The Cultural Identity Marketplace & the Buying and Selling of Being Basque
by John Ysursa
Being Basque today is more-so a question of choice--Aukera in Basque. But with so many choices making claims on our time, treasure and talent these days, why would someone want to choose Basqueness? We will have to distinguish the Basque brand or else lose out in the marketplace of cultural identities.
Let this begin with a few initial assertions if not for agreement (because wherever you have two Basques you have three opinions) at least clarity:
1. The first assertion is that choosing to be Basque does not mean that one cannot also define themselves as an American, Canadian, etc. This is not an either/or situation wherein being one means you have to give up being the other.
2. This is less a theoretical exercise and mores-so a call to action. Those interested in keeping "Basqueness" alive are being called to participate in this development of the so-called defining of the Basque Brand.
3. This is not about the definitive definition of Basqueness--there is not just one way of being Basque--but it has to stand for some clear things or else it will get lost in the marketplace of cultural identities.
4. This is not an official statement from N.A.B.O. but a working proposal.
The Marketplace of Cultural Identities
One of the distinguishing elements of modern times in the western world is that people can largely choose what to be. Most people today who live in the western world usually take the following question for granted: "what do you want to be when you grow up?" This assumes that the individual has choices, but historically this was not the universal norm. Only starting recently, in some parts of the world that we call the "West" (that embraces some countries like Canada, America, England, France, etc.) did people begin to think in these terms. Westerners inhabit a marketplace of cultural identities, where we are able to pick and choose what it is that we want to be.
Dinesh D'Souza who writes about his immigrant experience in America, contrasts his new home in America with his country of origin India. He notes that had he remained in India, "I would have a whole set of opinions that could be predicted in advance; indeed, they would not be very different from what my father believed, or his father before him." This summarizes life in traditional societies, including the Basque country from which our Basque ancestors came. "In sum," he continues, "my destiny would to a large degree have been given to me. This is not to say that I would have no choice; I would have choice, but within narrowly confined parameters."
D'Souza gives some examples of the choices we have: "I can consult my parents about whom to marry, or I decide for myself. Either I remain a Buddhist, or I become a Catholic, or give up my religion altogether." But D'Souza cautions that these choices are not unlimited: "the point is that I cannot do all these things simultaneously; I have to choose."
With 24 hours in a day, and still seven days a week, do I commit my child to Basque dancing lessons or will it be soccer instead? Do we become members of the local Basque club or do we stay committed to our Airstream Trailer club that goes camping regularly? Will we go and support the upcoming Basque picnic in Los Banos or just stay longer in the California wine country of Paso Robles now that I'm fancying myself a wine aficionado? This is our crowded marketplace of cultural identities. These and other choices present challenges in perpetuating Basqueness.
Earlier Basques were "automatically" made largely because there were few other options in the marketplace of cultural identities
Basque immigrants were in between; they & some of
Nowadays, will young Basques decide to remain Basque now that there are many more options in the marketplace of identity?
Defining the Basque Brand
We have gone from Generation A ("Automatic") to Generation B ("Betweeners") to now Generation C ("Choosers"). Generation A references Basques going back a century or more ago. In those times in the Basque Country, the Basque brand was the only real option in the marketplace of cultural identity. Yes there was Spanish and French influence, but in most cases Basques were largely "automatically" made Basque. Theirs was mostly an involuntary ethnicity.
Generation B references the immigrant generation that was largely made Basque in their youth, but when they arrived here they now had choices which makes them the "Betweeners;" some choose to remain primarily identified with their Basque identity while others set it aside. Those immigrants that did decide to remain Basque is aptly described by Blas Uberuaga (of buber.net) who commented about a small gathering of immigrant Basques "getting together and living life just like they might have in the old country." He continues "while they were playing Mus, chatting away in Euskara, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that this is what being Basque really is about. These guys don’t have to do anything to show their Basqueness, they just are Basque."
Generation C is Basque kids and young adults today. They are the ones who have a wide assortment of choices; they are the ones who will either "buy" or set aside Basqueness. So to get them to buy it, we have to sell it. We have to define the Basque brand to make it an appealing choice in the marketplace of cultural identities.
The task at hand is a collaborative effort to develop both the what and the how. The bumper sticker proclaims "Proud to be Basque;" what does that mean exactly? What aspects of Basqueness do we want to emphasis? Then how are we going to do this?
To succeed in this endeavor we can take some cues from marketing formulas; we have to get to work on effectively defining the Basque brand. A successfulbrand name makes the target audience remember a product when they shop. A brand can include a name, slogan, design scheme or logo associated with a service or product. The brand must stimulate consumer trust or company credibility, and make emotional connections with the audience. An example of some of the work that lies before us is this checklist borrowed from www.ehow.com:
___ Develop a mission for your company. This mission is the company's objective and should be reflected in the brand. Included in this section is the company's specialty.
___ Create core values for your company, products and services. Keep these in mind as you are developing a brand that represents these values.
___ Define the products or services offered by your company. Include not only the products and services but what makes these unique.
___ Create a tagline or "catch phrase" or evaluate your current tagline. Think about what message it sends and adjust it if necessary.
___ Identify the target audience. Attracting the right audience is essential for your company to be successful.
___ Create an overview of your company's individuality. Use the information you gathered in the above steps to define what sets your company apart from your competition. Be sure to convey this individuality in your brand.
___ Connect your company's overview to your target audience. Join their desires and needs to your company's services, qualities and individuality.
___ Create a brand or brand name using terms that show this connection. All of the above elements should be represented in whatever brand or brand name you choose.
In today's modern world that is far removed from the "automatic" creation of Basques, effectively answering the question "why identify as being Basque?" is the challenge that confronts all Basque communities. Thus the nature of the endeavor makes it a collaborative undertaking because as marketing pointers teach us, the branding should be consistent. While in the end, the relative success or failure of this will be measured at our local Basque community, the Basque Brand will have to be universal. Thus this work will have to be accomplished at the N.A.B.O. level and beyond.
There are people of Basque identity all around the world, from the Basque Country and throughout what is referred to as the Basque Diaspora. For all our differences, those with a shared interest in keeping Basqueness alive have a shared mission in effectively defining the Basque brand.
Proposed phases of the brand defining project could be:
___ Initial club level discussion; identifying potential volunteer contributors
___ N.A.B.O. level formulation of shared initiatives
___ Gauge interest of other international Basque communities in participating
___ Approach Basque Studies programs for their input
D'SOUZA, Dinesh. What's So Great About America. Washington, D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2002.
HARRIS, Lee. The Suicide of Reason. New York: Basic Books, 2007.
UBERUAGA, Blas. at http://buber.net/Basque/?p=104