Reno Basques Host Special Celebration

Little Reno dancers lead the dance procession into Wingfield Park in downtown Reno.
Little Reno dancers lead the dance procession into Wingfield Park in downtown Reno.

Well over 1,000 people descended on Reno over the July 24-26 weekend for the 30th annual NABO convention that celebrated a number of special Basque events. The dedication of the new Center for Basque Studies headquarters on the University of Nevada Reno campus Friday was a highlight, as was a procession of dozens of Basque dancers and musicians in a park in downtown Reno the following morning.

The governor of Nevada and the mayor of Reno recognized the Basque contribution to the state with formal proclamations. Governor Jim Gibbons named July 25, 2009 American Basque Day.

The convention recognized the 50th anniversary of the Western Basque Festival, held at the Nugget in nearby Sparks in 1959. It was the first large gathering of Basques from across the West. A special dinner at Ascuaga’s Nugget Saturday night honored the remaining original organizers, including John Ascuaga, Carl Herrera and John Laxalt, as well as Reno Basques, in particular a long list of women, who have maintained the Reno Zazpiak Bat Basque Club over the years.

As part of the convention, delegates from almost 40 clubs that belong to NABO, or the North American Basque Organizations, attended a meeting Friday at the new Knowledge Center on the UNR campus. The representatives elected a new president, Valerie Etcharren from San Francisco, to replace four-year president Mary Gaztambide of Salt Lake City, Utah. (For more information, see Euskal Kultura’s article.)

Clowns from the Basque Country entertained the crowd
Clowns from the Basque Country entertained the crowd

Friday’s activities at the university also included a presentation by Basque comic book artist Guillermo Zubiaga of New York, discussing the publication of his graphic storybook “Joanes or the Basque Whaler.”

The afternoon dedication of the new Center for Basque Studies, on the third floor of the Knowledge Center, was well attended. The president of the university and the exterior minister of the Basque Government in Spain spoke to the crowd, in addition to presentations by center staff and faculty. For more details, see our article and video.

In the evening, Zenbat Gara, the university’s Basque folk dance group, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a show that included videos of past performances and live dance performances at the McKinley Art and Culture Center. Afterwards, Basque Country dance director Juan Antonio Urbeltz. Also from the Basque country were musicians Marian Arregi and Mikel Urbeltz led an evening of dancing. They were joined by the Zabaleta brothers, who played their favorite tunes on their diatonic accordion and tambourine. The brothers, from Gasteiz-Vitioria, had been in the U.S. since the start of Udaleku 09 in Chino in June.

Musicians lead the kabalkada of Basque dancers in West Street Plaza in Reno
Musicians lead the kabalkada of Basque dancers in West Street Plaza in Reno
Basanderea or wild women were a special addition to the dance procession.
Basanderea or wild women were a special addition to the dance procession.

On Saturday, day-long festivities were kicked off with a special procession of Basque characters dressed in colorful costumes, known as a kabalkada. The procession featured musicians and dancers from the Basque Country, including another group, Zpeiz Mukaki of Lapurdi, as well as dancers from about a half dozen Basque communities in the West.
In the afternoon, the crowds at Wingfield Park browsed booths set up by several vendors and the University of Nevada Press, which showcased its Basque Book Series. Others sat under the shady trees in front of the bandstand, where they enjoyed entertainers from the Basque Country, including the comic troupe Txirra, Mirra eta Txiribiton, whose clown act in Euskera was well received.

The Goyhenetches used the occasion to organize a family reunion which brought together 130 members of their clan spread mostly through California and Nevada. “It’s nice to see cousins,” said Joe Goyhenetche.

Youngsters participated in a non-alcoholic bota-drinking contest. Joseph Valcarce, 10, of Alaska won, for drinking the most and spilling the least. His aunt, Cherie Valcarce, watched proudly. “His old Basque sheepherder uncle taught him how to drink out of a bota,” she said.

Basque athletic prowess was also highlighted with an exhausting wood-chopping exhibition by Stephanie Braña and a weight-lifting demonstration by Tom Davidson. Both athletes hail from Reno. Men and women also participated in weight-carrying contests held on the park’s grassy knoll.

Junior mus players battle for first place
Junior mus players battle for first place

Meanwhile, four teams of youngsters battled it out in the Junior Mus Finals, always a favorite event at NABO. In the end, the Reno team of Tori Barrenchea & Gavin Sarratea won.

“It was awesome,” said Patxi Shortsleeve from Salt Lake City, who was taking home a trophy for the second time. He and his brother Andoni won second place. Junior mus coordinator Gina Espinal said she would like to see more teams participating at future competitions.

On Sunday, Basque priest Jean Michael Lastiri celebrated a traditional Basque mass outdoors at Reno’s St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral on Second Street. Then, the Reno Basque Club hosted a barbecue lunch back at Wingfield Park. A heat wave with temperatures around 100 degrees prompted Sunday’s crowd to leave early, but not before some of them took a dip in the cool, rushing waters of the adjacent Truckee River.