In An Enduring Legacy, brothers John and Mark Bieter chronicle three generations of Basque presence in Idaho from 1890 to the present, an engaging story that begins with a few solitary sheephearders and follows their evolution into the prominent ethnic community of today. Over the century that Basques have been in Idaho, the choices and opportunities of each generation have created a subculture that is neither purely Basque nor purely American, but rather a very distinctive tile in the mosaic of the American immigrant experience.
The first Basques to arrive in Idaho were largely young, single, poor, and illiterate, and most were closely identified with sheephearding. Their cultural, religious, and linguistic differences isolated them from their non-Basque neighbors, and they tended to form connections almost exclusively with other Basques. By the second generation, Idaho’s Basques had assimilated in their public lives while preserving their Basque traditions through dances, picnic festivals, and sporting events. Third generation Basques, mostly fully assimilated, have paralleled the national trend of cultivating the ethnicity of their grandparents, finding in it both a sense of community and a unique personal identity.
As this well-documented history demonstrates, Idaho’s Basques have become one of the West’s most successful ethnic minorities. But they are also among the most active in preserving and cultivating the traditions and culture by which Idaho’s Basques maintain their ties with both the traditions of their immigrant grandparents and the modern European Basque homeland. Their experience offers rich insight into the complex process by which immigrants become American while retaining their distinctive cultural identity and roots.