2006 Essay Contest

Lisa Etchepare
January 31, 2007
Basque Cultural Center Essay

Whether hiding during dance practice breaks as a little kid, kicking back and relaxing on the couch during Sunday lunches listening as the voices of men singing at the bar drifted through the door, or dancing in the kantxa during mass, the Basque Cultural Center has always been an important facet of my life. The Basque Cultural Center has always provided me with a place to go, a place to belong, and a place where I could give back. It is a place that I would give any amount of time to if it would insure that its traditions would live on.

Through activities like trips to sporting events and game nights the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center has proved its ability to engage its members, but is solely getting bodies through the door enough to make sure the BCC lasts another 25 years? While I concede that attendance is nine tenths of the battle, keeping a club alive and thriving hinges on more than just numbers. If the goal of increasing participation is to put people more in touch with their Basque heritage, I am not convinced that the SF Basque Cultural Center is working to its full potential.

Athletic events are fun. They are social, and lets be honest, very few things are more entertaining than heckling a rival team. Outings like these accomplish half of the mission statement of those trying to get the San Francisco Basque population more involved; they provide an easy carefree environment in which people can come in contact with each other and build friendships. If the BCC was merely a social organization, activities like these would be all it needed. However, since the goal of Basque Cultural Center is to keep traditions alive and pass down cultural knowledge from generation to generation, as well as to provide a social environment, some emphasis should be put on education. Now, I understand that selling an educational event to people is like pulling teeth. This is why it is very important that event coordinators inject some Basque education into events without having the day turn into something that resembles a lecture on the importance of dental floss. The key word then is covertly. While most people will catch onto the educational side of the events I’m about to describe, one can only hope by that time they will either like them so much it will not matter, or have learned something so it will not have been in vain.

I have yet to encounter a Basque person who did not enjoy drinking wine. Why not then use the relaxed atmosphere that wine tasting creates to host a covertly educational Basque event. By gathering wines from different provinces of the Basque Country, whoever is doing the talking is allotted the chance to give a brief, five to ten minute, history on the different provinces before tasting begins. Wine tasting would be fun; it has an educational element, and its relaxed and social. Another example of an activity is inviting someone to come in and teach how to make beignets, cheese, sausages, or some other Basque food. This event is wholly educational, but at same time, it is something that people like to do. The best part about these events is that you do not need to invite an expert from Europe to host them. There are people within the Cultural Center that are more than capable of providing this information, and people are just as, if not more, interested in what people they know have to say, than what total strangers have to say. In this way, the Basque Cultural Center insures that knowledge is passed on, while also maintaining financial security by not having to bring instructors over from Europe.

If the BCC were to start out with events like these, say have one once a month, after a few meetings they could move onto things that are even more educationally oriented. For instance, I am sure that if the center were to host an event where they brought in people who lived in San Francisco before the Basque Cultural Center was created to talk about the Basque Block that used to exist on Broadway St. in San Francisco, people would attend. It would not have to be a big thing, just an hour and a half of different people talking with some little refreshments afterwards. Events do not have to be big and complicated, just something that remind people every once in while where we come from, and what we are carrying on. The Basque Center is important to me, I want to see it survive for the next 25 years, but I would like to see it thrive with all of its part intact. It would be a shame if in 25 or even 50 years the bar was quite because nobody remembered the words of the songs to sing them.