June is Immigrant Heritage Month, and that gives all Idahoans an opportunity to celebrate those who helped shape our nation, writes Ben Ysursa.
By Ben Ysursa
I feel as though I have the best of both worlds. First and foremost, I am a proud American who never takes for granted the opportunities that have been presented to me because of our great nation. But I am also proud of my Basque heritage.
I am the grandson of Basque immigrants who left everything they knew behind to make our great state their home. When they got here, they worked hard to make a name for themselves.
In 1915, my grandfather left his family and life in Spain to come to America. He was only 20-years-old when he made his way out west. He started working in the lumber mills and then the sheep industry, owning and operating his own sheep company. My grandfather is best known for being the owner of the Valencia Basque Boarding House in downtown Boise, a home to many immigrants who made their way to Idaho to find work and a better life.
The Basque community is one of many diverse groups in Idaho. According to the American Immigration Council, one in eight Idahoans identify themselves as being of Latin (181,740) or Asian (20,913) descent. And although it may sound hard to believe, the American Census Community Survey says there are 107 different languages spoken across Idaho.
That is why, this June, I feel it is important to recognize and celebrate the first ever Immigrant Heritage Month. It is an effort to share the stories of our families who risked it all to immigrate to America, a land that promised, and continues to promise, opportunity and freedom to all.
I play cards with members of Boise’s Basque Center and while we are of the same descent, each person at the table has a unique story to tell, and each story is important.
I encourage all Idahoans to share their stories of how they became an American, stories of their unique heritage or stories of their families’ deep history in our great state and nation. Whether you realize it or not, you shaped who we are, and we are thankful for your contributions.