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05.- Basque in America

However, as in the Old World, things in the New are not immutable. In the US the Basques and their affairs change with time. The first obstacle confronting the Basque immigrant was his ignorance of the language, hence the difficulty in getting any job for which knowledge of English was essential. Most of the Basques arrived in the US to work as shepherds, so that in the early days of American California their compatriots were associated with the sheep business. From then on many prospered, and they themselves, or the generation that followed, were in a better position to take advantage of the opportunities available in a country like the US. Some, after many years there, decided to return to Europe. Others simply aged, with or without family, taking part every day in a game of mus [a Basque card game] in the local Basque hotel.


Many first generation Basques born in the US were bilingual, speaking Euskara and English. French and Spanish also had their place in Basque communities. Distances apart, there is a certain parallel with the situation in Euskal Herria some decades ago, when parents who spoke little other than Euskara raised bilingual children speaking Euskara and Spanish or Euskara and French; In the United States, people who spoke Euskara and English or, in the best of cases, people who spoke three or four languages, and in less fortunate cases, monolingual Spanish, French or English speakers.



05.3 "I'M BASQUE"
Until a little more than thirty years ago, the flow of Basque emigrants to America contributed to the intensification of ethnic Basque-American activities. Starting in the 1970's, the process of Basque cohesion and union became institutionalized in the New World, overcoming old fashioned-ideas and stereotypes still current among some European Basques. American Basques accept "Zazpiak Bat" as a natural slogan and symbol of something they see as no less natural than the union between the Basques of the seven provinces, and to which they ascribe little political significance.

As this 21st century begins, it is still possible in the midst of American Basque communities to run into young people, in their twenties and thirties, children of Basque immigrants, whose maternal language is Euskara. People who in Euskara speak without any American accent, but rather with the accent of Lower Navarre, Bizkaia, or Lapurdi, and who at the same time speak perfect English with the accent of the place in which they were born. Clearly the preservation of a language is not easy, and English is today the language most commonly used between American Basques. The Basque community is not in this regard an exception. If we look at how the original languages of Italians, Germans, and so on have fared, however, we see that Euskara, given its circumstances, has in comparison survived quite resolutely.


The new generations exhibit the natural process of Americanization. To be Basque or to be part of the Basque phenomenon is an option today that may or may not be exercised. Those who wish may strengthen their ties via cultural elements such as dances and customs, while in some there is also the desire to travel to Euskal Herria and study Euskara, Spanish, or French. In recent years we have even seen the resurgence of Basque language classes, facilitated by new courses via the Internet. With succeeding generations the mode of being Basque has adapted to a new environment, and the concept of Basque-ness has altered, although to the question "What are your roots?" the answer continues to be the same: "I'm Basque," "Euskalduna naiz."


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