How has the Basque Cultural Center enriched my life as an American Basque?

 Aimee Goyhenetche

January 14, 2002


                Buzz, buzz.  I reach over to shut of my alarm.  “9:00 a.m. in the morning!”  I groan to myself and lethargically get up to take my shower.  I go over the usual routine- hair, makeup, etc.- only today there is a little something extra to do.  I dress up in my Basque dancing costume, something that has been a part of my heritage for centuries, and get ready to perform for the anniversary of the Basque Cultural Center.  Sure, today might seem like every other performance but when I stop to reflect I realize that there is something a little more special about today.  The Basque Cultural Center is only about one year older than I am and I realize how we have grown together.  I think back to how the Basque Cultural Center looked when I was a child and how much it had changed.  But despite new exterior and interior appearances the heart of The Center always stays the same and that is probably the part that has the greatest influence on me.  Suddenly my Aita calls to me that it is time to go or else we are going to be late.  I rush into the car and look at my Aita and Mom and my three brothers.  All of them seem to represent a little bit of the Cultural Center.  Aita is dressed for the choir, James for the Klika, Joe is ready to do his dance of honor during the Mass, and Jerome and Mom are dressed in red and green to show their spirit.  As we all walk together into the Basque Cultural Center I take a look around at a community that will be with me for the rest of my life.

                Throughout my high school years I have learned that the Basque Cultural Center is not something that all cultures have.  We, as a community, are able to come under one roof to celebrate our lives as Basques.  When I think about my home there are important things that come to mind: family, food, religion, and togetherness.  That is why when I think of the Basque Cultural Center I think about my second home.  In those many aspects The Center has enriched my life.

                A great part of my life that is influenced by the Basque Cultural Center is family.  At the Basque Cultural Center I am able to stay close with my family and friends.  Being a Goyhenetche I have a vast amount of cousins, many of whom I would not see on a regular basis, but because of The Center I am able to keep in touch with them and know the family’s current news.  Although I may have trouble remembering names I know that when I see a familiar face I will give them two big “potxas”.  Also, The Center doesn’t exclude those who aren’t Basque and welcomes them to come to join in our culture.  My mother’s side of the family isn’t Basque yet they love coming to the bestas for the food and dance.  Just recently my Aunt, my mom’s sister, who has enjoyed watching me perform in the Basque Dancing group, was out doing a fandango at New Years.  I feel proud that all of my family is welcome and that we are able to come together under one roof and celebrate together.

                Working in The Center’s Restaurant has enriched my life.  Before I started as a bus girl in the restaurant, I took for granted the wonderful and unique food served by The Center.  Now working there, I often hear customers exclaim “Sweet Breads? What is that?” or “I can’t believe they serve tongue here?  I haven’t had that for years.”  People almost always seem very surprised about how much food they get and how good it is.  But, they make sure to eat just about every morsel!  I love it when customers ask me about who Basque people are so I can share my extraordinary heritage with them and give them a brief history.  Often I think if it hadn’t been for The Center I wouldn’t have known as much about the culture as I do.  Having come from a family where it seems like being in the restaurant business is in the blood, it is nice to know I have a place where I can follow in my Amatxi’s and Aitaxi’s footsteps. (For those of you who don’t know, they ran a Basque restaurant in San Francisco years ago).  I know if they were still alive today they would get a big kick out of my brother James being a bartender, Joe a waiter, myself a busgirl, and my Tanta Anna a hostess.  Sometimes I like to think that by working in the Basque Cultural Center I am keeping a tradition that I hope my children will one day follow.

                Our Catholic faith helps unify our Basque community.  What better way to celebrate Mass then in the Kantxa of the Basque Cultural Center.  Since I was little, I remember sitting in the loft waiting for the Klika to come in with their pounding drums sounding that Mass was beginning.  I think that the Kantxa with its wonderful openness and acoustics makes a beautiful place for us to have our worship.  How many people can say that they celebrate Mass knowing every person in the room?  Being able to attend a Mass that is done by a priest who comes from the Basque Country makes me feel a great tie with the Basque Country.  Having a Basque priest enriches my life because there is something really special about hearing words from our Holy Bible in Basque.  I don’t always understand what is said but am always at awe as the words pour from his mouth.  I follow along in the translated gospel so I know what he is saying.  It is great that Aita Tillous lives at the Basque Cultural Center because when I go to The Center he is there to greet me with his warm smile and “Nola sida?”

                The last and maybe most important part of my life that has been enriched by the Basque Cultural Center is togetherness.  Through singing and dancing I can really see the love that we as Basques share.  After dinner is done we start singing songs that have been sung for years and years, keeping our old culture alive.  And Basque people can go on forever singing old and new songs.  Then once the singing is done everyone gets up to dance.  I love to do the “irrintzina”, during the dancing, because of the encouragement of many of the Basque people.  Thanks to the Basque Cultural Center I have a place where I can practice my yell.  I love to participate and dance across the floor doing a fandango and other ancient dances.  If I am lucky enough one of my brothers might even ask me to dance.  Basque dancing is a very big part of my life.  I have been doing it since I was six and am proud to say that I haven’t stopped.  But without The Center, there would have been no place to practice dancing.  I try and think of my life without dancing and it’s hard to imagine.  I love knowing that the “irrintzina” and dance I am doing were done by my ancestors long ago.

                So you can see the Basque Cultural Center has enriched my life because it helps me keep in touch with my ancestors and traditions.  I know my customs, dances, some language.  I am able to stay close to family, relatives, and friends.  But most important of all, The Center helps me know who I am and let’s me be proud of who I am - Basque.  The Basque Cultural Center is definitely more that just a building.