Peek inside Boise, Idaho's vibrant Basque community

Some U.S. cities have become practically synonymous with the ethnic and religious groups who have settled there, such...

Posted: Jan 8, 2018 9:48 PM
Updated: Jan 8, 2018 9:48 PM

Some U.S. cities have become practically synonymous with the ethnic and religious groups who have settled there, such as the proud Irish Americans of Boston's "Southie" neighborhood (see also: every Wahlberg brothers project) and the Cuban Americans of Miami who fled their native island and brought food, music and culture along with them.

Fewer Americans know that one of the world's largest and most involved Basque communities is in within their national borders -- specifically, in Boise, Idaho.

Though there are larger populations of Basque-Americans in the United States, Boise's is the most concentrated. There's even a "Basque block" in downtown Boise with a museum, cultural center, restaurants and a market that holds a weekly community paella bake. (Even though paella originates from southern Spain, many groups -- including the Basques -- have put their own spin on the iconic dish.)

But while many tourists to the area find themselves on the Basque block, they often have more questions than answers about this underrepresented community.

Travelers who have been to Spain may have been to the Basque country, which is in the sometimes politically contentious northern part of the country near the French border. Tourist destinations there include Bilbao, home to the Guggenheim; San Sebastian, a foodie capital; and Pamplona, the quaint town that turns into a giant party every July for the Running of the Bulls.

However, Basques have their own distinct culture that isn't the same as in other parts of Spain.

It's not unusual for a guest to walk into the museum in Boise and attempt to speak Spanish to an employee, only to be met with a confused look. Spanish -- Castilian or Castellano, the language that most people call Spanish -- comes with some controversies, as some ethnic groups within Spain dislike the assumption that Castilian is "standard."

"Basques were there before the Spanish and French, and their language is older and not related. They're not the same, their languages are not the same, and genetically they're not the same as Spanish or French," explains Annie Gavica, executive director of Boise's Basque Museum. She adds: "They're mysterious. No one knows their origins because they didn't document things, they passed [history] on through story and song."

The Idaho Basque community estimates their membership at between 10,000 to 15,000 people. Although some are descended from Basques who came to the area in the 1800s to work as sheepherders, most are more recent arrivals. Some fled Spain during the reign of military dictator Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1974, when Basque language and culture was oppressed.

Others were born to Basque families in Idaho, worked or studied abroad in Spain, then returned home with their spouses.

On a typical day, it's not unusual to walk into the bar at the cultural center and find 20somethings chatting to each other in Basque over glasses of kalimotxo, the red-wine-and-Coke drink commonly associated with the Running of the Bulls.

Next door at Bar Gernika, named for the Basque town (you might recognize its name from Picasso's landmark painting "Guernica"), Basque and non-Basque families alike are enjoying traditional tapas dishes like croquetas and tortilla. Parents drink red wine while they wait for their young children to finish up accordion lessons.

But this community is inclusive, not exclusive. Many of the most committed community volunteers are ones who didn't grow up in the Basque community and reconnected with their roots later on, or who married someone Basque and decided to learn the language and raise their children with Basque traditions.

"Do your parents want you to marry a Basque boy or girl when you grow up?" I asked a little girl who was careening out of her dance class.

She wrinkled her nose. "There's only one Basque boy in my class and I don't like him," she said. "I already told my parents. It's OK."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313166

Reported Deaths: 7228
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21496257
Hinds20294414
Harrison17814309
Rankin13573278
Jackson13411246
Madison10066217
Lee9962173
Jones8364163
Forrest7649152
Lauderdale7181240
Lowndes6370145
Lamar621686
Lafayette6171118
Washington5323133
Bolivar4797132
Oktibbeha461498
Panola4561105
Pearl River4499145
Marshall4397103
Warren4380121
Pontotoc419572
Monroe4100133
Union409076
Neshoba4026176
Lincoln3950110
Hancock377786
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335790
Tate332484
Pike3301105
Scott315373
Alcorn311968
Yazoo310769
Itawamba299477
Copiah296465
Simpson294788
Coahoma294379
Tippah287768
Prentiss279560
Adams269582
Marion268880
Leake266273
Wayne262341
Grenada260386
Covington256381
George246848
Newton246061
Winston226881
Tishomingo225967
Jasper220848
Attala214173
Chickasaw207157
Holmes188673
Clay184754
Stone182033
Tallahatchie178140
Clarke177879
Calhoun170132
Yalobusha163337
Smith162234
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125938
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104826
Claiborne102230
Benton99125
Humphreys96133
Kemper95428
Franklin83623
Quitman80216
Choctaw76118
Wilkinson66930
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50317
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530325

Reported Deaths: 10966
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763971520
Mobile40908804
Madison34717503
Tuscaloosa25730452
Montgomery24314588
Shelby23401249
Baldwin21107307
Lee15856171
Calhoun14488314
Morgan14282279
Etowah13819353
Marshall12210223
Houston10557280
Elmore10044205
Limestone9954150
Cullman9649193
St. Clair9644242
Lauderdale9419241
DeKalb8825185
Talladega8214175
Walker7223277
Autauga6918108
Jackson6804112
Blount6651137
Colbert6292134
Coffee5506119
Dale4828111
Russell440638
Chilton4279112
Franklin425582
Covington4118118
Tallapoosa4019152
Escambia393276
Chambers3559123
Dallas3547151
Clarke350861
Marion3113100
Pike310577
Lawrence299898
Winston274072
Bibb260464
Marengo249264
Geneva249077
Pickens234160
Barbour230757
Hale222677
Butler215969
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184445
Randolph179941
Monroe177340
Washington167039
Macon158750
Clay156156
Crenshaw152057
Cleburne148741
Lamar141934
Lowndes138653
Wilcox127030
Bullock123041
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa107128
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
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