Basques - Orientation

Identification. The European Basque homeland is in the western Pyrenees and straddles the French-Spanish border. Although frequently designated as either French or Spanish Basques, the Basque people constitute one of Europe's most distinctive ethnic groups in their own right. The seven traditional regions within the Basque country, further distinguished by dialectical differences in spoken Basque, provide subethnic distinctions within the Basque population. Basques entered North America as either Spanish or French nationals, but Basque-Americans invoke Basqueness as their primary ethnic identity.

Location. There are small numbers of Basques in British Columbia, Quebec, and the eastern seaboard in Canada. Basques are present in every state of the United States but are concentrated in California, Idaho, and Nevada. Basques are particularly noted for an identification with sheepherding and are therefore present to some degree in the open-range livestock districts of all thirteen states of the American West. Florida, New York, and Connecticut have significant Basque populations as well.

Demography. The Basque-Canadian population as such has not been enumerated, but probably numbers no more than 2,000 to 3,000 individuals. The 1980 U.S. census estimated the Basque-American population at slightly more than 40,000. The three largest concentrations by state include California (15,530), Idaho (4,332), and Nevada (3,378). The Basques of North America are primarily rural and smalltown dwellers, although there are urban concentrations in New York City (port of entry), Miami, Greater San Francisco, Greater Los Angeles, Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield, Boise, and Reno.

Linguistic Affiliation. First-generation Basque Immigrants are usually fluent in Basque ( Euskera), an agglutinative language employing the Roman alphabet but with no known affinity with any other tongue. Basque immigrants are also fluent in Spanish and/or French. Basque-Canadians and Basque-Americans are more likely to be bilingual in Basque and English (French in the case of Quebec) than to retain their parents' fluency in Spanish or French. It is rare for the second generation of New World-born individuals to retain fluency in a second language. Rather, they are fully assimilated linguistically into the American mainstream.

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