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  Finding Basque Kitchens Stories with The Kitchen Sisters
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Finding Story
  Finding Story in Bakersfield  
Bakersfield and the surrounding Kern County towns have some of the largest populations of Basques in California. It is referred to as the Basque gourmet capital of the United States by some. The Bakersfield Basque Cultural Festival, held each year on the Memorial Day weekend, feeds over 1600 people at this community picnic.

Kitchen Sister Nikki Silva traveled to the Bakersfield Festival to begin gathering sound, story, and images for this story as we began this radio series in 2004. " I ate lamb stew, lamb chops, lamb sandwiches, lamb and beans and more lamb and had a blast. "
  Listen: The Bakersfield Basque Cultural Festival, 2004  
  Listen: Johnny Curutchet, a traditional Basque 'Bertsolari' poet singer, improvises a song about 'Hidden Kitchens.' Recorded at the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center, 2004  

One of the best things about being a Kitchen Sister and recording for the Hidden Kitchens series is all the community kitchen gatherings we get to join in on.  The San Francisco Basque Cultural Center is one of the highlights for me.  Laura Folger and I went together on Father's Day.  They told us everyone would be there and they were right.  Since I see the world through my headphones the first thing that caught my ear were the handball courts.  We had heard that in the west, around Boise, Winnemucca, Elko, Bakersfield and the like, the Basque Boarding Houses built hand ball courts to compete with one another and attract business to them.  Here, in South San Francisco at Gure Euskal Etxea (the name of the Cultural Center in Basque) were men playing jai lai (pelota).

The sound was riveting, not to mention the action.  We recorded some of the remarkable community singers in the courts because the acoustics were so beautiful, and the center was noisy with hundreds of people gathering for Sunday lunch.  We also recorded men doing the whistles that were the commands they used with their sheep dogs, out in the middle of the open range as they herded huge  flocks of sheep alone for months on end in search of food and pasture.

Sheep command whistles & improvisational singing in the handball courts. SF Basque Cultural Center, 2004  
  The guys who weren't playing pelota or singing or hanging out with their families were playing a card game called mus.  They told us about bertsolaritza, a kind of improvised Basque rap song.  You can hear some of it on our NPR site.

What hit me the most that Sunday afternoon was all the families gathered together, big extended families with grandparents, aunts, uncles, children, babies.  Each family sat at long tables together.  Dozens and dozens of tables, containing generations of families.  But all gathered together in the larger Bay Area Basque community family.  In one huge room that holds their traditions and their kitchen and their future. — Sister Davia
  In the Archives  
  Many institutions, clubs, organizations and individuals assisted us with finding story, sound and images for this radio story. When we first began searching for elements over four years ago it was The Basque Museum & Cultural Center in Boise who dove into their treasure trove of oral history tapes to send to us. Now that collection has been digitized and is available online in it's entirety along with transcripts. It is an rich repository worth taking a look and listen.

You can find many more photographs of the Sheepherders of Northern Nevada online at The UNR Library and Basque Center for Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno that illustrate this dying tradition of Sheepherding in the West. The Columbia Basin Ethnic History Archive, is a collaborative database of ethnic collections from leading repositories in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington - another fascinating resource.
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