TAPE MINUTE SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
0-5:00 Fermin’s father was Sabino Bilbao, and his mother was Eustakia, both from Arrieta. Sabino’s brother John had worked in the US, but Sabino himself never had. Fermin does not know how his parents met, but they both grew up in baserris. He explains how the baserri where he was born came to be named. Sabino worked as a farmer his whole life, and Eustakia did this in addition to raising the family. Fermin was born 5 December 1941. He lists his brothers and sisters: Mari, Pedro, Domi, Patricia, Conchi (Fermin’s twin), Alberto, and Mila. Three other siblings died young.
5-12:30 Life on the baserri was a lot of hard work. Three of Fermin’s sisters went to Bilbao to work as maids for wealthy families. Pedro went to work on a ship to earn a living as well (he jumped ship in New York, but was sent back and put in jail for a bit; he eventually came legally as a sheepherder). Fermin describes the baserri: it was quite large, and the family grew most of their own food. They had to buy things life sugar and rice. Fermin had to milk cows, plow the fields, chop wood, and so on. There was no running water and they had to use an outhouse. The family went to church every Sunday, and the children had catechism after school almost every single day. Fermin liked his teacher, who was a Spaniard. The Bilbao family sold beef for money in the Mungia market, in addition to any extra vegetables she had. They had one pig a year, some of which was used to make murcillas.
10-21:30 Fermin was born only a few years after the bombing of Gernika, and although he doesn’t remember any of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, he has vague recollections of food rationing. He recalls his school days in Arrieta. Fermin’s first teacher was a Basque, but a drunk. The next guy was Spanish, but he was a great teacher, and helped the kids learn Spanish. When he was 14, Fermin went to Bilbao, where he worked in a factory and played soccer. He also enjoyed going out to dance on Thursdays, when all the maids had their days off. At the factory, which was owned by Englishmen, 3500 people made moldings for machinery construction. Fermin himself worked in die-casting. Even though he made the parts for large farm machines, he never saw one assembled until he had come to the US.
21:30-30:00 Fermin didn’t have too much free time to go home, but he enjoyed Bilbao more than Arrieta, anyway. Similarly, he never got homesick when he came to America—you have to make your own happiness. In 1961, Fermin decided to seek his fortune in the US, always with the intention of returning. He signed up for a three-year contract, facilitated by his uncle and brother who were already working for the Highland Sheep Company. Fermin arrived in April, via Madrid, New York, Denver and Boise. Herding wasn’t particularly hard work, but it was very lonely. When he first arrived, Fermin didn’t speak a word of English, but at every airport, there was someone waiting to help the Basques. He traveled with Faustino Oleaga. When he saw Idaho, Fermin was very excited.
0-7:00 According to Fermin, the first year of shepherding is the worst one, since it was very hard to adjust to the loneliness and the new landscape. He was especially dismayed by the high drinking age! Fermin describes the route he took as a sheepherder, and recalls that he often carved on aspen trees. He listened to Espe Alegria’s radio program every Monday, and also to Cecil Jayo’s. Fermin discusses his free time activities while he was a sheepherder. He had a favorite bar in Idaho City. The sheepherders all became very good friends, and often cooked together.
7-15:00 Recently, a man approached Fermin to say hello; it was a ranger who remembered him from 30 years before! He worked in the sheep business for 9 years, and got his green card during this time. Most of Highland’s employees were Basque, and so Fermin had little opportunity to learn English until he started working with non-Basques in a construction company. He worked there for 12 years. When Fermin’s father died in 1974, he returned to Euskadi, and stayed there for 18 months, working as a driver. But this life was not for him, so he returned to Idaho and resumed his construction job.
15-24:00 Fermin met his wife Liz when he was playing handball in Boise. She had come to watch, and started talking to Fermin as he tended bar at the Basque Center dance afterwards. He just quit bartending this year, as it got to be too much work for a hobby. Liz and Fermin dated 3 months before getting married, then took a trip to Arrieta to visit Fermin’s family. He had never set out to marry a Basque girl—it was just something that happened. Since most of Fermin’s socializing revolved around the Basque culture, it was natural that he should meet Basque girls.
24-30:00 After he finished in construction, Fermin worked traveling around for a while, then joined Boise Cascade in Nampa, in order to be closer to his family. He’s been there to this day. Today, Fermin involves himself in every aspect of Basque culture: dances, picnics, the board of the Basque Center, morcilla-making, etc. His daughter (Ysabel) and son (Martin) have also been involved in Basque dancing.
0-5:00 The Bilbao family still cooks a lot of Basque food. Their Basque identity has never been separate—they. Fermin has taken trips back to the Basque country, in 1964, 1971, 1974, again when he was married, in 1995, and most recently in 2000. When he returns to Arrieta, he feels at home, and when he comes back to Nampa, he feels at home as well. Fermin hopes to take many more trips back to the Basque country, and may consider spending some of his retirement over there.
5-7:30 Today, Fermin feels that he is both American and Basque, but he is very proud of his American citizenship, which he obtained in 1985. He is very happy in the US, and has had an easier life in Idaho than he could have had in the Basque country.
NAMES AND PLACES
Alegria, Espe: had a Basque radio program in Idaho
Bilbao, Alberto: Fermin’s brother
Bilbao, Conchi: Fermin’s sister
Bilbao, Domi: Fermin’s sibling
Bilbao, Eustakia: Fermin’s mother
Bilbao, Isabel: Fermin’s daughter
Bilbao, Liz: Fermin’s wife
Bilbao, Mari: Fermin’s sister
Bilbao, Mila: Fermin’s sister
Bilbao, Patricia: Fermin’s sister
Bilbao, Pedro: Fermin’s brother
Bilbao, Sabino: Fermin’s father
Boise Cascade: company that employed Fermin in Nampa
Highland Sheep Company
Jayo, Cecil: had a Basque radio program in Idaho
Oleaga, Faustino: Fermin’s friend
Basque Center (Boise)
Idaho City, ID
New York, NY
Bombing of Gernika
Spanish Civil War