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The World's largest celebration of Basque culture—in Boise.

(page 4 of 6)

The strong interest among Idahoans in their Basque heritage has been credited to a single woman—Juanita “Jay” Hormaechea. In 1948, the second-generation Basque started classes at the Basque Center in Boise to teach local children the Old Country dances before they were forgotten.

Intrigued by the colorful folk dances, city leaders invited Hormaechea to organize a program for Boise’s annual Music Week in 1949. She obliged, presenting “The Song of the Basques” with more than a hundred adults and children in what is commonly acknowledged as one of the first public displays of Basque culture in the country.

A sense of pride in and curiosity about their heritage inspired Boise Basques to form a group called the Oinkari Basque Dancers in 1960. That group has gone on to perform at various venues across the country, including the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, and World’s Fairs in New York, Seattle, Montreal, and Spokane.

Idaho Basques started a music group and the Bihotzetik Basque Choir. And they began taking a renewed interest in Euskara, a highly repetitive, guttural language so different from others that its origins remain something of a mystery to this day.

One of the world’s oldest languages, believed to have originated among Stone Age people in southern France and northern Spain, Euskara was spoken for centuries before it was written down. “That’s why you often see so many different spellings for the same word,” says Dave Eiguren, a second-generation Basque who spoke the ancient language at home until he was five.

As the interest in Basque heritage snowballed, restoration was begun on the Basque block at Sixth and Grove streets in Boise. Today this is a thriving ethnic community, with a market where you can buy such novelties as Sevilla-style onions and larra (shepherd’s cheese). A couple of Basque bars and restaurants serve up tapas, just as in the Old Country.>>>


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