The holidays have come and gone. For many of us in the Basque diaspora, this time of year sees us reconnecting with our Basque heritage, because it means reconnecting with family. Visits home and long family dinners can bring out the Basque in us
Together, the food we eat, the alcohol we drink, the language we speak, and the songs we sing bring us back to our Basque roots. We tell stories during this time of year about those who came before us to remember where we come from.
For Christmas, I had lunch with my Basque relatives in California. We spent much of the lunch talking about our family in the Basque Country and our ancestral home there. I got the chance to ask my dad and cousin about the amatxi I never met. (Yes, apparently she was as tough as people say she was.)
Then I spent New Year's Eve with an old Basque American friend at JT's Basque Bar and Dining Room in Gardnerville, Nevada. Being from the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 200 miles away, we didn't expect to see anyone we knew.
But right when we walked in, my friend found some old family friends and I found some kind people who recognized me from my blog, Hella Basque. So far from home, I felt the love and warmth that comes from being in a Basque space with other Basque people. Even among relative strangers, an evening at JT's felt familiar.
It was wonderful for the holidays, but like for many of us in the diaspora, walking through Basque spaces is not the norm in my life. I spend most of my time out in American spaces, where very few people know of the Basque Country.
Explaining my family heritage, the work I do with Hella Basque, and the Basque social scene in the United States to new acquaintances is a struggle. It is much simpler to not engage in these conversations, to ignore or deny our Basque heritage.
Throughout the year, our Basque identities may take a backseat, unless we actively participate in Basque events and programs run by an Euskal Etxea near us. Our Basqueness reveals itself primarily in our values: in our work ethic, our thriftiness, connections to family business, a stubborn streak, an entrepreneurial spirit, or the occasional craving for sheep milk cheese... Culture informs our actions and decisions, but it is a subtle force.
In the diaspora, Basque culture and identity need to be actively practiced on occasion in order for them to be maintained. Especially as we lose the Basque language with subsequent generations in the United States, preserving the Basque traditions that were brought over by Basque immigrants remains a top priority for Basque clubs.
This singular focus comes sometimes at the expense of being open to new ideas and celebrations of Basque identity. We dance the same Basque dances, sing the same Basque songs, and eat the same Basque food as those who came 50 or even 100+ years before us.
However this work is absolutely necessary for the preservation of our identity, and it is easy to implement as we gather together for the holidays. It creates the sense of comfort and camaraderie I felt on New Year's Eve at a Basque restaurant in Nevada, far from home. A feeling of homecoming and belonging that is rare in other aspects of my life.
It comes out during the holidays but also in the summertime at Basque picnics and festivals across the United States.
So it is with a little sadness I see the holidays go. The New Year is full of hope and opportunity, but I look forward to the next chance to celebrate my Basque culture over delicious food and among good company.