Seven essentials of a successful Basque Club
Originally published May 24, 2006 by John M. Ysursa. Neither NABO or the Basque Government is responsible for the following content.
The Basque motto of "Zazpiak-Bat" specifically refers to the seven historical regions of the Basque country joining together to be one. This motto is adapted here to refer to the seven essential elements that make the difference between a Basque club that sputters versus one that thrives.
What does it take to have a successful Basque club? Many things actually, but here the focus is on seven elements that will make a crucial difference between a club that sputters versus one that thrives: workers, recreation, donors, educators, leaders, a crowd and gogoa. Combining these seven (zazpi) elements will make for a stronger club (one).
Those who have worked to form and maintain a Basque club know that this task is not an easy one. To start a club, it requires a grass-roots effort were someone actually takes the initiative to contact others about the possibility of getting together and forming a club. While our federation of Basque clubs, NABO can be a resource, there is no substitute for the grass-roots effort that is required to create a club. NABO and its members can offer support (e.g., one existing club can help to publicize events for another club starting up nearby) but preferably a core group of people needs to coalesce with the shared vision of starting something.
NABO is there to assist Basque clubs, but there is no substitute for the grass-roots or local initiative that is necessary in creating and sustaining a club. It takes a dedicated core of people to do the necessary work of building the foundation. A recent new NABO member is the "Iparreko Ibarra" club that embraces the Sacramento area.
The context varies from place to place: in one place there might well be a noticeable concentration of Basques (e.g., in Bakersfield, California) which makes contacting possible members easier, while in other places (e.g., Denver, Colorado) the possible membership pool might well be scattered far and wide in numerous cities. The fact is, there are Basques in every state. We have received inquiries even from Basques in Hawaii about starting something there (and believe me we were doing what could to promote that--imagine a NABO Convention on the beaches of Oahu?) but in this case, it would require some serious preparatory work. This might mean going through the local phone book and finding and calling the Basque surnames; placing ads in newspapers; contacting area Spanish or French clubs that might have Basque members, etc. Bottom line—it takes someone(s) with initiative and that takes us to our first crucial element of a Basque club.
1. WORKERS. The question “who is Basque” can still trigger a lively discussion. Is a Basque an Euskaldun—one who speaks the Basque language? Someone born to a Basque parent or someone born in the Basque country? The criteria varies from person to person. So how about this for a "working" definition: a Basque is someone who moves tables and chairs for a Basque event. A Basque club will be only as strong as its foundation, and in this case it is the strength and dedication of its workers who are willing to give of their time (for no pay) for a common cause.
There are numerous examples of the worker without whom there would be no party. As some know, putting on a Basque festival is no easy job: facilities need to be reserved, you have to get the necessary permits, put out publicity, arrange entertainment, prepare the food, clean the mess ....
Here is how it breaks down: according to the last U.S. Census and the information provided NABO by our member clubs/organizations, less than one of ten people who define themselves as Basque has made the step to join a Basque club/organization! So less than ten percent of the self-defined Basque community has taken on the task of keeping things going. (Click on Membership Drive for more information about this and how we are looking to reach out to more Basques.) Then of course, that is assuming most members actually step up to consistently contribute which is rarely the case in most clubs--thus only a portion of that 10% ends up as workers. We owe this largely silent, invisible group of people our gratitude: their tireless efforts have made it possible to give a visible form of our celebration of Basque heritage.
2. RECREATION. This can be called different things, but I’m going with this because it links with our NABO formula of recreation + education = perpetuation. Bottom line, Basque gatherings have to be fun or else people are not going to opt attending.
The primary impetus behind the formation of most Basque clubs that are now celebrating anniversaries that stretch across decades is that of people who wanted to get together to have a good time. The immigrant generation--most of whom founded our clubs--arranged informal gatherings that developed into clubs. Basque families would assemble to share a good meal which remains the defining element of most Basque gatherings. For most Basque immigrants who had to work hard (i.e., herding sheep was not an easy task) these gatherings offered them an opportunity to enjoy themselves and each others company with a few hours of revelry. The recreation continues with every club putting on an annual festival.
Many Basque clubs sponsor a Basque dance group or groups because they 1) enjoy the festive dancing and 2) understand that it is a crucial means of connecting their young people to their Basque heritage. Here the Boise "Oinkari" perform at a festival. This group's origins were informal dances at Basque gatherings when people pulled out instruments to play until 1960 when a handful of people took it to the next level to create a formal group--with its own name-- with costumes and rehearsals for performances.
3. DONORS. While money doesn’t literally make the world go around, in sure does makes a difference for a Basque club. It takes the generosity of people not only to give of their time, but also of money which is why donors are a crucial component. There has to be some seed-money to get things up and running, thus someone has to step up. Fundraisers are a reality for every successful because you need money to pay the bills. Every club puts on an annual picnic or festival that serves as their primary annual fundraiser; others also supplement this with other fundraising events such as monthly meals, raffle ticket sales, reverse drawings and of course chorizo sales. To an extent, the Basque Government is willing to financially support some of the efforts of Basque clubs; for more information click on Basque Goverment.
Most of the time big dreams require big money. For decades the dream was to build a fronton for the San Francisco area Basques, but land prices in the Bay area--then and now--were high. A group of Basque investors made the commitment to "put your money where your mouth is" and thus the Cultural Center came to be. In addition to the fronton, they also had the foresight to include a restaurant and banquet room. The financial risk taken by these folks decades ago has now yielded one of the most impressive Basque centers anywhere with the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center.
Fundraising is a necessary reality for Basque clubs. For most clubs, their picnic/festival is their largest annual fundraiser. Some have supplemented this with other efforts: here the Utah Basque Club is taking part in the "Living Traditions Festival" in the Salt Lake City area. To an extent, the Basque Government is willing to financially support some of the efforts of Basque clubs; for more information click on Basque Goverment.
4. EDUCATORS. This category embraces the teachers & the visionaries. The immigrant generation were made Basque by their environment; they came of age in the Basque country. It is not the same anymore, and not just because things are different for a minority group such as ours in America. The same applies for Basques born in the Basque country. Being Basque nowadays is more of a choice from a whole list of options. Thus it falls to the educators to find ways of maintaining traditions and innovating ways of keeping people involved. Realistically then, if a Basque identity is going to endure in world of numerous alternative choices, Basque clubs have to do an effective job of providing a foundation of what it means to be Basque, again referencing our motto of recreation + education = perpetuation.
Teachers in a club include the dance instructors, the people teaching Euskara classes, the people preparing an exhibit of Basque photographs, etc. A related yet separate entity here include the visionaries: those who see new ways of connecting with people to keep the club vibrant and alive.
An example of a visionary would be someone like Al Erquiaga of Boise. The visionary sees things in a new, engaging way. Some of Al's visions that have come to fruition include the Boise "Oinkari" dance group, the Bihotzetik choir of Boise, and perhaps you might have heard about Jaialdi--the largest Basque celebration in America that is celebrated once very five years. Al also had a vision decades ago about combining our resources to jointly promote our Basque heritage: that vision was the foundation of what today is NABO. Al then went on to serve as NABO's first president.
The future potential of a club rests on the shoulders of its teachers and visionaries. Someone has to step up to work with the young dancers; someone has to brainstorm a new idea or approach to get people involved in the club and in Basque culture. An example of a Basque-American visionary is Al Erquiaga of Boise. Some of his ideas that have come to fruition include the Oinkari Basque Dancers, the Bihotzetik choir of Boise, and perhaps you might have heard of Jaialdi. The role of educators, then, is crucial for the success of a club. NABO is presently at work trying to make more resources available for these people.
5. LEADERS. All the great ideas in the world amount to nothing if they don’t get off the ground. This is why a successful club is due to a handful of people who find a way to get people to begin pushing in the same direction. This is not easy, and it takes exceptional people skills. Able leaders are those who find ways of getting people to want to join in the effort because it is worth their while.
An example of this is Bert Aphessetche of the Chino Basque Club. As noted above, most Basque clubs do not have their own clubhouse. That is what Bert set about to accomplish over twenty years ago. He took it upon himself to purchase the land for the building so that it would be available if the club moved in that direction, and against resistance (there as elsewhere there were voices that said a building wasn't needed, the building site &/or plan was flawed, organizers were going about it wrong, and other such charges that often kill such a project) Bert succeeded as a leader to get people pushing in the same direction. He did this not only with his words--he is an eloquent speaker--but with his actions: he was there helping the build it with other volunteers. Then again, almost two decades later, he spearheaded the campaign of the Chino Basque Club to purchase an adjoining parcel of land to secure the clubhouse's future. He is not the sole reason that back in April 2006 that the Chino Basque Club celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its building, but most who are honest and able to celebrate the accomplishments of others, know that without Bert's leadership there might have been no building.
All the great ideas in the world amount to nothing if they don't get off the ground. That is why leaders such as Bert Aphessetche of Chino are crucial. Twenty years ago he went to work spearheading the effort to construct a clubhouse. While he is not the sole reason, most who are honest and able to celebrate the accomplish of others, know that without a leader like Bert there would have been no 20th anniversary celebration of the Basque clubhouse in Chino in April 2006.
6. A CROWD. In the film "Field of Dreams" the mantra is repeated "build it and they will come." It came out in the movie, but it doesn't always work out that way in real life. In every club it is always a minority that does a majority of the work. But it is counter-productive to scold people for not working more. As noted above, less than 10% of self-defined Basques have gone on to join a Basque club/organization. (Click on Membership Drive for more information about this and how we are looking to reach out to more Basques.) The numbers aren't the greatest, but it is counter-productive to scold people for not doing more, but after all, don't we want people to show up at our parties?
The simple fact of the matter is that we want people to come to our events—otherwise what good is all the effort of setting up tables and chairs if they are empty? So yes, we also need those people who may work or donate little or nothing, because they too make the Basque club a success because we want our events well attended. It makes our efforts worthwhile and rewarding. So let the word go out--yes come to our parties and we won't make you feel guilty because having a good crowd is an essential part of a successful club.
7. GOGOA is the Basque word for desire or will. It ultimately comes down to this great intangible: Euskaldun bizi nahia—the will to live as Basque. That is what it will take to keep a Basque world going here in America. The challenge is to make identifying oneself as being Basque as something worthwhile, and this remains NABO's largest endeavor in the future.