Arrieta is a small, rural town of 570 residents in the Bizkaia province of the Basque Country in Spain, about 15 miles northeast of Bilbao and roughly halfway between Mungia and Gernika. On Friday, a dozen of its residents were finishing lunch at Fresh off the Hook in Boise’s Bodo district.
More from Arrieta were expected this weekend for the end of Jaialdi.
“And the rest of the town is waiting for the photographs that we send every single day,” Lucia Agirre said as the lunch bill came.
Agirre, a museum curator, was sitting with Angel Maria Acillona, Arrieta’s mayor, who is semi-retired from work at a bank and has held the unpaid government post for five years. He wore a white shirt with the town’s name and coat of arms emblazoned on the breast pocket, and a kerchief traditionally worn by fisherman and workers in the Basque country that is now official Basque party attire by itself.
The Arrieta group arrived Monday and has been, quite obviously, having a ball. They are filled with pride to be attending with the Basques in Boise this week.
“For us who are there (in the Basque Country), it’s extremely important how the people here keep this tradition, this sense of community,” Acillona said in Spanish with Agirre translating. “We are extremely proud of the people that have gone abroad to work, but still they have this big sense of being Basque. When you go to these places, you realize that they are so respected.”
Two of the mayor’s uncles worked in Idaho as shepherds before returning to Euskadi — the Basque name for their region — in the 1970s. Another woman in their group has been visiting relatives here for the first time.
“There are lots of people from Arrieta that have come to live here,” Acillona said. Jaialdi was “a nice time to come here and meet them.”
He added: “It’s really positive and good for our country, and for our identity. We have this sense of nation. For us, this type of demonstration is really important for us.”
‘THESE CRAZY BASQUES’
They did not expect the festival to be so well organized or to see so many people attending. The non-Basque Boiseans they have met are “extremely nice. They are making questions to us all the time about our culture,” Agirre said, with Acillona in agreement. “They are fascinated with all these crazy Basques.”
“The people are really well mannered,” Acillona said. “This is something you don’t see in other countries. We are losing something of that” at home.
Asked about the Basque president, or lehendakari, Inigo Urkullu, who is visiting here as well, Acillona joked that he has to watch what he says — they are of the same political party. He and Agirre say Urkullu is well-liked and respected — a serious man, in the good sense.
“He’s doing really well,” Agirre said. “He tries to do for everybody in the same way.”
Said Acillona: “The lehendakari knows where he wants to go. The people believe in him.”
The Arrieta group has toured the Idaho Capitol, visited Basque graves at Morris Hill Cemetery, watched the Basque Sports Night exhibition and partied on the Basque block. After lunch Friday, some were going to the hotel for siestas. Others were heading to the mall. On Sunday, they plan to visit a farm. And then they leave on Monday.
“After all these generations still, to feel proud of being Basque,” Acillona said. “It’s so important.”