The Basque population in Boise remains the most visible and most influential ethnicity with access to political and business power.
But it’s not Idaho’s largest majority. That group hails from Mexico.
Mexican-Americans make up 9.5 percent of the Gem State’s population, according to the 2010 U.S. census, including 21 percent in Canyon County. And it’s a population thrilled for a team from its homeland, Club Tijuana, to play against Athletic Bilbao in its backyard in the Basque Soccer Friendly at 7:06 p.m. Saturday at Albertsons Stadium.
“Everybody is excited because everybody is asking about how to get tickets and how they can go see the game,” said Ruben Torres, who was born in Mexico but moved to the U.S. in 1979. “This is the first time we’ve had an international game here. Everybody wants to watch the game. The people I know, everybody is going.”
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Idaho’s Mexican-American population can’t claim the same relationship with Club Tijuana as the Basques can with Athletic Bilbao. One, the Xolos are only eight years old as opposed to 117. And two, while several Mexican-American players dot its roster, it doesn’t have a blanket policy to only field players from its ethnic group like Athletic Bilbao.
But the immigration from the United States’ southern border plays a key factor in the growth of soccer in the U.S. and help the international exhibitions, like the Basque Soccer Friendly, flooding the country to happen.
“Soccer is really big in Mexico, and now it’s transforming the U.S.,” said Alvaro Meza, a 28-year-old Payette resident born to Mexican parents in La Mirada, Calif., outside of Los Angeles. “When I watch games, I have a lot of friends that go for Mexico, but I’m on the other side. I go for the USA because we have these great players that are Mexican-American right now.”
Mexican immigrants and first generation Mexican-Americans like Meza face similar struggles to the Basques who began settling Idaho in the late 19th century, including hostility and xenophobia from native residents.
But the cultural ties between Athletic and Tijuana, meeting for the first time Saturday, also extend to the pitch. Basques made up portions of Spanish explorers’ crews, as well as the first colonists in Latin America. Two of Tijuana’s players — California-born forward Paul Arriola and midfielder Juan Arango, captain of the Venezuelan national team — carry Basque surnames.
Meridian resident Giancarlo Torres, 21, said the two fan bases will share plenty in common in the stands Saturday.
“What I like is that the Basque people, they are passionate. I’ve seen their games on TV, as well They’re passionate,” he said. “And Mexicans, we’re really passionate people. I expect just fun.”