In Basque region, Euskara language celebrates culture; brings controversy

Native Euskara speakers celebrate the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday, June 29. Photo by Hannah Seewald.

Native Euskara speakers celebrate the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday, June 29. Photo by Hannah Seewald.

WASHINGTON–This year’s theme for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. is “resilient communities,” one including the Basque region, in northern Spain and southwest France, where people have wanted independence for a very long time due to their cultural differences.

Euskara, the native language of the Basque people, is considered to be one of Europe’s oldest languages. It has been the subject of controversy because typically, Spanish and English have been taught in Basque schools, but Euskara is the traditional language of the area.

“Euskara is necessary for people to get jobs in Basque,” said Monica Salinas, 51, a Basque delegate who attended the festival to discuss policies.

Statistically, the Basque population density is above average for Spain and France. The Basque region has a population of 3 million people. Although it is a small area, there are many jobs due to the existence of industries including iron and construction. This is in contrast to many other areas of Spain that have high unemployment rates.

Another Basque native from the city of San Sebastian, Alex Vasquez, 26, said, “I think Euskara is better because we have different cultures and traditions.”

On the other side, Zed Burton, 60, an American visitor to the festival said, “In Basque, they should learn Spanish and English in school. What they do at home is their own business.They also shouldn’t be a separate country.”

Andrea Marzo, 15, a student in Lodosa, Spain, said, “I think that Euskara is good if you live in the Basque country, but if you don’t live there, Euskara doesn’t help you in anything. It has no function out of the Basque country.”

When asked if language is important to preserving a culture, Burton said “Language is number one. If you can maintain your language, you can maintain your culture. Language embodies the culture.”

While, Euskara is not used in areas other than the Basque country, it is important to the Basque people because it embodies their history and culture, and each year, there has been around a 2 percent increase in Euskara learners in the region.

“In Basque, it is good for students to learn both Euskara and Spanish, but the rest of Spain does not need to learn it,” said Marzo.