Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hard times in Basque Country spurred waves of immigrants seeking new opportunities. Further, strict inheritance laws that favor the eldest child compelled many to move. More people left to avoid political upheaval, especially in the Hegoalde (Spanish region of Basque Country), where the Carlist Wars crested with the violence of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s under the Franco dictatorship.
Basques headed for the United States followed paths of previous generations to Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, and California, building reputations as reliable workers in sheepherding communities. These men spent months in the Sierra Nevadas or the Great Basin with no company other than a dog and a thousand sheep. Returning to cities such as San Francisco, Boise, Reno, Elko, Nevada, and Buffalo, Wyoming, they found comfort in Basque boardinghouses where they could see friends and family, enjoy a familiar meal, and speak their own language.
Today, the range of first- to sixth-generation Basque Americans has set deep roots. Now ranch owners, entrepreneurs, and representatives in state and national politics, Basques are essential members of their hometowns. Communities have evolved into a global network of Euskal Etxeak (“Basque Houses” or clubs) where Basque Americans study Euskara language, practice traditional dance, play pilota (handball), compete in mus (card game) tournaments, and generally refresh the ties of a tight-knit community and cultural identity.
With Basque studies programs, museums, and cultural centers in San Francisco, Reno, and Boise, Basque Americans have grasped hold of their heritage while providing the Basque Country with a global perspective of their common culture. For many, Basque identity is defined by preserving elements of the past while transforming and innovating, creating a synergy of old and new, homeland and diaspora. Basque Americans are highly aware of their Basque identity, expressing their culture in tangible ways—they live their Basque.