaurateur/chef/entrepreneur, based in San Francisco the culture is thriving to new levels of exposure and recognition, only further spurring on great interest in who we are and preserving from where we come. Speaking to this is the recognition that award-winning author, Mark Kurlansky has received and brings to our culture through his great writing and passion about the Basque country and the notoriety he’s received through his numerous books. I believe that young, Basque entrepreneurs, musicians like Kepa Junkura, Ken Zazpi and other artists hold the key to further educating our youth about the “tomorrow” of the culture by taking it to the next level of “cool,” while stretching more traditional views of what being a Basque really means. Music has always been of such great importance to Basques and therefore, programs created to teach our youth the cherished songs of old and of new, is a vital way in my opinion to continue “rowing the boat” towards the future while preserving such monumental and important parts of our history and culture. The key however, is to continue rowing in a similar direction by working together locally, regionally, nationally, and globally as one group sharing the same vision and purpose. These crucial components that make us who we are as Basques have been the glue holding us together for so very long and I believe will continue to do so.
2. Why Be a Basque? Why Bother/ Is there something of Intrinsic Value?
In my humble opinion…you cannot, NOT be a Basque if you are born as one. It is who I am, who my family members are and what makes us tick. That’s like asking, “Why be human?” If you are blessed enough to arrive into this world with Basque bloodlines then from there the journey begins, learning from a very early age how to drink from a Bota bag and what it means to learn the Jota, whether you want to or not! (Ha) Not only are we set apart by our unique physical characteristics but by a deep-set knowledge that we come from a culture with strong ties to Europe/Euskadi, where many of our family and friends still reside. I believe there is a major gravitational pull between Basques in the United States that keep us together and continually, subconsciously reminds us why we are Basque and choose to perpetuate this great heritage.
I do know that being Basque and “bothering” to be does take some effort and gumption, because we are still a small enough group that we need to seek out one another and educate ourselves, especially those of us who are non-Euskera speakers. With that said, I have learned from my grandparents and especially from my mother (Laca side) that the gift of “bothering” to be Basque envelopes your soul and life like a warm blanket and infiltrates every ounce of your being – I thank God for this gift and I’m so proud to know where I come from. The energy and effort that it takes to travel to festivals, join Basque clubs, communicate with family in Euskadi, and travel there are all sacrifices in some regard, but really they define who we are as people and the determination that we share, and that IS the essence of a Basque man or woman.
As Basques, we share defined characteristics like no other culture I have known and I still see those intrinsic values holding true within myself, my family members old and young, and all of my Basque friends on both sides of the pond. So if having to “bother” with being Basque is a burden or hardship, then I’m there for the long haul and will never forget to teach my children and their children the inherent nature of what all of this means and to never forget from where we have come.
There is no price you can put on the intrinsic value of being a Basque. I believe that the richness of community, core family values, noted characteristics of determination, pride, dedication, loyalty and oh yes, stubbornness…trace the outline of who we are as a whole people, yet individually we take these values and grow into unique and irreplaceable parts of a greater good. Though we have much work to do as a group to ensure our history and legacy remain intact, we persevere – it’s innate to who we are as a culture and therefore I have no doubt that 50 years from now, another young Basque will be submitting a similar-type essay to NABO, reflecting back on his or her life and how being Basque makes them who they are. I also have no doubt that their values and concerns will reflect in some manor the same vision we are following now…”rowing” in the same direction.
**(Thank you for this great opportunity to express myself in this way and for taking the time to listen) Eskerrik asko.
Aimée Laca Eiguren
P.S...Just to tie this together...did you know that 1-2 persons of every 100 Europeans have Celiac Disease and highest frequencies are observed in parts of Spain, Italy and Ireland? And did you know that 1 in every 133 people in the United States have Celiac Disease?
Here's and interesting bit of Celiac information for review.