If you’ve lived in Bakersfield long enough, you’ve dined at one of our many fine Basque restaurants, but your knowledge of the culture may not extend beyond the setting.
Luckily, our thriving Basque community not only welcomes with food, but also by offering a taste of its traditions, games and history with the annual Kern County Basque Festival, held on Memorial Day weekend. .
The annual gathering will include music and dance performances, pelota (handball) games with international athletes and a mus (card game) tournament as well as numerous catering options.
Although most of the events take place at the Kern County Basque Club, the festivities kick off Friday at Cal State Bakersfield with an academic symposium and a musical performance by Basque musician Mikel Urdangarin.
These events will highlight the university’s new Institute of Basque Studies, created this academic year.
“It’s a very big coming out party for the institute, coinciding with the festival,” said Dr. Steven Gamboa, co-director of the institute and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. “It’s going to be a big weekend for Basque events in Bakersfield.”
It is the only such institute in the CSU system, Gamboa said. (Other well-regarded Basque studies programs are offered at UC Santa Barbara, Boise State University in Idaho, and the University of Nevada in Reno.)
Gamboa, who leads the program with Dr. Iker Arranz Otaegui, said his mission is twofold: to promote awareness of Basque as an ethnicity and culture, to disseminate this knowledge to a wider audience, and to collaborate with the Basque community in Bakersfield. .
“We are so lucky in the Central Valley to have so much ethnic diversity. We want to do everything we can to maintain that and be a bridge between the university and the community.”
On the academic level, CSUB students can take language (euskara) and Basque culture courses at the initiation and advanced levels. A course is also in preparation for study abroad opportunities in the Basque country.
For the community as a whole, events like those scheduled for Friday are a way to connect with the university.
The symposium will consist of two presentations: Dr. Mustafah Dhada, Professor of History at CSUB, will present “Padre Salgado’s Last Motorbike Ride: How a Torero’s Son from the Basque Country Fought to Protect Human Rights in Mozambique” at 3:00 p.m. by a video presentation by Begona Echeverria and Annika Speer of UC Riverside on their docudrama “Picasso Presents Gernika”, centered on the famous painting by the Spanish artist depicting the bombing of the city in the Basque Country in 1937.
Basque singer Mikel Urdangarin will perform at the CSUB’s Dore Theater. The artist is currently taking part in a “25” world tour, celebrating his quarter-century career of bringing Basque music beyond Basque borders.
“He’s a prominent figure in the Basque music scene,” said Gamboa. “His songs are really popular and accessible.”
Those who miss Urdangarin’s free concert on campus will have the chance to see him perform Saturday afternoon at the Basque Club.
Louis Iturriria, the club’s president, said he was delighted that the festival is regaining its form after being postponed due to the pandemic.
“It’s just a day to be with family and friends, celebrating Basque culture and our traditions, like in previous years,” he said of the weekend’s event.
Besides Urdangarin, the club will host Basque pelota players Andoni Gaskue, Ander Ruiz de Larramendi, Benat Senar and Aaron Arbizu.
“They will play at 4:30 p.m. both days (Saturday and Sunday),” Iturriria said. “We are one of the few Basque clubs in the United States to have a handball court. We want to use it.”
There will also be dance performances by three junior groups and one adult (teens and up). In addition to the separate routines, all of the dancers – around 100 in total – will also have a combined performance.
Iturriria said: “It’s really great to see all these kids there, keeping the Basque dances alive, along with their passion and pride for their culture.”
The weekend offers a variety of activities for all ages, whether you are Basque or simply an honorary member.
A good turnout for this annual event reassures the club that the Basque community will continue to thrive.
“We are always so encouraged not only by our members but also by our local community and the support we receive,” Iturriria said. “It is thanks to this that we are able to keep Basque culture and tradition alive locally.”
Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.