Ongi Etorri! “Welcome” in the language of the Basque, Euskara.
Every five years not far from Boise State campus the streets and venues are filled with traditional Basque music, dance, food and sport for Jaialdi, one of the largest Basque festivals in the world. Most Boiseans know that this is home to one of the largest concentrations of Basque Americans, and many participate in the six-day celebration at Boise’s Basque Block and other Treasure Valley venues alongside visitors and performers from around the world.
Boise State offers a Basque Studies program and a minor degree through multi-disciplinary advanced studies of the Basque people, language, history, politics, economics, etc. We even have a course in Basque cinema! This unique program is considered a distinctive case study of the human experience. Basque Studies students have the opportunity to study abroad in the Basque country, where they are immersed in the culture and language. Students also participate in symposia, weekend workshops and a student club centered around Basque culture.
The funding for Basque studies at Boise State comes from a few sources, including the Etxepare Basque Institute and Basque Government of Euskadi, as well as private gifts that support faculty, programs and scholarships. The Elorriaga Family Foundation and Ascuaga Family Trust are two examples.
The Elorriaga foundation was established by John Elorriaga, the son of Spanish Basque immigrants and a ’49 graduate of Boise Junior College. Raised in a boarding house in Jordan Valley, Oregon, Elorriaga later became the chairman and CEO of U.S. Bank and U.S. Bancorp. Elorriaga’s philanthropic support of Boise State reaches beyond Basque studies into many other forms, including research and technology, a professorship and fellowship in the College of Business and Economics, as well as funding for scholarly conferences, library needs, technology and equipment. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Boise State University in May, 2011.
Scholarships for students pursuing Basque studies are funded by generous donations like the one from the Frank and Winifred Ascuaga Family Trust. Like Elorriaga, Frank Acuaga’s parents were Basque immigrants, and Ascuaga was also a graduate of Boise Junior College. His family ran a dairy operation until they sold it in 1955 and started a feedlot and farm, which they ran for more than 35 years. Frank was the founding member of the Caldwell Basque Group.
These donors have shared a legacy that will sustain these programs for years to come, like the Cenarrusa and Iglesias families and Nerea Lete, Associate Professor of Basque Studies in the Department of World Languages within the College of Arts and Sciences. Lete recently appeared on local news KTBV Channel 7 talking about how the Basque language is thriving because of Boise State’s commitment and curriculum.
This week is a great time to appreciate the people and philanthropy that keep the Basque language and culture alive and thriving in Boise, even if you don’t come from Basque heritage. Personally, I’ve found a way to join in the festivities as a member of the Biotzetik Basque Choir. I like to say I’m an “adopted Basque”, having joined this warm, enthusiastic and talented group of people who share their love for the Basque culture through music.
Laura C. Simic is vice president for advancement at Boise State University.