An identifiable Basque community has existed in the Los Angeles-southern California area since 1850. This thesis is an ethno-historical account of the community from 1850 to the present, plus a description of the present-day community and its activities with emphasis on ethnic identity maintenance mechanisms, both past and present. Basque studies in the past have involved rural, predominantly ranching and sheepherding communities. While sheepherding was the primary occupation of the Basques in the Los Angeles area in the 1800s, as Los Angeles grew from a pueblo of two thousand in 1850 to the megapolis of today, the Basque settlement became widely dispersed and its occupational specialization diversified. In response to the changes in the environment Basques have expanded their agricultural specialization to include dry ranching, wheat cultivation, irrigation crops, citrus fruit ranching and dairying. They have also moved into urban-surburban occupations such as baking, pork butchering, gardening and ethnic restaurant operations. Economic patterns characteristic of the sheepherding complex such as beginning as a helper (sheepherder), hiving off to start a small independent operation, expanding into a successful business, bringing relatives or fellow villagers from home who begin the cycle again, using the Basque hotels as employment agencies and preferring to employ fellow Basques were all continued in the new occupational specializations. Further, occupations in which these social structures were readily utilized, such as gardening, have been preferred by independent Basque immigrants. Historically this Los Angeles Basque community is also unique in that it was the center of the sheepherding industry in California in 1860. As such it became the jumping off point for the expansion of the sheep industry into the rest of the American west. In the past, as in the rest of the southwest, ethnic identity was closely related to this single occupational specialization - sheepherding. As the community became increasingly more urban, and occupations became highly diversified, economic specialization ceased to be as important a factor in maintaining ethnic identity. In recent decades a revitalization and formalization of social activities has occurred and ethnic identity is now best expressed and maintained in play forms. They include social clubs, handball, folk dancing, card playing and gambling. Presently there are three Basque social clubs in the area, The La Puente Handball Club, The Southern California Escualdun Club and the Chino Basque Club. Both newly arriving immigrants, established immigrants and Basque Americans participate in Basque social activities. In an urban environment like Los Angeles where "anomie" and alienation are common, Basques have turned to their ethnic heritage for meaning a sense of identity.



Subject Area

Cultural anthropology

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