TAPE MINUTE SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
0-7:00 Helen talks about her grandfather, Claudio, whose name was somehow changed from Ascuena to Ascune, probably at Ellis Island. He was born in October 1881, in Ibarrangelua, Spain, but spent a lot of time in Natxitua. He was born to his father’s second wife, Gregoria Monasterio, as the first one had passed away. Claudio was unable to speak until the age of 7, and his mother was so distraught, she promised God that she would crawl to church on her knees every day until He helped Claudio to speak. Her prayers were answered, and in a big way: Claudio ended up as a mariner, and learned many languages with an almost flawless accent! He came to the US in 1907, leaving his wife and 2 children in the Basque country, to begin work as a carpenter. He helped build the Lincoln Inn in Gooding (where he lived). Claudio had promised his wife that he would have a house for her when she came, and when she finally arrived in 1909, the boarding house was almost completed. The couple had six more children in this house. Throughout this time, Claudio continued as a carpenter, but also rented land to farm, and all the children grew up helping out in the fields. The boarding house became quite a center in Gooding, serving as a prime wedding location, makeshift hospital, and meeting point—not just for Basques, but for everyone. Helen’s mother was the fourth child born in the boarding house, and Helen and many of her siblings and cousins would later enter the world there as well! Claudio helped Frank Gooding, one of the founders of the town, complete many if his projects. Helen’s grandmother died in 1934 (she was in her 50s), and Claudio left the boarding house to build in Oregon, including the theater in Myrtle Creek.
7-20:00 The family boarding house (called Casa Española) survived until the 1940s, when it was cut in half (Claudio had originally built it in 2 sections) and one of the sections was moved to a different part of time. Gregoria ran the house with the help of a good friend who had immigrated with her, Timotea Zendiga (grandmother to the Astorquia family of Gooding). Dr. Carey used the house for much of his appointments. Helen lists some of the couples who married in the boarding house (including Timotea), many of whom came by horse and buggy from towns as far away as Bliss. She speaks about her father’s early experiences in the Basque community around 1907. Since immigrants were mostly concerned with their livelihoods and the integration of their children into American society, socializing was a rather informal affair, carried out in homes and done on holidays. Most of the Basques at the time were sheepherders or farmers, who at that point did not own their own flocks and fields. Helen remembers her grandmother driving alfalfa she farmed to the State school for the deaf and blind near Gooding. Gooding was a small town of about 1000 people at the time, and most people came via the train station in Shoshone. In later years, there was a second boarding house in town, but Claudio’s was unique for quite some time, and the family (five of Claudio’s children were girls) ran it themselves. There were 12 bedrooms, which were made into apartments in later years as family members got married and moved in.
20-24:30 Helen was too young to have many memories of the boarding house, and she never really grew up there. The family would only return from farming when another baby was due to be born, and then did not stay very long. She does not recall knowing many Basque people in Gooding, since the majority was elsewhere working. Claudio was one of the first in the area, and fit in pretty well, although there was an episode of discrimination when Claudio’s son born in Spain was deemed ineligible for employment by the state highway commission. Claudio was immensely gregarious and spoke great English, making him a welcome addition to the larger Gooding community, but Gregoria was a shy woman who hardly ever left the boarding house and never learned to speak much English. Helen lists Claudio’s children: Nikolas (born in Spain), Maria Josepha (born in Spain), Carmen, Juana (Helen’s mother), Antonia, Claudia Ascuena Zabala (whose family still resides in Gooding), Gregorio “George” (a schoolteacher in Mountain Home for many years), and Elizabeth (the only surviving sibling, who now lives in Oregon).
24:30-30:00 Helen remembers only a few of the 8 sheep families in Gooding: the Farmers, the Faulkners, and so on, who all hired Basques. These companies were mainly out in the country, but the Basque employees came to Gooding for Christmas and other holidays. There were only a few non-Basques who stayed at the boarding house, but they were always welcome. Helen remembers that her mother was in a coma after the birth of a daughter (who had a very damaging case of eczema), but a local herbalist was able to save her. The girl, however, was sickly all the time and eventually died at age 14. Since there was no hospital at the time, everybody helped the doctors out with sick people brought to the boarding house. Female relatives commonly served as midwives (Helen was delivered with the help of her aunts). Helen details her grandfather’s move to Myrtle Creek, Oregon, where he passed away. Claudio was a very entrepreneurial man.
0-6:00 Helen describes Claudio’s house in Myrtle Creek: extra-wide doors and walls. It was never very esthetic, but he liked his houses to look like the sturdy houses of his homeland. She remembers the movie theater he helped build as well, which showed a movie every night, and even served popcorn. His story seems to be quite original among the traditional Basque immigrant path of shepherding. Helen remembers other immigrant groups in Gooding, including Portuguese and Syrians who were very much liked by the Basques, since they all appreciated each other’s experiences.
6-15:00 Helen’s maiden name is Elgezabal, and she was born in Gooding on December 1st 1935. At that point, her parents were farming, and she lived on about 3 different farms until the age of 10, when her family bought land from some Portuguese acquaintances. Eventually, her father sold the farm because the dust was destroying his eyesight, and the family moved to Ely, Nevada, where Helen’s 14-year old sister died. The family next moved to Mesa, Arizona, where her father opened a grocery store, but he gave more food away to the needy than he sold, so the business was not profitable. They moved back to Idaho, and stayed in Mountain Home with an aunt (Brigida Eliondo) for a few months before moving to Boise, where Helen’s father was employed by Idaho Creameries. Helen has 7 siblings—Georgia Barrutia, Christina (the one who died as a girl), Fred, Ines Colburn, Henry, Danny, and Deanna Clark—who all went to Boise schools. Helen remembers the 4 farms she lived on as a child, where the family cultivated alfalfa and other crops to feed their cows, horses, and chickens, and milk was sold to make money. Her father’s name was Inocencio, but since no one could pronounce it, he changed it to Fred when he became a US citizen. Helen remembers her father’s immigration. He came to Mountain Home in 1924, where his sisters were living, and became a sheepherder. His father eventually moved back to the Basque country along with a few of Inocencio’s sisters, and Inocencio married 9 years later. Helen’s father owned a club called the Silver Dollar in Ely until the family left Nevada in 1948.
15-23:00 Helen’s father was from Algorta, Spain, born to Saturnino Elgezabal and Brigida Maguregui. She discusses her sister’s death again. All the doctors thought that she died of tuberculosis, but the family was convinced it was the climate, which prompted the move to Arizona. In Tempe, Arizona (where the family moved after Mesa), Helen attended eighth grade classes at the university! The family ended up in Boise in 1949. Growing up, Helen always knew she was Basque, but cultural expression was not as organized as it is now (“we were in the culture without even thinking about it…it was just a way of life”). The boarding houses were the only placed where awareness of a “basqueness” surfaced. She always felt American, and it is only later that she recognizes the cultural loss that occurred when immigrant families pushed their children to speak English so that they could survive in the United States. The children ended up doing better than the average American, but spoke less Basque.
23-30:00 Helen’s father was the 4th child in his family, but the oldest boy, and so received all the educational privileges. He was highly educated in Spain, but was forced to speak Spanish—a habit that became ingrained—and ultimately he even communicated with his immediate family in Spanish rather that Basque (Helen’s older sister spoke more Spanish than English, but Helen’s younger siblings spoke better English since they were more easily integrated into school). Helen does not regret learning Spanish, but wishes she were fluent in Basque. She recalls starting her education in Boise at North Junior High School, a big change from rural institutions! It was about this time that the Boise Basque community was pulling together, with the creation of the Basque Center and Jay Hormaechea’s dancing group. Helen did not begin her involvement in this vibrant community until the mid-1950s, but once she did, she was hooked. The family lived in the North End of Boise, and all the children graduated from Boise High except the eldest sister, who had finished high school in Ely.
0-4:00 Helen continues describing her Boise school experience. There were not very many Basques at North, but she didn’t start meeting her Basque friends until she began her involvement in organized cultural activities, but those friendships have lasted until today. As part-time work, she taught swimming at the YMCA, worked in the treasurer’s office at Boise Junior College, and also work in credit reporting for the State. At one time, she held 3 jobs at once. After high school, Helen studied for a little while at a university in Alabama, but soon realized she could not afford it, and so accepted a degree at Boise Junior College in secretarial science, which prepared her for employment at Morrison Knudsen for 11 years.
4-10:00 Growing up in Nevada, Helen’s family was not exceedingly involved in the Basque community, and this did not change after the move to Boise. Two of her sisters and one brother were married at 18 and working, so there was not time for a lot of extracurricular activities, so Helen had to get involved individually, and only after she had married a Basque at the age of 22. Activities were originally limited to the annual picnic and the winter Sheepherder’s Ball, but snowballed from there. There was nothing to compare to the efforts put into preserving Basque culture today. Helen recognized the importance of her heritage at events like Music Week.
10-20:00 Helen met her husband Frank Berria at the Basque Center, but the families had known each other for years. She had picked potatoes for his father for years while Frank was away at war! Helen was in the kitchen washing dishes at a Mus tournament when Frank (who was playing cards) asked for a date. She initially refused, but the couple was eventually married in 1958. They have 2 daughters, Toni (born in Gooding) and Juani (born in Boise). Toni was always very close to Frank’s mother, and so was very excited by the Basque culture. When she moved to Boise from California, she served on the board of the Basque Center and continued from there. Juani is less involved at the Basque Center, but is still very much interested by her family roots—as an anthropologist, she is fascinated by the culture and has studied it at Boise State University. Even though she is adopted, Juani is still strongly connected to the Basque culture.
16:30-25:00 After leaving MK, Helen began the trend of “being employed without being on anyone’s payroll”. After the couple moved to Washington, DC, she began as a volunteer school bus driver (she recalls getting lost a few times, which sparked panic for the well-to-do families of the little children in her charge!). When she left Idaho, Helen felt disconnected from the Basque culture, even though she was asked to perform jotas for her daughter’s school. There were always a few Basque families around, though, and Helen met a few Basques at a Basque concert. The Berrias resolved this “crisis of culture” by emphasizing their traditions with their children at home, and by frequently visiting Idaho to keep from having nervous breakdowns.
25-30:00 Helen and her husband finally moved back to Idaho in 1981, and lived in Nampa for 21 years. They have sharecropped with a Kuna farmer for years. She describes the relief of being in Idaho again, close to all her family and friends and to the Basque community. Helen has never been the retiring type, and has been keeping herself busy and involving herself in the Basque culture by pursuing an Idaho Basque census project since 1994 (she reads her mission statement). Her research is done from immigrants on down to 2nd and third generations, uses family tie software, and includes births, deaths, marriages, children and true names (with all the nicknaming going on, this is harder than most would think).
0-6:00 Helen continues reading her mission statement. She has used the help of many volunteers to create alphabetical and numerical listings of almost 2,147 immigrants (in 266 families) and their offspring. Her partner of many years, Jeannie Alzola, has passed away and the project has slowed down, but records still remain, and despite vague Basque identity criteria, Helen continues to be interested by this census. She had no formal training for the project, but chose to develop her own methods
6-17:00 Throughout the course of her research, Helen has noticed an enormous pride of the Basque heritage—even people who are an eighth Basque will identify themselves as part of the culture. (Helen pauses to request that Mikel fill out a census form). She highlights the difficulty of tracing families when intermarriage introduces non-Basque names into the mix. Even though many immigrants did not pause to reflect on the importance of their cultural contribution to the United States, as subsequent generations progress, these
17-22:00 Helen has taken 3 trips to the Basque country: in 1989 (Toni had been studying in Euskadi, and the time just seemed right for their first visit), 1993 (a pilgrimage to Garabandal prompted a detour for several weeks to visit relatives), and 2001 (Helen went back with the Biotzetik Basque Choir, for which she has sung since 1987). She remembers the first time: she could just feel her roots in the beautiful countryside and wonderful people. Advances in transportation have made trans-Atlantic trips much easier. Since Frank’s family is huge, the couple frequently runs into relatives in the streets of Markina. Helen’s family ties to the Basque country were diminished after the Spanish Civil War prompted a large migration to Venezuela. She still writes letters and emails to her family and friends in both the Euskadi and Latin America. Between Frank’s Basque and Helen’s Spanish, the couple always gets along just fine in most social situations.
22-25:00 Helen speaks about her involvement with Biotzetik. She considers that she has missed fewer rehearsals than any other member (in fact, she has a rehearsal in 20 minutes!). Ever since her involvement with the Oinkaris, she has been in love with music, and feels that the Basque choir is the best organization for preserving this art.
25-30:00 [The interview continues on March 20, 2002, this time in the Uberuaga House]. Helen discusses the Biotzetik Choir: even though there had been about 2 other choirs before Biotzetik’s formation around 1986, the present group has had swelled to 50 members, with many more men than the others. Much of the repertoire is old (200-300 years) Basque songs, but a few of the numbers are in English, to reflect the immigrant experience. The group has put out several CDs, which continue to sell well. Helen esteems that Biotzetik is instrumental in spreading the Basque culture (many of the members are non-Basque!), since few other organizations besides Oinkari can boast of as many performances (Jaialdi, picnics, weddings, Easter vigils at St. John’s Cathedral, Christmas caroling).
0-10:30 Biotzetik has sung in Salt Lake City for an expo, at the Morrison Center in Boise, for ecumenical services in non-Catholic churches, at annual All Soul’s Day performances to commemorate the deceased members of the Idaho Basque community. Over the years, the choir roster has included the names of over 200 singers. Helen believes that the Basque choir will continue to thrive as long as leadership stays strong—Patty Gabika has done a fantastic job. Helen is hopeful for the future of Basque culture in Boise, but insists that members of the large Basque community who do not participate in organized activities need to wake up and get involved. She admits that the culture promoted by groups like Oinkari and Biotzetik is a little bit antiquated and artificial (only in the sense that evolution has not kept up with Euskadi), but it’s all they have, and so efforts to perpetuate the culture should not be dismissed. Music, dancing, and food should be preserved.
10:30-16:30 Helen identifies herself first as a female, then as an American, then Basque, then Christian. She says that the Basques have adapted and succeeded in America because they never let their “basqueness” or cultural practices determine their lives, but rather enrich them. She worries about the dilution of the Basque culture in Idaho, not a priori, but insofar as practices will be harder and harder to preserve.
NAMES AND PLACES
Alzola, Jeannie: Helen’s census partner of many years
Ascuena, Carmen: Helen’s aunt
Ascuena, Claudio: Helen’s grandfather
Ascuena, Elizabeth: Helen’s aunt
Ascuena, Gregoria Monasterio: Helen’s great-grandmother
Ascuena, Gregorio: Helen’s uncle
Ascuena, Maria Josepha: Helen’s aunt
Ascuena, Nikolas: Helen’s uncle
Barrutia, Georgia Elgezabal: Helen’s sister
Berria, Frank: Helen’s husband
Berria, Juani: Helen’s daughter
Berria, Toni: Helen’s daughter
Biotzetik Basque Choir (Boise)
Carey, Dr.: cared for patients at Casa Española
Clark, Deanna Elgezabal: Helen’s sister
Colburn, Ines Elgezabal: Helen’s sister
Elgezabal, Christina: Helen’s sister
Elgezabal, Danny: Helen’s brother
Elgezabal, Fred: Helen’s brother
Elgezabal, Henry: Helen’s brothe
Elgezabal, Inocencio: Helen’s father
Elgezabal, Juana Ascuena: Helen’s mother
Elgezabal, Saturnino: Helen’s great-grandfather
Eliondo, Brigida: Helen’s aunt
Farmer family: hired Basques in Gooding
Faulkner family: hired Basques in Gooding
Gabika, Patty: director of Biotzetik
Hormaechea, Jay: taught Basque dancing
Maguregui, Brigida: Helen’s great-grandmother
Oinkaris: Boise Basque dancers
Zendiga, Timotea: a good friend of Gregoria’s
Zabala, Claudia Ascuena: Helen’s aunt
Basque Center (Boise)
Boise High School
Boise Junior College
Boise State University
Casa Española (Gooding): Claudio’s boarding house
Ellis Island, NY
Lincoln Inn (Gooding)
Morrison Center (Boise)
Mountain Home, ID
Myrtle Creek, OR
North Junior High School (ID)
Salt Lake City, UT
Silver Dollar Club (NV): owned by Helen’s father