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."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 594427

Reported Deaths: 7389
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1229681733
Ramsey51530876
Dakota46037452
Anoka41844440
Washington26983283
Stearns22293222
St. Louis17814305
Scott17324126
Wright16121140
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Sherburne1175388
Carver1051245
Clay816792
Rice8075108
Blue Earth751941
Crow Wing666990
Kandiyohi657383
Chisago603251
Otter Tail575878
Benton572397
Goodhue478772
Douglas468576
Mower466732
Winona455150
Itasca440556
McLeod425459
Isanti424864
Morrison419860
Nobles408148
Beltrami397859
Steele389315
Polk384968
Becker381153
Lyon361251
Carlton346054
Freeborn342129
Pine329122
Nicollet326443
Brown305840
Mille Lacs305353
Le Sueur293123
Todd282832
Cass274628
Meeker257340
Waseca236522
Martin230932
Roseau209419
Wabasha20643
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Dodge18543
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Houston172016
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Fillmore156710
Wadena156122
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Chippewa152438
Kanabec145126
Sibley143910
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Jackson121812
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Yellow Medicine114220
Pope11096
Murray10639
Swift105818
Stevens91511
Marshall88117
Clearwater87016
Koochiching84315
Wilkin81612
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Lac qui Parle75322
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Lincoln5813
Grant5788
Mahnomen5539
Norman5409
Unassigned49593
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Red Lake3987
Traverse3705
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Cook1660

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 367374

Reported Deaths: 5946
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57696628
Linn20903335
Scott20071242
Black Hawk15825308
Woodbury15141228
Johnson1449883
Dubuque13382209
Dallas1118698
Pottawattamie11140168
Story1062848
Warren577889
Clinton556193
Cerro Gordo541289
Sioux514574
Webster512293
Marshall483275
Muscatine4812100
Des Moines458966
Wapello4305122
Buena Vista424940
Jasper419472
Plymouth401280
Lee376255
Marion363175
Jones299157
Henry292037
Carroll286052
Bremer284960
Crawford266240
Boone265134
Benton256655
Washington253950
Dickinson248543
Mahaska230451
Jackson222142
Clay215725
Kossuth215564
Tama209871
Delaware209741
Winneshiek196935
Page192722
Buchanan191532
Cedar190123
Hardin185743
Fayette185241
Wright184637
Hamilton180249
Harrison179673
Clayton169756
Butler165034
Madison162519
Mills162422
Floyd161142
Cherokee159038
Lyon158241
Poweshiek154934
Allamakee151451
Iowa148924
Hancock148434
Winnebago142631
Cass138654
Calhoun138413
Grundy136433
Emmet134240
Jefferson132735
Shelby130937
Sac130519
Union128333
Louisa128149
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Mitchell126442
Chickasaw124116
Guthrie121530
Franklin120821
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112823
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Montgomery103338
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Unassigned9720
Keokuk95931
Monroe95229
Ida90635
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Davis83524
Monona82730
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Greene77710
Lucas77223
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