2006 Essay Contest

Jean-Marc Sorhondo
January 31, 2007
Basque Cultural Center Essay

How has the Basque Cultural Center enriched by life? What needs to happen to
ensure that the BCC continues going strong for the next 25 years?

The Basque Center has enriched my life by acting as a central location where I can interact and take part in Basque events and share my unique cultural heritage with other fellow Basques. I believe the Kantxa is a very important aspect of the center because it is what differentiates it from any other cultural gathering place that has a restaurant with a large social hall. There are numerous such sites through out the Bay Area such as the Irish Cultural Center and the Italian Athletic Club, however none of these sites include any facilities that promote activities that are distinctly related to their culture. Although the Kantxa activities are largely sports related, it is also a gathering place for entertainment activities. It hosts such events as handball games and musical performances with Shistera players from Europe and Mexico. The Kantxa also lends itself for the big dinners such as the Anniversary parties. When not in use for various cultural activities, it’s a place that one can come and play Pala. While I was growing up I played and still do play basketball, but Pala has become a recent passion of mine. It is a thrilling game which I have come to appreciate and have been able to introduce my American friends as well. It is a uniquely Basque game and I feel privileged to introduce others to the game.
The Center has been a home away from home for many. I say this not because I am there all the time, but when I am there I feel at home. The second I walk through the only open door on the right, I know I will be greeted by countless people who I know or know my parents. It is a unique bond we share and the Center allows a forum in which to share our special connection. Without the Center I probably would not see 75% of the people I do, at least not as often. It makes me happy to see my grandparents interact with their friends playing mus and engaging in conversation over a couple Ricard’s.

I have so many fond memories of events that have taken place at the center. One that is particularly special for me is the day they honored my grandmother, Amelie Sorhondo. She was a pivotal figure in the Basque community and operated the then equivalent of the Basque Cultural Center out of her boarding house the Pyrennes Hotel. Often times, one expresses what a person meant to someone when they pass away. It was a special day since she was able to hear all of the great things from her “sons and daughters” while she was still with us. This day highlighted the respect and appreciation that Basques have for one another. While many were not blood relatives, everyone was related that day. It is a special feature of our culture that allows us to extend our family beyond bloodlines. I do not know if this would have been possible if the Center did not exist, but I do know that it meant so much to my grandmother and my family.

And last but not least the Center has not only enriched my life but it has also enriched my appetite. Besides all of the great Basque cuisine offered, my favorite food, rack of lamb, is brought to new culinary heights at the Center, especially on the Anniversary events. I especially thank you for that!

I am particularly touched when I see my little sister Marielle going to Basque school every Saturday. Such a class is a very integral and pivotal part of continuing the legacy and following at the Basque Cultural Center. It is important to keep the youth involved and active with different events. I didn’t have this option as a kid. The most important part is to keep the kids who are ages 10 and over involved. While there is Saturday school for the younger kids there are less structured activities for the older kids. There have been movie days and bowling days for the older kids but these are more sporadic. I think an integral part of keeping the community vibrant is hosting more activities in which the kids spend time with other Basque kids. Perhaps having some artistic kids who aren’t into dancing or handball paint a mural or collage for the Basque center would be a great means of gathering kids and have them form their own lasting permanent memory. Other organized events such as the group Sharks and Warriors games is a good way of appealing to members who may not be interested in Pala or Mus, but they can still enjoy the each other’s company.

I have heard many stories from my uncle and father about basketball and softball leagues they took part in within the Basque community. Starting up a co-ed basketball team or something like that would be another good way to have members that are not involved to meet and get to know fellow Basques in a fun inviting environment. Perhaps Father Seifert would be willing to give up the NDV gym key once a week for people to play ball like the old days. Another idea would be a one-day pala or handball tournament. I know they have tournaments now, but it is very difficult to make a commitment once a week for multiple months with so many conflicting schedules. A one-day tournament would make it easy to get everyone there and participating.

Growing up here, it is natural that one would acculturate to American society. The cultures do not need to be exclusive. I think the legacy of the Center will be dependent on being able to bridge the two. Offering a place for people like me, where we feel comfortable sharing with our American friends our unique culture, lends itself to promoting a lasting legacy. While it is bittersweet for me to look around the club and know that it is an aging group, I am hopeful that the torch will be carried by the next generation. We just need to ensure that the next generation is as rooted to this place we call our second home.