Al was born in Boise, Idaho on 21 August 1935 to Tomás Erquiaga and Anita Echevarria. He grew up immersed in the Basque community, where he learned to celebrate the culture and heritage around him. When they were children on the family’s farm in Meridian, his father taught Al and his sister, Alice, to dance by singing and clapping for them. When he was old enough for Basque dancing lessons, his father enrolled him in Juanita “Jay” Hormaechea’s class. It took a while for Albert to feel comfortable dancing in the class, but he came to love Basque dancing after performing at several music festivals and other events.
Al explains how he made the transition from a self-conscious boy in Ms. Hormaechea’s class to one of the founding members of the Oinkari Basque Dancers in Boise. He gives a detailed, personal account of the group’s emergence, his love for music and dancing, and notes the contributions made by other Basques, both in the United States and Euskadi, to its development.
Active in the Boise Basque community, Al argues that music and dancing have played a central role in the preservation, exhibition, and celebration of the Basque culture in the area. Al has been instrumental in the success of the various Jaialdi Basque festivals in Boise, as artistic director of the performances at the Morrison Center.
TAPE MINUTE SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
0-10:30 Al thinks that dance and music as elements of Basque culture have been able to survive so well because people can appreciate both while relaxing and having fun. He believes that (especially the jota) is happy music, which brings people together. In the 25 years between the boarding house days and the Oinkaris, music at the picnics was the only thing tying the Boise Basques together as a community. Al thinks that dancing is so energetic and interesting, that even non-Basques are excited by it. If there is one thing Al wishes the present Oinkaris would do, it would be to show more joy in their dancing; they seem to have lost a little of their spark. Al mulls over whether it is the performance aspect of dancing or the cultural preservation aspect of it that drives the Oinkaris. The earlier generations seemed to enjoy doing it more than thinking about the reason why they are dancing; this may have been because they had to make up so many of their dances. The new generation of Oinkaris has more of a focus on preserving the Basque culture, because they now have the authentic costumes and traditional dances.
10:30-19:00 Al defines himself as being a Basque before being an American, but this is a feeling that developed after his childhood (his parents worked really hard as farmers and didn’t stress the intricacies of the culture much). He is such a perfectionist, and he knows that he can do a good job; together, this drives him to take on a lot of leadership positions in Basque activities. He helps with NABO and Jaialdi in addition to the Oinkaris. Al remembers a car trip with a Basque official from Euskadi and other Boise Basques, where they planned activities. He jokes that his big mouth gets him into a lot of work. Al claims that he is very shy about speaking up in a group, but when he gets a good idea, he can’t keep himself from blurting it out. He discusses his shyness.
19-21:00 Al does not foresee himself taking on any projects the size of a Jaialdi again, but he wouldn’t mind chairing other events. He feels a little burnt out.
NAMES AND PLACES
Jaialdi: large Basque festival every five years
Oinkaris: Basque dancers
Basque Center: houses many organizational meetings
Clubs and Organizations
Basque Oral History Project Index
Interview Tape Index
NAME: Al Erquiaga
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 11/19/1991
LOCATION: Basque Museum, Boise, ID
INTERVEWER: John Bieter
INDEXED BY: Daniel Chertudi
TAPE MINUTE SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
0-7:00 Al got started dancing with his sister Alice in the kitchen of their Meridian farmhouse, while his father sang and clapped his hands; this was several years before he went to jota class with Jay Hormaechea in 1948. When he began classes, the students had to sign in every day. Al began classes with several of his friends because their families were all very close. He remembers that on the 1st day of class, he, John Barrutia and Henry Achurra refused to dance! The 2nd week, he decided to participate, having gotten over the “sissy” image sometimes associated with dancing. Practices were upstairs at the Western Hall, in Hyde Park. Al almost quit a few weeks into the program because Jay would make them wiggle their arms in front of the whole class every day. The parents also practiced later on those evenings. Jay didn’t hold classes during the summer. Al says that people believed it was a passing fancy at the time; initially, none of the little boys wanted to dance. At the beginning, Jay’s classes were strictly lessons to teach dancing, and the group didn’t perform, but the Song of the Basques performance at Music Week probably only happened because these jota classes were being held.
7-18:00 Al explains how he made the transition from a little boy who hated dancing to one of the founding members of the Oinkaris. He recalls that his regular dancing partner, Beatrice Solosabal, were frequently asked to perform at exhibits, and after a few Music Week performances, he really came to love Basque dancing. After a while, the jota classes were moved to the old American Legion Hall (where the Key Bank was at the time of this interview). Once the Basque Center opened, the jota classes ended, and so the Euskaldun Gasteak youth group was formed. John Barrutia was the 1st president, and Al was the vice-president; the group only lasted a few years. The group was formed as a way for the kids to get together after the dance classes had ended; they didn’t really do any dancing. A number of years passed, during which Jay had moved to Mexico. The kids, most of whom were by now in the Cabrini Club, convinced Jay to resume dance classes, this time in the basement of the Basque Center. He details meeting with other kids interested in dancing and deciding to go to the Basque country. A lot more than the 8 kids who ended up going were interested in going abroad, but didn’t. The trip was only intended to be an introduction to real Basque culture. They left in June of 1960. Simon Achabal, Toni Murelaga, Clarine Anchustegui, Bea Solosabal, and Al took a boat from Canada to France, where they met up with Delfina and Diana Urresti and Dolores Hormaechea in Paris before going to the Basque country. They rented 2 cars to travel around. Al remembers seeing the original Oinkaris dancing in Pasajes San Juan, which got the group of former dancers all excited. Simon knew some of the Oinkaris and made introductions, after which Al and his friends went to France to watch them perform. They became fast friends, and the Oinkaris taught the Americans how to dance. The original Oinkaris said the best tribute Al and his friends could give them would be to start a dance group and call it the Oinkaris. The kids never thought it would actually happen, but when they got back to the US, a lot of kids got together and performed at the 1960 Sheepherders Ball.
18-25:00 Before 1960, a small, unorganized group of friends, including Al, had performed at the Nugget Casino in Reno and Sun Valley. Immediately after they got back form Euskadi, Pete Echevarria asked the group to perform in Carson City for a Basque festival. When the Oinkaris were officially formed, they were asked to represent Idaho at the 1962 World’s Fair, and they knew they were on to something big. Reg Aldecoa was the group’s fundraising chairman, and made the trip possible. Even though they were rained out at the Fair (in Seattle), they performed every here and there to great acclaim. Their next big gig was the International Girl Scouts’ Jamboree, and the next one was the New York World’s Fair (with the help of Jerry Sweeney, the former curator of the Idaho Historical Museum). Bill Campbell and Sandy Klein also helped the group out. Al wasn’t sure how the lady in charge of the Seattle World’s Fair knew about them, but by that time, the Oinkaris already had a name in Idaho.
25-30:00 Jimmy Jausoro was always their musician, and Domingo Ansotegui often helped out as well. Irene Anderson helped out with music at some events as well. Al discusses the music behind various Basque songs at a few performances. At the New York World’s Fair, the Boise Oinkaris made the front page of several national newspapers, and they were the only group representing Idaho. The Oinkaris were helped out a lot by the community; Al remembers that Albertson’s hosted them at all their stores, serving free food and donating ticket profits.
0-12:30 Jay was a hugely important factor behind the eventual forming of the Oinkaris. Even after the group got together, jota classes continued for younger children; it seems that Anne Boyd took over the enterprise after Jay, and Al remembers that even he taught the kids for a while. In his opinion, one of Al’s favorite times was at the National Folk festival in Denver. The Oinkaris made fast friends with some Serbian dancers from Milwaukee; they were ultimately named the 2 outstanding groups of the festival. He describes the experience. Later, the Serbians got the beer companies who sponsored a private festival in Milwaukee to invite the Oinkaris as the only out-of-state group. When Toni and Simon got married, some of the Serbs came with an accordion player to perform at the wedding. Al eventually got out of the Oinkaris, which he described as a low point in his dancing career. When they performed in New York, the group was 41 members strong. The following year, due to the New York success, a huge number of people wanted to join the Oinkaris; to this day, Al regrets holding tryouts for the new girls because they were scared of the large numbers.
12:30-30:00 Al never imagined that the Oinkaris would continue on to the present day. He thinks that the group today looks more professional and more ethnic; a better overall appearance. Al and his group stayed in touch with the original Oinkaris for 4-5 years after the trip to Europe, and the leader even came to see them perform when the Boise Oinkaris returned to Euskadi in 1985. Al believes that music has been an important factor in keeping the Basque community together for so long. It has been the center of the Boise Basque community for years. Apparently, today at 83, Jay will still put on a record when she is alone and dance. Al never hears the music without it stirring him. Besides the Oinkaris, Al has to rate Jay and Jimmy as the number 1 forces behind the music here in Idaho. He lists many of the people who have helped with the Basque culture here, including Jeri Achurra, John Bastida, Dave Eiguren, Espe Alegria and her Basque radio station, and the Basque Girls’ Club. Al thinks that the Basques don’t like to be followers, a reason why so much independent leadership has shaped the character of this community. Al foresees many more years of the Oinkaris, regardless of their ups and downs. He also recalls how he felt upon returning to the Basque country 25 years after the 1960 trip; his feelings were mixed.
Achabal, Simon: one of the founding Boise Oinkaris
Achurra, Henry: took jota classes
Albertson’s: helped the Oinkaris a lot
Alegria, Espe: ran Basque radio station
Anchustegui, Clarine: one of the founding Boise Oinkaris
Anderson, Irene: musician
Ansotegui, Domingo: musician
Barrutia, John: took jota classes
Basque Girls’ Club
Cabrini Club: Basque social club
Campbell, Bill: helped the group a lot|
Erquiaga, Alice: Al’s sister
Euskaldun Gasteak: Basque youth group
Hormaechea, Dolores: one of the founding Boise Oinkaris
Hormaechea, Jay: led jota classes
International Girl Scouts Jamboree: place where the group performed
Jausoro, Jimmy: played the accordion
Klein, Sandy: helped the group a lot
Murelaga, Toni: one of the founding Boise Oinkaris
Music Week: Boise music festival
National Folk Festival: place where the group performed
Oinkaris: Basque dancers
Sheepherders Ball: future Oinkaris’ first performance after their trip to Euskadi
Solosabal, Beatrice: Al’s dance partner in jota classes; one of the founding Boise Oinkaris
Song of the Basques: part of Music Week
Sweeney, Jerry: curator of the Idaho Historical Museum
Urresti, Delfina: one of the founding Boise Oinkaris
Urresti, Diana: one of the founding Boise Oinkaris
World’s Fair: Oinkaris performed for 2
American Legion Hall: housed Basque dancers for a while
Basque Center (ID): housed the Oinkaris
Basque Museum (ID)
Carson City, NV: place where the group performed
Denver, CO: site of the National Folk Festival
Hyde Park: district in Boise
Milwaukee, WI: home of the Serbian Folk dancers
New York: site of a World’s Fair
Nugget Casino: place where the group performed
Pasajes San Juan: town where the group 1st saw the original Oinkaris
Reno, NV: location of the Nugget Casino
Seattle, WA: site of a World’s Fair and the Oinkaris 1st major venue
Sun Valley, ID: place where the group performed
Western Hall: 1st place where Jay held jota classes
Clubs and Organizations