Juanita "Jay" (Uberuaga) Hormaechea

Interviewer: Mark Bieter, John Bieter, and David Ensunsa
Location: Boise, Idaho
Interview Date: 02/06/1991
Interview Summary

Juanita was born in Boise, Idaho in 1908 to Juana Arriola and Juan Uberuaga.  Her parents, who had both come from Euskadi to make their lives in Idaho, operated the Uberuaga boarding house on Grove Street.  In 1912, Juanita's family moved to another house on Grove Street but kept a few rooms open for boarders.  Juanita describes what it was like to grow in a boarding house, surrounded by Basques as she helped her mother run the house and tend to the boarders.

At thirteen, Juanita went to work for the Anduiza family at their boarding house and hotel.  Over the next few years she would work as a maid for the Anduizas, at the Modern Hotel, and other boarding houses, giving her earnings to her family.  When the Great Depression hit, Juanita found jobs as a sales clerk and Basque translator for some of Boise's department stores.  In 1937, she graduated from State Beauty College and joined Ruth Yturri's Whitehead Beauty Salon.  Juanita later bought the salon, continuing in the business for 48 years.

Alarmed and saddened to see Basque culture starting to disintegrate in America, Juanita helped found the Basque Girls Knitting Club in 1936 and the Heritage School of Basque Dancing in 1948.  She gave jota and porrusalda lessons to Basque children and seniors in Boise and became a signatory for the Basque Center.  A true pillar and proponent of Basque culture in America, Juanita is credited for laying the foundation for the famed Oinkari Basque Dancers and spurring countless Basques to preserve and celebrate their heritage.

Interview Index

TAPE MINUTE               SUMMARY OF CONTENTS                            

Tape 1 

Side 1 

0-5:00              Jay was born in 1908.  Her family lived in Boise in a boarding house.  She has 7 brothers and sisters.  Jay remembers that her mother worked vary hard at the boarding house, washing clothes and cooking for the men who lived there.  Around 1912, the family moved to a small house at 614 Grove Street, where they only had room for a few boarders.  Right across the street from her home was the Uberuaga boarding house (now part of the Basque Museum), as well as the Anduiza’s house, the Yribar place , and the Belaustegui family house.  Jay recalls that playing in the street as a child, there were always sheepherders around.  She worked as a maid at the Anduiza boarding house for 3 and a half months, which was hard during the winter months since there was no heat.  Jay describes dancing at the Belaustegui place, where there was a nickel piano, with a lot of the other Basque children who lived in the area.  (Anecdote: Jay and the other children were once confronted by a truant officer while playing in the street.  He warned them about curfew and told them to go inside, but the kids insisted that their parents were all sitting outside watching them.  Many years later, the officer remarked that Basque parents were always very protective of their children.) 

5-11:00             As Jay was growing up, there were usually dances on Grove Street Sunday afternoons, hosted by the various Basque boarding houses.  Music was an important part of her life.  When Jay quit work at the boarding house, she was hired by the Mode department store as an interpreter.  She had lied about her age to get the job).  After she left the Mode, Jay worked for C.C. Anderson’s as an interpreter as well.  Jay also worked for a boarding house for four and a half years, which she describes a little.  Jay went to Central School, until she decided she didn’t like it; she transferred to St. Theresa’s Academy, then back to Central School, then back to the academy, but only finished the 8th grade.  There were a lot of Basque children at both schools with her.  Jay didn’t speak English when she went to school, and remembers being teased about being Basque until the other kids came to respect her culture.

11-23:00          Jay describes her experience working at the Modern boarding house for four and a half years when she was about 16 or 17.  She danced practically every day, sometimes even in the morning, but was told she had to work harder, and so applied herself to cooking and other domestic chores.  She received several marriage proposals, none of which she took seriously.  She talks more about the late-night activities of the boarders, and all the card games she played with them.  Jay socialized with Chinese children and Austrians in addition to the core Basque group, even though she had to work early in her life to help out her large family.  Jay’s father was a hardworking man who delivered coal and was well respected.  He also worked as a night watchman; the family never lacked anything it needed, and was always very close.  Jay spoke Basque at home, even though her father spoke English and her mother was taking English classes.  Her mother, as well as many other Basque women, sold the whiskey they got from Canadian bootleggers during Prohibition to make extra money; Jay recalls the creative hiding places in which the booze was safeguarded from police raids.  Jay’s older brother was the leader of a group that stole whiskey from bootleggers and then sold it back.  Nearly all the boarding houses sold alcohol.  Most of the bars on Main Street, including those run by the Urangas and Echevarrias, were Basque-owned.  She describes several of them. 

23-30:00            In the 1930s, Jay worked at Whitehead’s beauty shop for a while, and even operated the Majestic hotel for a bit [editor's note: in the 1950s].  She describes the hardworking ethic of the Basques (and the Chinese), and problems with discrimination.  Jay doesn’t think that Basque women get nearly enough credit for all their work.  She thinks the best thing about growing up was the close-knit Basque community.  The worst thing was the teasing, but she has always stood up for herself.  Jay says she was never pressured into marriage, but was encouraged to date decent young men.  The boarding houses were always happy places. 

Side 2 

0-9:00               Jay remembers that many boarders spent all their money when they came down from the hills.  Basque men tried to marry Basque women, but it was difficult to find eligible women.  Jay doesn’t remember her first day of school, but recalls having problems with her English, which she had to teach herself.  It was important for Jay’s parents that the children went to school, even though they never had, and several of Jay’s brothers and sisters attended Boise High School.

9-16:00             Jay describes the Chinese community that lived near them, on 7th Street, from Grove to Front Street.  There weren’t many children, but they did play with the Basque children.  Jay’s father had a car and a motorcycle, and he and his wife frequently went out and socialized with other Basques in the Treasure Valley.  As Jay was growing up, every New Year’s Eve, all the Basque boarding houses would get together and throw a huge party, much to the delight of non-Basque observers.  She remembers other festivals, including St. Ignacio and Three Kings Day.  The boarding houses were a little competitive, trying to one-up each other on dances and so forth.

16-23:00           Jay doesn’t recall ever seeing her parents dance together (she only saw them kiss once).  She was a natural dancer, and learned quickly after seeing the boarders dance.  She remembers learning a new dance in Salt Lake City and teaching it to other Basque women in Boise, then they performed it for Music Week and stole the show.  Jay didn’t grow up celebrating traditional American holidays.  She describes her working experiences as an interpreter/saleswoman.  Jay learned English very quickly, but lost a lot of her Basque going to school, and also during the time when she was married to Eugene (Aldrich) (she spoke only English with him).  Once she was divorced, however, Jay spent more time socializing with the Basque community and regained fluency of the language. 

23-30:00            Jay speaks about her days working in the beauty salon.  She had to go to beauty school for 6 months, and eventually worked for Ruth Yturri at her shop for several years, then she bought her own shop above Whitehead’s store.  After she married Rufino she operated several other shops around town.  She loved working as a beautician; she worked fast and didn’t gossip much.  Jay’s parents rarely went to church, and she explains that most of the Basques at that time didn’t, either.  Priests in Spain had been very controlling, and many immigrants to the US were disillusioned.  It wasn’t until later that Boise Basques became strong Catholics.  Growing up, she never corresponded much with Basques in Euskadi. 

Tape 2 

Side 1 

0-10:00             Jay often used to go to Nampa on Sundays, to Jimmy Jausoro’s parents' boarding house to dance.  This was where the jota classes began; Jay commented on the mistakes the young couples made as they twirled, and they asked her to teach them the right way.  She asked Jimmy and Domingo Ansotegui to play for her classes in 1947, and from then on, she busied herself finding venues for her classes.  At first, the different places let out their halls for free, but when they started charging rent Jay paid it out of her own pocket.  Later, she began to ask for 25 cents per pupil per lesson to cover the costs.  She only accepted little kids in her classes, which her sisters helped teach for a while.  Jimmy and Domingo played for her classes for many years, and along the way she had additional help from Angela Bicandi and Valentín Letamendi, who played the accordion.  There was a lot of resentment from the Basque community about Jay’s classes, along the lines of “who the h–l are you to do this?”, but she gave them anyway, and many children came.  At that time, she says, the various Basque organization were bickering over joint activities and a unified club, which is why John Archabal began the Sheepherders Ball as a way to bring the community together.  She thinks that John Bastida and Teles Hormaechea were largely responsible for the forming of the Basque Center, even though they also ran into controversy.  Jay says that if it weren’t for the jota classes, parents would never have come together as they did later on.  At various times, she had 15-30 children in her classes.

10-17:00            Jay gave the meager contents of her 25-cent collection box to buy the 1st brick of the Basque Center.  She never asked to be paid for her jota lessons, but rather gave them because she loved the Basques and loved dancing, and was saddened to see both declining.  Her classes ran for about an hour every Sunday, year-round, and she gave them from 1947 until the present, with only a one year interruption when she married her second husband.  Jay mentions her first husband.  She talks about how close she is to her family; about the boys and girls who attended her classes, noting that many of the boys didn’t like it at first (she mentions Al Erquiaga in particular). 

17-30:00            Jay describes how she was nominated at the last minute to be on the 1st board of Euzkaldunak, but was excluded because she was outspoken.  She talks about her problems with this organization.  Jay’s first performance was Music Week in 1948 (she was asked to put on a show by the organizers).  Many among the older generations of Boise Basques thought she would embarrass the community, but the 1st night of the performance, she had to turn away nearly 3000 people from the Boise High School auditorium where it was held.  Their fear proved to be unfounded.  She describes her rehearsals.  She picked the brilliant lawyer Pete Leguineche as her MC, but many in the Basque community disapproved and wanted him to step down.  Jay stood by her choice and Leguineche's contribution proved to be integral to the success of the program.  The show was so popular that they had to put on an encore performance.  When she was asked to set up a performance for the following year, she was concerned about being able to make it original and creative.  The 3rd and last year, Espe Alegria took over the production for Music Week, but the kids weren’t as disciplined as they were under Jay’s direction.

Side 2 

0-13:00             Jay didn’t put on any shows other than the first 2 Music Weeks, but continued giving jots lessons.  Jay mentions her daughter Joanne's, upbringing.  Jay feels that today, the Basques are a highly respected part of the Boise community, and she is proud of them.  She thinks it’s important to keep the Basque culture alive by getting the younger generations more involved.  Even though she counsels young people to learn the more universal Spanish, she thinks Basque is an important part of the culture.  Jay resents the push toward unified Basque (Batua), saying that it strains the Basques too much.  She considers herself an American first, and then a Basque; she is immensely proud of both. 

13-30:00            Jay talks about her extensive chronological scrapbooks of Basque news clippings and photos, which are now very interesting to scholars.  She started clipping articles when she was very young.  Jay thinks that the jota classes have been instrumental in unifying the Boise Basques.  She thinks the strength of the Basque community has been in its children, and the weakness has been competitiveness.  If the Basques have been leaders, Jay says it’s because of their hard work.  She credits her dancing classes with being the catalyst for other dancing classes in the West.  Jay talks a bit about the French and Spanish Basques here in the US.  She also talks about the Socorros Mutuos insurance fund started by several boarding houses; it was designed originally to help sheepherders if they had problems.  They paid yearly dues, and it’s still going.  Since Jay had married an American, she wasn’t allowed to be part of this fund.  Jay next speaks about how it was easy for the lonely earlier sheepherders to go a little crazy, and how most of the sheepherders decided to stay in the US the rest of their lives.  Jay herself would never move back to the Basque country.




(Aldrich), Eugene: Jay’s 1st husband
Anduiza family: lived near Jay when she was a girl
Ansotegui, Domingo: musician
Archabal, John: helped create Sheepherders Ball
Bastida, John: pivotal force behind creation of the Basque Center
Belaustegui family: lived near Jay when she was a girl
Bicandi, Angela: helped play music for Jay’s jota classes
Echevarria family: owned a Boise bar
Erquiaga, Al: one of Jay’s students
Euzkaldunak: Basque organization
Hormaechea, Teles: pivotal force behind creation of the Basque Center
Jausoro, Jimmy: musician
Leguineche, Pete: lawyer who emceed 1st Basque Music Week performance
Letamendi, Valentín: helped play music for Jay’s jota classes
Music Week: Boise music festival
Sheepherders Ball: Basque event
Socorros Mutuos: Basque insurance fund
Uranga family: owned a Boise bar
Yribar family: lived near Jay when she was a girl


Basque Center (ID)
Boise High School: hosted Music Week
Boise, ID
C.C. Anderson’s: Boise department store
Central School: Jay went to school here
Grove Street: housed many Basque homes and businesses
Majestic: Basque boarding house
Mode: Boise department store
Modern: boarding house Jay worked at
Nampa, ID
Salt Lake City, UT
St. Theresa’s Academy: Jay went to school here
Whitehead’s: drugstore where Jay ran a beauty salon


Clubs and Organizations

Basque Oral History Project Index
Interview Tape Index 

NAME: Juanita “Jay” Hormaechea
INDEXED BY: Daniel Chertudi

TAPE MINUTE                       SUMMARY OF CONTENTS      

Side 1 

0-8:00              Jay talks about all the sympathy cards she has received; many are from out-of-state.  She reminisces about growing up on Grove Street.  She remembers the boarding houses and homes that dominated the area: Uberuaga, Belaustegui, Anduiza, Yribar, Unamuno, Bicandi.  Many of these families had children Jay’s age, with whom she used to play in the streets.  She recalls that curfew began at 9pm, and when a truant officer once told the children to go back home, they pointed to their families, which were all sitting outside, talking and watching their kids.  Jay never did much playing as she got older, since she had to work; her first real job came when she was 13, working as a maid for three months at the Anduiza boarding house.  She recalls sneaking into the main room with all the men to sit in front of the stove when it was cold outside.  She mentions the Delamar and the Arregui boarding houses.  Many places sold bootleg liquor during Prohibition—25 cents a jigger.  Jay used to live close to where the Basque Museum is now located. 

8-14:00            The children formed tight groups; Jay’s brother used to steal liquor from the bootleggers and sell it back to them!  Jay speaks about the quality of life for children back in those days, much of which was due to good parenting by hardworking mothers.  There was a lot of petty jealousy between different boarding houses.  Jay worked for the Ysursa’s Modern Hotel for four and a half years, and also recalls going to Sunday dances at places like Jayo’s.  She wasn’t allowed to go to these activities, which were mostly for men, but she snuck in, danced, and played cards.  She talks about many of the long-isolated sheepherders blowing all their money in area brothels. 

14-18:30            Even when most of the sheepherders were out in the hills, Jay remembers that there were always people staying in the boarding houses during their vacations and so forth.  There was a sizeable Chinese community near Grove street.  A Chinese laundry and doctor were located right next to the Modern.  The Chinese and the Basques got along very well together.  There wasn’t a problem between Basques and non-Basques as far as stores were concerned, because Basques always paid in cash.  They were also thought of as creditworthy.  For those who didn’t speak much English, stores hired translators (Jay worked as one for a few places) to make their businesses accessible to such good customers.  Non-Basques often ate at the boarding houses and Basque bars; the Delamar hosted annual banquets for area bankers. 

18:30-30:00            People rarely stayed at the same bar or restaurant all night long, but rather hopped from place to place to socialize with each other.  Private homes often opened their doors to friends and acquaintances during the evenings.  There was often music beckoning from doorways of various establishments, from tambourines, phonographs, accordions, and pianos—especially on Sundays.  (Anecdote:  When Jay was working at the Valencia, a group of very well-dressed, handsome young men form New York City came by, and how they contrasted with the jeans and silk shirts (most of the sheepherders wore them, since they weren’t very expensive at the time).  One of them proposed to Jay, and even though she liked him, she thought she was too young.  It didn’t take them long to adopt the dress style of the locals.  It turns out they were all Basque!)  Jay was well-treated by the sheepherders and the other men when she danced and went out; Basque men as a whole were very gentlemanly.  The older women who ran the boarding houses were very protective of their young boarders; the sheepherders were uneducated and often dazzled by their freedom here in the US, but the motherly women made sure they calmed down.  Early on, there were some men who amassed enormous debts gambling.  Jay herself was fond of gambling for money with the men, playing Muz.  She remembers that most of the smaller boarding houses went out of business after a few years, leaving only the larger ones.  She mentions the low food cost was a major reason why the boarding houses were profitable. 

Side 2 

0-11:00            Jay says that quite a few young women came to Boise to work as maids in the boarding houses here.  The work was hard, and many of them got married right away.  She say that many young women were corrupted by cocky men; most of the Basque men were well-behaved, but a few were very sexist.  Life wasn’t unpleasant back then; the work was hard, but the social life was relaxed and fun.  Women had to do all the dirty housework year-round, whereas the sheepherders were seasonal workers.  Jay remembers having to scrub splintery wooden floors.  All the laundry had to be done by hand, except for the sheets, which were sent out to cleaners, and the boarders’ clothes, which they themselves cleaned and ironed.  Many of the boarders forgot their suitcases in their rooms when they went back to the hills, since they had had to buy new clothes that fit them.  Some of the larger boarding houses had signs out front advertising their service, but the smaller ones on Grove Street were only advertised by word of mouth. 

11-17:30            Jay remembers that the boarders who had just arrived from Euskadi were a little scared, since they had left their gorgeous green farmland behind to live alone for 6 months at a time in the dry hills of Idaho.  When many of them came back for the winter, they went wild.  Jay recalls the dances that entertained the Basques; most of the boarding houses had their own dance floors.  She remembers dancing the jota and several other traditional ones, as well as waltzes.  They danced until 12 or 1am.  Every New Year’s Eve at midnight, all the Basque boarding houses would empty on Main Street for a huge party with dancing, and would end the evening by making a serpentine dancing chain and promenading through bars and hotel lobbies.  Many of the non-Basque neighbors made a habit of watching them every year. 

17:30-              Jay remembers that in the early half of this century, Grove Street was lined with huge trees and was quite beautiful.  There was also a lovely open ditch that ran through the area.  (Jay points out the ditch’s location on a map).  She discusses several of the sights around the Basque community, and also about the delicious food the Basques would prepare and serve.  Basque women had to undertake all the shopping, and so soon became very proficient in English.  They were not easily intimidated back then.  Jay thinks that women were the mainstay of the time.  She remembers the Spanish Flu, which struck when she was a young girl, and how it took the lives of many Basques.  Many of the ones that survived claimed they did so only because they drank a lot of medicinal whiskey.



Ysursa: family that ran a boarding house
Jayo: family that ran a boarding house
Uberuaga: family that ran a boarding house
Belaustegui: family that ran a boarding house
Anduiza: family that ran a boarding house
Yribar: family that ran a boarding house
Bicandi: family that ran a boarding house
(Unamuno): family that ran a boarding house
Arregui: family that ran a boarding house


Boise, ID
Grove Street: hub of the Boise Basque community
Basque Museum (ID)
Delamar: Boise boarding house
Valencia: Boise boarding house
Modern: Boise boarding house
New York City


Boarding houses

*Note: For more information and an enlightening biography of Juanita Hormaechea, see Angeline Kearns Blain's essay entitled "Juanita 'Jay' Hormaechea and the Boise Heritage School of Basque Dancing" in Portraits of Basques in the New World.  Eds. Etulain and Echeverria.  Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1999.  Pp. 192-211.