Basques - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Few Basques entered the United States with the intention of staying. Also, the immigrants were mainly young males. The sheepherding occupation was inimical to family life, and the only married herders were sojourners who had left their spouses and children in Europe. Gradually, some Basques became oriented to an American future and either sent back or went back to Europe for brides (few married non-Basques) . Many of the brides were of the "mail-order" variety, the sister or cousin of an acquaintance made in the United States. As Basque hotels proliferated they became a source of spouses. The hotel keepers sent back to Europe for women willing to come to America as domestics, and few remained single for long. In this fashion, the basis of Basque-American family life and community was established.

Domestic Unit. Most Basque-American households are of the nuclear family variety and are largely indistinguishable from their American counterparts. For those Basques engaged in ranching, the notion of family, or at least of family privacy, is stretched to include ranch employees. The latter sleep in a bunkhouse, but they are likely to take their meals in the kitchen of the main house. If the outfit includes Old World-born herders with limited or no English skills, they are likely to be afforded special attention by the family. For families engaged in the hotel business, home is the entire establishment, which is truly a family enterprise. Special attention is likely to be accorded to the permanent boarders—retired herders with no interest in returning to Europe.

Inheritance. In Europe, farm property is transmitted to a single heir in each generation. This is less noticeable among Basque-Americans. Few Basque-American businesses or ranches remain in the same family for two or more generations.

Socialization. Child rearing among Basque-Americans is similar to that in mainstream American society. The exception is that first-generation American-born children are imbued with an urgency to excel in academics and athletics through the secondary school level. This has been interpreted as the need to prove oneself in American terms as a counter-measure to anti-immigrant and, at times, specifically anti-Basque prejudice.

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