1972 Basque Holiday Festival

Holiday Basque Festival booklet front and back cover pages. Juanita Uberuaga Hormaechea Collection bk 82-1972-61-00003.

The Holiday Basque Festival was a weekend-long cultural program focused on the Basque culture which was held during June 2-3-4 1972, in Boise, Idaho. This festival had an historic importance for the future cultural activities of the Basques in Boise and the USA, not only for being the predecessor of the currently successful Jaialdi, but also because it began a discussion of an Ikastola, or Basque language immersion school, which would become a reality in the late 1990s. The program focused on the Basques but the festival was created for Basques and non- Basques alike. The festival was developed by the newly created Basque Studies Center of Idaho (1969) as a fundraising project for the center.


Even prior to the Basque Holiday Festival of 1972, Idaho’s Basque culture had begun to flourish. The days of the “Song of the Basque” performances (1949 & 1950) were past and the Basque Center of Boise was a solid fixture in the Basque community. In 1960, a group of young American-born Basques and one native Basque took a trip to the homeland to immerse themselves in the culture.  Upon their return they formed an adult Basque-American dance group, the Oinkari Basque Dancers. The Jim Jausoro Orchestra was formed in 1957 and by the end of the 60's they were the cornerstone of the Basque dances and social gatherings in Idaho and the surrounding states.

At the same time, in the decade of the 60s, a movement was growing in the Basque Country focusing on the rebirth of the Basque language and culture, in opposition to the repression of the Franco dictatorship. From singers inspired by Bob Dylan and the culture of peaceful protest, to the development of the universal language dialect of Euskera Batua and the first Ikastolas (Basque schools), or the production of films entirely in Basque, the culture was developing new cultural norms which gave evidence of  its ability to adapt to new times, and to resist the Franco government.

From a political point of view, in the sixties a new actor appeared in the Basque political arena, “Euzkadi ta Askatasuna” a.k.a. ETA, formed in 1959. In its first years of activity, it was only political and with an important cultural background. In those years, Jose Luis Alvarez Enparanza, alias “Txillardegi,” an important Basque linguist and writer, originally from Donosti, took part in the organization, later abandoning it when a more radical point of view took hold inside in the group (ETA V, 1967). At the end of the decade, under the brutal repression of the Franco regime, a period of violence began which would continue for decades. By 1969, Txillardegi, along with the historic Basque politician, Telesforo Monzon, created the humanitarian organization Anai Artean (Between Brothers) to help the Basque political refugees and exiles in the French Basque Country. As a member of this organization Txillardegi came to the Festival, invited by Pete Cenarrusa, to join other Basque cultural figures.

At the international level, the Franco regime’s repression of the Basques gave rise to opposition in several countries of the world, and solidarity with the Basque people, as in the infamous “Proceso de Burgos” (1970). By that time important politicians such as Pete Cenarrusa and Senator Frank Church of Idaho had already reported this extreme situation to the US Senate (April 6, 1972) as well as the Idaho Legislature. It was within this political and cultural environment that the Holiday Basque Festival was conceived.


Basque Festival Board, with members of the Idaho Basque Studies department. Juanita Uberuaga collection bk 82-1972-61-00011.

The Board of the festival discussing the preparation of the same, May 1972. Juanita Uberuaga Hormaechea Collection bk 82-1972-61-00033.

The Development of the Idea 

The idea of a Basque Studies Center of Idaho was beginning to develop in 1969, under the guidance of Julio Bilbao working with the Idaho Department of Education. Through its Division of Continuing Education, with the help of the Basque Studies Program at the University of Nevada and several key leaders of the Boise community, the first programs were launched in late 1970 and in early 1971 the first classes in Basque language were held with Miren Rementeria and Joe Eiguren as instructors. 

In the fall of 1971 the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a grant to the Division of Continuing Education to fund a proposed project on Basque cultural appreciation and preservation. The amount of the outright grant was $52,285 with an additional $10,000 of federal money being available if matching funds of $10,000 could be raised locally.

Five prominent spokesmen for the Basque community were chosen to head the project; Father Ramon Echevarria of Caldwell, Joe Eiguren and Al Erquiaga of Meridian, and Julio Bilbao and Dr. Pat Bieter of Boise. Miren Rementeria provided a key role to the group, serving as its secretary.

The first two years of the program witnessed the restoration of the pelota court in the Briggs Engineering/Anduiza Hotel building and the development of the oral history project that lead to the recording of many older Basque immigrants primarily by Joseba Chertudi. After that, Al Erquiaga took on the challenge of raising $10,000 locally looking to take advantage of the matching federal funds. Erquiaga and his co-chairman, Mrs. Diana (Urresti) Sabala, felt the quickest way to jump start this effort was to create a cultural program the Holiday Basque Festival. The IDAHO-KO EUZKO ZALEAK: IDAHO FRIENDS OF THE BASQUES was created for this purpose, to facilitate the collection of funds, as an educational and philanthropic non-profit corporation. The program booklet for the festival lists IDAHO-KO EUZKO ZALEAK as the actual promoters of the festival.

According to the festival booklet the purpose of the festival was: "Humanistic education and how the methods of the humanities can serve to enhance the image and self-respect of ethnic minorities by strengthening cultural pride and preserving cultural pride and preserving cultural characteristics which lend variety and richness to our diverse American society".

Basque Studies Projects -Trips to the Basque Country

Meanwhile other projects were being developed by the Center and those would be represented at the Festival. The Basque studies classes were a good example of this. Two different Basque language classes (by Miren Rementeria and Joe Eiguren) and one about Old World Basque Culture (by Father Ramon Echevarria) where taught in 1972. Also, several cultural programs were proposed as the Basque Studies Summer Program along with the University of Nevada-Reno in Onati and Ustariz. This would be the beginning of a successful exchange program between Boise and Onati which would continue for many years. The first student exchange occurred after the Festival in the summer of 1972 and it was a success with 34 students and 10 professors traveling and enjoying a profound cultural experience in the seven provinces. Besides the American-Basque professors, several Basque-born intellectuals and professors, such as the important linguist, Koldo Mitxelena, taught classes about Basque issues.

The new program also included various projects such as an oral history project, television documentaries, a Basque literary competition, and a Pelota competition. One of the goals of the project was to undertake the restoration of the Anduiza Fronton.

Visitors from Basque Country and Important Guests

In 1972 two different groups of Basque-born visitors came to Boise. The first was a contingent of 61 family members of Basque sheepherders who originally came to the Treasure Valley as immigrants. The group, with the help of the Bank of Bizkaia, came to Boise from April 3rd to May 18th, 1972. The oldest individual was an 83 year old woman, Dona Tomasa Urquidi.  This excursion was in response to a trip made by 183 Idaho Basques who had previously gone to renew ties with their Basque families in Bizkaia in 1971.

The second group was comprised of Basque individuals with varied political and cultural interests. They came from all over the world to visit the Basque Holiday Festival in Boise. John Deluiza, the President of the Basque Center of Mexico City and Pedro Debeitia, a representative of the Basque Government in exile from Washington, D.C. were among the attendees.  From the Basque Country came representatives of two political-cultural groups; Txillardegi and Angel Arregi from Anai Artean and Joaquin Etxeberria and Mikel Munoa from Seaskan. Pete Cenarrusa invited Telesforo Monzon, director of Anai Artean but in the end he was unable to attend the festival. Monzon sent Jose Luis Enperantza “Txillardegi”, and the treasurer of the organization Angel Arregi as his representatives. Seaskan (cradle, in Basque) was a cultural organization looking to create Ikastolas (Basque schools) throughout the Basque Country and in this special circumstance, one in Boise, Idaho. Both of the organizations explained their purposes during a program called Voice of the Basque on radio station KBOI, hosted by Espe Alegria. The main purpose was to seek funds from the local Basque community, and to promote those same groups in the USA. Later, a group named Anaiak Danok was created in Boise with a purpose similar to Anai Artean. The Ikastola (Basque preschool) in Boise would not become a reality until 1998, but the idea was presented in 1972.

At the time of the Festival, Pete Cenarrusa was the Secretary of State of Idaho. He invited many Basque dignitaries from all around the world and introduced them in a press conference. Other important American dignitaries were Anthony Yturri, a State Senator from Oregon, Paul Laxalt from Reno, John Sita, language professor from Moscow, Idaho, and Mr. Guerricagoitia, from Washington D.C., a representative of the Basque government in exile. The Governor of Idaho, Cecil D. Andrus, and Bishop Sylvester Treinen of the Diocese of Boise also participated in festival events.

Abeslariak Basque Choir

For the festival, a Basque Choir was formed. They were called Abeslariak "the singers”. This was the first Basque choir in Boise or even in the state of Idaho who came together with the sole purpose of participating in this festival.  This was the seed for future choral experiences in Boise. The director of the choir was Father Ray Echevarria, a member of the board of the festival, and he prepared the group to sing four songs "Agur Jaunak" initiated the program for the Friday cultural night. After a speech by Julio Bilbao, Jan Hammer introduced the choir, and they sang "Maritxu Nora Zoaz", "Goiko Mendian", and finally performed the patriotic song "Gu Gara Euzkadiko". This performance gave rise to future plans for the choir with the goal to become an integral part of the Basque community in Boise and perhaps even to be part of Oinkari performances. After one year, Father Ray Echevarria was reassigned to a parish outside of Boise. Without a director, the choir slowly dissolved.  (A second choir, Biotzetik (from the heart), was established in 1986 and has been actively practicing and performing for thirty years). 

First Boise Basque Choir, AbeslariakJuanita Uberuaga collection bk 82-1972-61-0009.

The Oinkari Basque Dancers Performing "Txankarreku" and "Arku Danza" during the Festival. Juanita Uberuaga collection bk 82-1972-61-00131.

The festival program


Abeslariak performing. Juanita Uberuaga Collection bk 82-1972-61-00183.

 “Boise to Host Super Basque Festival” announced the Idaho Statesman, on May 28, 1972 advancing part of the program for the festival. 

The Festival started on Friday, June 2, 1972, with the Cultural Night Program, at Capital High School. The cheerful Jan Hammer, “a rare breed of Bavarian-Basque” as he called himself, was the M.C. for all the night.

The two main events of the night were the crowning of the Basque Festival Queen and the crowning of the Basque Amuma, as noted in the program. A highlight of the evening was the performance of the Nevada- born Basque, Louis Michel Irigaray, known as the “Basque Balladeer”. Other notable performances were given by Father Ramon Echevarria on txistu, a guitar solo by Miren Azaola and an impressive piano Jota by Al Eiguren. 

The crowning of the Basque “Amuma”, or grandmother, was one of the most moving parts of the night. Leandra Letemendi, 98 years old, who came to the United States in 1901 won the title of Basque Amuma. She was sponsored by the Boise Basque Girls Club.

The Oinkari Basque Dancers performed, accompanied by Jimmy Jausoro and Domingo Ansotegui with the music, dances and the costumes explained by Miren Azaola. After the Oinkaris a young Basque girl from Caracas, Kattalin Nobila, performed the wine glass dance.

The Basque Festival Queen contest featured eight young Basque girls showcasing their musical talent. They were: Silvia Eiguren singing, Kristina Totorica, Maria Calzacorta and Anita Anacabe all performing on the accordion, Linda Maiola on piano and Teresa Arrien with a guitar selection. Local Boisean, Silvia Eiguren won the crown of the Basque Queen Festival, not only for her impressive singing abilities in Basque but also for her essay  “What it means to me to be Basque” which was a large part of the contest.


The two female honorees of Friday night, Mrs. Leandra Letemendi (98) being crowned as Basque Amuma and Silvia Eiguren as Basque Festival Queen. The Idaho Statesman, Boise, Monday, June 5, 1972. Juanita Uberuaga Hormaechea Collection bk 82-1972-61-00189.

Saturday was the main day of the festival with activities from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.  The day started with Pelota matches in the recently restored Anduiza Fronton from 10:00 t0 2:00. More than 100 pelota players took part in the tournament and a pair of Basques from Biarritz, Mikel Muinoa and Joakin Echeverria, won the tournament.

After a Noise Parade in downtown Boise, the festival continued with the opening of the Cultural Area, at the Western Idaho State Fairgrounds. In the cultural area the main activities of the festival took place: a costume and dance competition with several thousand spectators in the fairground arena. Also, several Basque sporting competitions, such as weight lifting and carrying, wood chopping, and bota drinking delighted audiences. In addition to the performance arena the grounds featured both cultural and vendor booths. The festival site also featured an authentic “sheep wagon” and a small museum of the “old world”.  Among the booths was one providing information about the Ikastola project, another about the Oinkaris and an exposition building acting as an Art Gallery of Basque paintings and art run by Ruth Melichar. Other stands sold lamb pelts, books about Basque subjects, souvenirs, chorizos, Basque food and drink (although 1972 was too early for kalimotxo).

In one of the corners of the hall a small theater was set up to show movies, display photos, and present lectures about the Basque Country, like the documentary “The Bombing of Gernika” or lectures by Julio Bilbao.  There was also space for films for kids such as the popular 1963 “Greta the Misfit Greyhound” by the Disney Studios (with the appearance of Jimmy Jausoro and Juan Chacartegui “Tacolo” in the film). The Abeslariak performance concluded the Saturday arena schedule, however the party was just getting started. A traditional Basque Sheepherder’s Dance featured a lamb auction and music for dancing provided by Jim Jausoro and His Orchestra.

The Sunday program day began with a Mass celebrated in the Basque language by Father Ramon Echevarria, accompanied by the new Abeslariak Choir. A Basque-style barbecue of lamb and beef was served for lunch and the cultural pavilion reopened from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m.. Meanwhile trophies were presented and a sheep dog exhibition by several Basque sheepherders from the Westerns states of America entertained the crowds. Moss, a sheepherder dog champion of California 1968 owned by Reg Griffing, was the star of the exhibition.  A closing ceremony finished the festival in style.



The Dance team of Anna Urrazaga and Louie Etchegaray performing in front of the judges. The Idaho Statesman, Boise, Sunday, June 4, 1972. Juanita Uberuaga collection bk 82-1972-00185.   

Saturday morning pelota competition on the recently restored Anduiza Fronton. Joseba Chertudi playing pala. The Idaho Statesman, Boise, Sunday, June 4, 1972. Juanita Uberuaga collection bk 82-1972-61-00185.

"Luis Carriaga, third place finisher in the 250-pound weight-lifting contest shows he is in good form with 13 lifts in his first series". The Idaho Statesman, Boise, Sunday, June 4, 1972. Juanita Uberuaga Hormaechea Collection bk 82-1972-61-00186.

According to Festival Co-chairmen, Al Erquiaga and Diana Sabala, the Holiday Basque Festival was a great success.  Although the fundraising goal of $10,000 was not realized they felt confident that it could be reached with the selling of merchandise and souvenirs after the event.

The Holiday Basque Festival was at that moment “the largest of its kind ever held in North America” as Pete Cenarrusa told the Idaho Statesman on June 3, 1972

Congressional Record, Thursday, April 6, 1972. Vol. 118, No. 53. Juanita Uberuaga Collection bk 82-1972-61-00146.


Holiday Basque Festival booklet, graciously provided by Diana (Urresti) Sabala. 

The Idaho Statesmen articles in the Juanita Uberuaga Hormaechea Collection at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center. Articles from Feb 25, June 16, May 21, May 25, May 26, May 28, May 31, June 3,  June 16,  July 2, July 3.

"Euskotarren Ahotza", periodical publication of the Basque Studies Center of Idaho, April and October 1972.

Several documents from the Juanita Uberuaga Hormaechea Collection on the Basque Museum and Cultural Center.

Interviews with Al Erquiaga and Diana (Urresti) Sabala about the Festival, March, 2016.

Audio Recording: 
Interview to Txillardegi by Espe Alegria (Anai Artean). Collection from the Idaho State Archives.
Interview to Etxeberria by Espe Alegria (Seaskan). Collection from the Idaho State Archives.
Julio Bilbao speech about the Basque Studies Program, Friday Night.
Abeslariak performing "Gu gira Euzkadiko"
Silvia Eiguren performing Haurtxo Polita.