Basques - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. After the family, the most important social institution is the hotel or boarding house. For the Old World-born herder it is a town address, a bank, an employment agency, an ethnic haven, a source of advice and translation assistance when dealing with the wider society, a place to leave one's city clothes while on the range and one's saddle, rifle, and bedroll when on a return visit to Europe, a possible source of a bride, and a potential retirement home. For the Basque-American, it is a place to recharge one's ethnic batteries, practice one's rusty Basque, learn something about Old World Basque culture, dance to Basque music, eat Basque cuisine, hire help, possibly board one's children during the school year, and hold baptism and wedding receptions as well as wakes. Over the past four decades, Basque social clubs have emerged in many small towns and cities of the American West. There is now a Basque festival cycle in the region, lasting from late May through early September, with many of the social clubs sponsoring a local event. Several of the clubs have their own folk-dance group. In Bakersfield, Boise, and San Francisco, the Basque club has its own physical plant for meetings, dances, and banquets.

Political Organization. Basque-Americans tend to reflect the conservative politics of rural western America, usually registering as Republicans. The most notable Basque politicians include Nevada's former governor and U. S. senator Paul Laxalt and Idaho's Secretary of State Peter Cenarrusa. Basque-Americans have minimal interest in and knowledge of political developments in the European Basque homeland. In the 1980s, representatives of the government of Euskadi ( Eusko Jaurlaritza), including its president, several parliamentarians, and ministers have visited the Basque settlements of the United States. The Basque government has provided some financial aid to Basque-American organizations and cultural endeavors and currently publishes an English-language newsletter regarding events in the Basque Homeland. In 1974, the Basque clubs of the United States formed NABO, or North American Basque Organizations, Inc. Each of the nineteen member clubs elects a NABO delegate. The Organization meets periodically to coordinate the Basque festival cycle and to promote special events. These include sponsorship of national handball and mus (a Basque card game) championships, the U. S. tours of Old World Basque performing artists, and an annual summer music camp for Basque-American children at which they learn Basque folk music and are instructed in the txistu (a flutelike instrument played simultaneously with the drum).

Social Control. Peer pressure among Basque-Americans is pronounced. Basques have a group reputation for honesty (one's word is deemed to be as good as a written contract) and hard work. Anyone jeopardizing this perception through scandalous or frivolous behavior is likely to be both criticized and ostracized.

Conflict. Basques have experienced a degree of discrimination in the United States. They are sometimes perceived to be Latins or Hispanics by persons ignorant of the subtleties of southern European ethnic differentiation. The close identification of Basques with sheepherding, a denigrated occupation in the American West, and the activities of the nomadic ("tramp" to their detractors) sheep bands in competing with settled livestock interests for access to the range were additional sources of anti-Basque sentiment and even legislation. More recently, the sensationalized newspaper coverage of conflict in the Basque country, and particularly the activities of the ETA organization, have made Basque-Americans sensitive to the possible charge of being terrorist sympathizers.

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