Group interview with Al Erquiaga, Toni Achabal, and Simon Achabal.
See detailed index below.
NAME: Al Erquiaga, Toni and Simon Achabal
DATE OF INTERVIEW: 05/13/1993
LOCATION: Basque Museum, Boise, ID
INTERVEWER: Mark and John Bieter
INDEXED BY: Daniel Chertudi
MINUTE SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
0-9:00 Toni remembers Music Week in 1949, when she was 10. Simon came to the US in 1952, and was staying at Lachiondo’s; in the winter, he would come to Boise. He met Albert in 1958, right after the Erquiagas had moved to Boise. At that time, Simon was not very involved in the Boise Basque cultural scene. Al remembers that there wasn’t a whole lot going on at the time as far as music and dancing, although he and Toni do remember dancing in Sun Valley at the Trail Creek Lodge with the Urrestis, Tony (Garate), and they also remember a festival in Reno. Al also remembers sneaking into the Sheepherders Ball with Hank (Achura) and John Yturri, when they were all in school; this was when the dance was still held at the Riverside. Al recalls the Euskaldun Gasteak, which met at the Basque Center; this was where Al met Adelia Simplot. The group used to sponsor dances at the Center to raise money for the kids. This social club only lasted about 2 years. Al recalls that Jay Hormaechea offered jota classes in the basement, and even Al’s cousins from Homedale came to participate. Since that was about the only dance they knew, Al jokes that they made a lot of noise to compensate! They all remember a dance they did in Reno; they got that gig because Pete Echevarria knew about them. Simon remembers that a man named Dick Grey, who was married to Laura Aguirre from Boise, ran casinos in Garden City until Governor Smiley banned gambling in 1952. Dick moved to Reno, and also helped recruit the dancers.
9-16:00 Al recalls that their performances at the Music Week (especially the one held at Boise High) were so popular that the troupe was compelled to come back the following week by popular request. This was the 1st time in many years that Boise had seen Basque dancing. Al also remembers that the Basques entered many good floats into the parades. Al recalls that they at one time they wore Flamenco outfits because Jay didn’t know what the real Basque dancers wore; all three of the interviewees are amazed at all the work she had to put into getting real costumes. Al remembers that his father’s dancing partner was Marie Alegria Uberuaga. When Simon was growing up in the Basque country, he did a lot of dancing, especially as a preschooler. He recalls that when his dad was taken prisoner, he went to stay at the neighboring Achabal baserri for about 3 years, where he learned how to dance with a girl his same age named Victoria. He didn’t really learn the jota, however, until he came to the US. Al and his sister also began their dancing careers by practicing together on the family farm. When he was a young man in Euskadi, Simon remembers seeing Basque dancers come from Bilbao, and wishing he could dance like they did. He also recalls seeing his relatives dance at a wedding.
16-21:00 Al says that none of the young Basques in Boise knew much about dancing when they started. Toni remembers that a group of French Basque dancers, the Olaetas, spent a night at Letamendi’s place, and they pushed back all the tables to have a dance, and to teach Toni and the others some steps. Al and Toni discuss when they began their involvement in the Cabrini Club, where the group first got to know each other. (Anecdote: a girl dancing in front of Toni at a variety show lost her dress when the apron strings came untied!). Dolores Salutregui and Al put together a show, and Toni recalls setting up an 8-girl jota her senior year at St. Theresa’s Academy. Toni describes first meeting everyone. After that, they always went to Basque dances as a group, in Homedale, Ontario, Grandview, Mountain Home, Hagerman, Shoshone, and so on; these took place in the early 1960s. (Anecdote: the one in Grandview ended in a cake fight!).
21-30:00 Al and Toni remember when then began discussing forming their own group, but Simon recalls deciding going on a trip to the Basque country. Eight young people ended up going; they thought at first that it would be cost-prohibitive, but a man named Bill Rodenbaugh from AAA helped them figured out how to spend an entire summer abroad. Al thinks it’s amazing that a group of young people could pull off something like that off back then, when most teens didn’t save their money for travel. The group went all over Europe, but when they got to the Basque country. Simon discusses how Bill arranged for the kids to dance in hotels (in Irun, they even had a special table for them set up with American flags). They arrived in Pamplona on July 7th (Simon, who had just gotten his US citizenship, remembers being hassled by the Secret Police because he looked Basque). They stayed in Pamplona for 3 days, after which they drove to Bilbao in 2 broken-down Fiats. They spent over a month in the Basque country. Al and Toni recall first seeing the original Oinkaris in Pasajes San Juan, dancing in street clothes for a festival.
0-10:30 Al remembers being introduced to the original Oinkaris by a Simon’s cousin. They learned how to dance a few traditional Basque dances; Simon did most of the talking, in Spanish. The original Oinkaris were as curious about the Americans as the other way around, and invited the 8 visitors to go on the bus with them to see them perform in France. They accepted, and Al remembers seeing them dance for the 1st time in full costume. Simon thinks the dances were mostly Gipuzkoan, and they were very good. After that, the interviewees watched the Oinkaris practice in Donosti for a while in order to learn from them. The leader of the Oinkaris was Imanol, and he did most of the teaching. Toni took a movie camera and recorded performances and rehearsals to study later. They did all this in an old dark castle, where the lighting was poor. Toni still has some of the tapes, though they are very poor quality. They learned the hoop dance there. The group took notes, and when they came back, they started their own dance group. The last night they were there, Al remembers that the original Oinkaris asked them to name their new group after them as a favor for all the help they had been given, so the 8 young Americans became the Oinkaris of Boise. Within a few years, the original Oinkaris had broken up, and now the newer group is the only one left.
10:30-17:00 Toni relates how the group would practice—with a lot of determination—in her basement, but there was nothing official until the dancing and music had come together a bit. The group performed for the Sheepherder’s Ball, after which they received so much encouragement, that they formed an official dance group. Early on, there were always more dancers than just the kids who had been able to afford the trip to Europe; they called a bunch of other Basque kids to join them. The trio lists some of the 1st names of the original troupe. They soon began practicing at the Basque Center. Music was provided by Jimmy Jausoro and Domingo Ansotegui; the kids would hum the music, and the 2 musicians would scratch it out on paper. Initially, they only did about 3 dances: the hoop dance, jota, and contrapaz. The Oinkaris began by dancing for nursing homes and other charitable institutions. They describe their trips to Carson City and Reno, always for free. It came that they were dancing every weekend for something, and so began charging a little bit for costume upkeep.
17-25:00 The interviewees remember their 1st performance as a group, at the Sheepherders Ball held at the Miramar. There were about 25 performers. It was packed, and word of the dancing performance had spread; people were excited. They each got their own costumes, but they didn’t coordinate, and they had to wear their street shoes. The guests were amazed, and the roar from the audience was so loud that they couldn’t hear the music. Basque people were proud to see their own kids and grandkids doing something cultural in the US just as well as they do it in Euskadi. Hundreds of people from all over southeastern Idaho showed up for the event. They never dreamed that it would endure until today. When the State asked the Oinkaris to be the Idaho representative to the World’s Fair in Seattle, they suspected they might be around for a while; it was after this that the Oinkaris incorporated, so that donors could write off their gifts. Jimmy didn’t become well known until the Oinkaris.
25-30:00 The group discusses their trip to the World’s Fair in Seattle: it rained, and they were one of the only groups able to perform. Al remembers being asked to perform at corporate events for people who weren’t even Basque, and being helped out by groups like Albertson’s. Reg Aldecoa was the fundraising chairman, and she did a wonderful job. The Basque community was so excited because their culture was finally showing up on the map, and there weren’t really any other active ethnic groups in Boise, so non-Basques were particularly excited, too. Most of them had known at least 1 Basque from school or something. The Basques had a good name too, because they never asked for anything from the community, and never needed special rights or recognition.
NAMES AND PLACES
(Garate), Tony: one of the original dancers
Achura, Hank: sneaked into the Ball
Aguirre, Laura: Dick Grey’s wife
Aldecoa, Reg: 1st chairman of fundraising for the Boise Oinkaris
Ansotegui, Domingo: tambourine player
Cabrini Club: Basque social organization
Euskaldun Gasteak: Basque youth organization
Grey, Dick: ran casinos in Garden City and invited the Basque dancers to perform there
Hormaechea, Jay: gave jota classes
Imanol: leader of the original Oinkaris
Jausoro, Jimmy: accordion player
Lachiondo family: housed Simon when he came to the US
Letamendi: ran a boarding house in Boise
Music Week: music festival in Boise
Oinkaris: Basque dancers
Olaetas: French Basque dancing troupe
Rodenbaugh, Bill: helped the kids plan their trip to Europe
Salutregui, Dolores: involved with Basque dancers
Secret Police: stopped Simon in Spain
Sheepherders Ball: largest organized Basque event in the Treasure Valley
Simplot, Adelia: Al met her at Euskaldun Gasteak
Smiley, Governor: ended gambling in Idaho
Uberuaga, Marie Alegria: Al’s dad’s dancing partner
Urrestis: some of the original dancers
World’s Fair: Oinkaris performed as Idaho delegates in 1962 in Seattle
Yturri, John: sneaked into the Ball
Basque Center (ID): hosted many events
Boise High School: hosted a Music Week
Carson City, NV: town where group performed
Garden City, ID: allowed gambling until 1952
Grandview, ID: town where the group performed
Hagerman, ID: town where the group performed
Homedale, ID: town where the group performed
Irun, Spain: town where group performed
Miramar: location of a Sheepherders Ball
Mountain Home, ID: town where the group performed
Ontario, OR: town where the group performed
Pamplona, Spain: tow where group performed
Pasajes San Juan: town where kids met the original Oinkaris
Red Lion Riverside: hosted the Sheepherders Ball
Reno, NV: site of a festival
Shoshone, ID: town where the group performed
Seattle, WA: location of World’s Fair
St. Theresa’s Academy
Sun Valley, ID: a city the group danced
Trail Creek Lodge: place in Sun Valley where the group performed
Clubs and Organizations