photo of Tom Zabala Tom Zabala is a third-generation Basque who lives and works in Boise as an architect.

Watch a video clip of Tom Zabala.

My grandparents emigrated here just after the turn of the century. They came as part of the sheepherding industry. My father was born in Jordan Valley, Oregon. He worked in that area and eventually came to southern Idaho. My mother's parents also came as part of the sheepherding industry. Later they went into the boarding house business.

My grandparents came from the Bilbao region of Spain. I don't know much about their lives there, but suspect that they were involved in agricultural activities.

I think my grandparents would probably be very proud of the fact that we've been able to come to this country and be absorbed into the culture of this country. Speaking as an architect, I think my profession has universal acceptance in any society. There are probably not very many practicing Basque architects within our area or in the Northwest. Unfortunately, my grandparents passed away before I was able to achieve that recognition, but I think they would be very proud of me.

In a sense I had a foot in both cultures. Because my grandparents were here, we had their influence with food and language. My parents, for whatever reasons, chose not to teach us the Basque language. They both speak Basque and Spanish fluently, and they often used that to our disadvantage and to their advantage! They chose to Americanize us, I guess.

At this point in my life, I regret that I didn't take the time, or that they didn't take the time, to tell us more about the Basque culture and our heritage. It's embarrassing at times for me now, because there are occasions when I would relish knowing more. My fear is that my son will carry on my name, but not really have the benefit of that knowledge or experience.

The Basque culture is unique and the language is not based on any of the Romance language groups. I hope that my son will see it as unique and investigate it more. I hate to see him lose it; I think it's an essential part of his heritage. What he carries forward will be important for his children and their children.

The Basque history in this area is a very strong one. People are very proud of that heritage. They are doing a lot to reinforce it and to get their children knowledgeable [about where] they came from. Whether you're a professional or a blue collar worker, we've all come a long way--conquered language problems, [and contributed to] the growth of our immediate area, the state of Idaho, and the entire Pacific Northwest. We have become politicians, professional people... just as people from other cultures have.

I am not aware of any circumstances that may have prevented the Basque people from retaining their cultural roots. There has not been the discrimination that one sees with other groups and other cultures. We've really been accepted on our own. We are a hard-working people, a very moral people, a very religious people. Others have accepted us for those values, and we have been able to take our place in Americanized society.

Andrus | Baker | Hayashida | Hill | Laird | Nelson | Oliver
Simplot | Slickpoo | Sorrels | Trice | Zabala


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