The picon punches were flowing freely under the cottonwood trees at Fuji Park on Sunday as St. Teresa's presented its third annual Basque Festival. Kids wiled away the time competing in the hula hoop contest, getting their faces painted, playing flag football or trying to climb that giant cottonwood in the middle of the park while adults gathered comfortably in groups under the trees. There were dog herding demonstrations, wood chopping contests, and a raffle for a 1995 Toyota, all to benefit St. Teresa's School as well as church youth organizatons.
The afternoon's celebration included a performance by the Zenbat Gara Basque Dance troupe, and lead dancer Lisa Corcostegui is working on her Doctorate in Basque studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Corcostegui, who spent a few years in the Pyrenees and was married there in her great-grandfather's church, said the Basque have successfully assimilated into the culture here.
"As Basques, we now have a choice as to how or if we want to manifest our Basque heritage," she said, noting that there is a trend called a third generation return, and it defines the generation most likely to want to learn the original language culture. The term for it is symbolic ethnicity, and it is true for any assimilated ethnic group.
She said present-day Basques suffer no discrimination, but her aunts and uncle, who were older, remembered when there were still stereotypes and prejudice. She said language for them was a barrier and they suffered discrimination in school. Those barriers no longer exist, but the culture has faded with that generation.
"So much has not been passed down through the generations," Corcostegui said. "We must research, and recuperate (the culture and language)."
But Basque history is rich in this area. Sheepherders ranged from Bridgeport to Alturas, California, as well as northern and central Nevada, and the Basque sheepherder ultimately triumphed as one of the architects of this region's history and economy. He left a legacy that still endures in the hotels, festivals, clubs and family life of thousands of Basque-Americans.
"There's so much of the Basque heritage in this area," Carson City's John Borda said as he quickly poured rows of picon punches. "The people enjoy the festivities and the food, everyone has a great time, and we make a lot of money for the school."
Borda said the idea started with Charlie Abowd, owner of Adele's Restaurant, three years ago, and a good part of the success of the event is due to the contributions and volunteers like John Ascuaga, Sierra Meats, and the nine cooks from Ely's Sacred Heart Church that came over to donate their time.
"We're familiar with the way the Europeans cook, with a rotisserie," Ely resident Mike Lemich said, noting they learned the traditional ways from their parents. The group is made up of people from all European walks of life, and they like to get out and help a good cause. Lemich is Slavik.
"We also have Italians, and Greeks . . .one of us is half Basque," he said with an easy smile.