Diaries and Logs
Letters and notes about our travels and performances
The Basque Language
© Oinkari Basque Dancers, Inc.
by Lael Uberuaga
That’s me, on the right, before I got my braces off. My friend Izar and I are outside of St. John’s Cathedral on the Saturday of San Iñazio 2003. Around us is a crowd of people clustered outside the cathedral, waiting for mass to start. Most of the Boise Basque community is there- I have already seen every member of the Ansotegui’s extended family- and Andoni Lete’s mother Miren has a viselike grip on her son’s hand, doing her best to keep him out of the street. There is a steady hum of people chatting around us. I can hear wives catching up on gossip- “...And she wasn’t even married! Can you believe it?”- And see the same old friends embracing; it’s been a year since they have seen each other.
Every year, during the last scorching weekend in July, the Boise Basque community puts on the San Iñazio Festival in honor of St. Ignatius of Loyola. There are Basque sport competitions (wood chopping and pala are my personal favorites), dance performances, greasy chorizos, and of course, traditional Basque music. For an outsider to understand the atmosphere of this festival, one may conjure thoughts of Oktoberfest spliced with a trailer from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. We have a different turnout every time, but one aspect of the festival that never falters is the sweltering July heat. During our performance that summer of 2003, the pavement had been so hot it burned our feet right through the leather soles of our arbakak. When we came to the church at about 5:30 for the San Iñazio mass the wind was starting to pick up, a saving grace from the ruthless July sun. The wind caught our dance costumes, blowing through the knitted socks, two layers of petticoat, wool skirt and apron right to our skin. Izar and I soaked up the coolness of the wind, trusting its strength to support our bodies so exhausted from dancing in the heat. Our relief, appropriately expressed in Cheshire-cat grins, is the photograph you see.
I am, as the popular license plate slogan claims, “proud to be Basque.” Amuma and Aitxitxe, as I call my grandparents, are first-generation Basques and came from Euskal Herria, the Basque region of the Pyrenees Mountains straddling Spain and France. Our culture is unlike any other; the language, Euskara, has no etymological roots in Latin like the surrounding French and Spanish languages. In fact, there is evidence that the Basques are a native Iberian people, and inhabited the region long before any other peoples migrated there. However, until around the age of fifteen, I didn’t really care about that.
Boise’ko Gazteak, literally meaning “young ones of Boise” is the dance organization here in Boise for children 3-14. I danced, not voluntarily, but because my mom made me do it. In response to my numerous letters of resignation, she always told me the same thing: Oinkari, the “big kids” group, would be different. If I stayed in Basque dancing long enough for one year of Oinkari and still didn’t like it, I could leave. Pacified, I nevertheless finished my Boise’ko career somewhat grudgingly. When the time came during my freshman year to join, I signed up for Oinkari Basque Dancers eagerly, ready to serve my yearlong sentence and rid myself of the boring routine forever.
My first day at Oinkari practice turned out surprisingly good results. I had expected everyone to waste a lot of time and be noisy and annoying, but this was much different than Boise’ko. We were adults now, and were treated as such. I began to look forward to coming to practices, eager to learn new dances and tidbits about Basque culture. I realized after San Iñazio that summer how much I loved Oinkari. It is more than a dance group; it is a family. There are people in the group from ages 14-30, and we are all friends. We’ll march through an arduous, three-hour-long Sunday practice, but that same week we might throw a party at the Basque Center. I have grown up with these kids (yes, 25-year-olds are still kids) and have made life-long friends.
All of that sounds terribly cliché, I know, but it’s true about any group like ours. Whether a person is involved in a dance group, sports team, church organization, or acting club, chances are they will make a lot of friends and have a good time. However, the good times I have with my lagunak in Oinkari are not the most important thing about the group. Oinkari was founded with the mission of preserving the Basque culture through dance, and that mission is of utmost importance; any social benefits are merely bonuses. Nonetheless, it has dramatically changed me- for the better. Before I joined, I only considered Basque to be the nationality of my grandparents. Since I have joined, it has become part of my world.
Two years ago, I started working as a server at our Basque club’s monthly dinners and a part-time caterer for The Basque Market. I have always loved music, and my music background made it easy for me to take up accordion, the principal instrument of Basque dance. I was elected Secretary of Oinkari, and part of my responsibility now is managing oinkari.org, our website. Now, ironically, I teach dance for Boise’ko Gazteak, the group I was in so many years ago. I realize how much my heritage has shaped my identity. It has made me more aware of my potential and inspired me to contribute to my cultural community. During mass that day, after savoring the sheer bliss of the wind blowing through my poxpoliña costume, I sat and pondered what all this- the music, the people, and the dance- meant to me. Since San Iñazio that year, when an unwitting photographer captured our joy, mid-grin, I have come to understand the reason I still bravely endure the hottest days of July.
-Lael Uberuaga (2005)