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Valerie Arrechea: “It’s not a coincidence that dance, music and song are so strongly preserved in the Diaspora”


Valerie Etcharren Arrechea (
Valerie Etcharren Arrechea (


Valerie Etcharren Arrechea is part of the new Basque generation in the Diaspora. Born in San Francisco, where she runs the family business, she is a modern American whose life is based on twin pillars, one on each side of the Atlantic.

Joseba Etxarri.  There are many who consider San Francisco as the most beautiful city in the US, maybe because of its color and life, for the dynamism of its people, or its cosmopolitan nature.  Our interviewee today is from San Francisco and she boasts being able to enjoy the best of two worlds, that of the young Northern Californian city and that of the Old Behe-Nafarroan Garazi, where her family is from. 

-What kind of city is San Francisco? 

-It is a diverse and cosmopolitan city. Despite its international character that derives from the thousands of people of different cultures that live or visit there, it still hasn’t lost its small town feel.  To native San Franciscans, we like to think that in spite of the strong international presence, the city also retains it small town character. 

-We are in the middle of the crisis.  You experienced it before.  Where do you find yourselves now? 

-Things are looking up.  We hit the crisis earlier in the US. You see people are more optimistic now, financially optimistic as well. You see people spending a little bit more for pleasure whereas before it was just for necessities. We are moving out and the crisis is not over yet, but you can feel the optimism in the air more than two or three years ago. 

-You know very well what we are now going through in Euskadi and Europe.  What do you think? 

-I see that you are still in the middle of it. I don´t see that they have gotten here to the point where they are going to see an end to it. From what I hear , everybody is very concerned about budgets and you get the impression that discretionary spending is not something people do. People still spend but they make choices and make very careful decisions about what they are going to spend it on. It took to us a while to get out of it as well. I am sure here it will turn around as well. Eveything is cyclical, so what goes down has to go back up. It’s just a matter of when.

-Some compare Donostia to San Francisco, what do you think? 

-(she takes some time) Yes, there is a certain... liveliness, a certain ambiance that both cities share, a certain mood or disposition.  Both cities manage to make you feel welcome to their cultures, and I don't mean just Basque culture, I mean the culture of the city.  They make you feel welcome and that feeling encourages people to participate, whether it would be going up to North Beach and witnessing life there, or going out at night in the Old Part of town in Donostia.  It’s that sense of acceptance. You can hear all the different languages, not just Basque and Spanish, but English, French, many people come from many places. I think they have that in common.  On the other hand, both cities are coastal, they both have bays…even though the water in Donostia is much warmer than that in San Francisco.  Swimming in San Francisco involves plunging in really cold water. 

-You are the President of NABO, the federation of Basque entities in North America, and a leader in the San Francisco Basque community.  How many Basque clubs are there in California?  

-Let’s see: Susanville, Rocklin and Marin-Sonoma; in San Francisco, the San Francisco Basque club and San Francisco Basque Cultural Center, Anaitasuna and BEO (Basque Educational Organization); and then there are clubs in Los Banos, Fresno, Bakersfield, Ventura, Los Angeles Oberena, Chino and La Puente.  I think there are 14, of the 42 clubs and entities in the US.  

-You are also the director of the Zazpiak Bat Basque Dancers in San Francisco.  You had a good teacher.  

-I learned from my dad, Pierro Etcharren, who taught Basque dance for years in the city. Eventually I took over.  In my family dancing is a tradition, not only as dantzaris but also as instructors.  My daughter Joana, who is 14, dances with the adult group and comes to practice on Saturdays to help with the kids’ group.  Life goes on. 

-You are also a txistulari. 

-I think that music and dance are important.  It’s not only a question of seeing and hearing; music and dance make you feel, and with them you make others feel as well.  You develop a healthy sense of pride and belonging that you try to transmit.  It’s not a coincidence that dance, music and song are so strongly preserved in the Diaspora, they unite us in a special way with Euskal Herria. 

-You learned all this in San Francisco. 

-Yes, although I have also travelled regularly, especially to Behe-Nafarroa, where my family is from.  I started playing txistu with my cousin Alain Erdozaincy, who was a txistulari in San Francisco.  Around the same time as I started to dance, when I was 7 or 8.  I continued at Udaleku, NABO’s summer camp for kids, with Manu Pe-Mentxaka, a txistulari that used to come every year from Euskadi.  And later we were fortunate enough to have Aita Martxel Tillous, who played the txirula and the txistu.  The truth is, is that San Francisco has always had a small group of txistularis with at least 5 of us. 

-Right now you are in Behe-Nafarroa, with a group of dantzaris from San Francisco, for a two-week stay. 

-Yes, I came with six young dancers.  We spent the first part of the trip in Barkoxe, Zuberoa learning from Fabienne Andere, a local instructor.  Last weekend we performed there and we were surprised by the size of the audience, over 600 people.  The next day we attended the pastorala. Now we are doing the same think in Arnegi, learning with Mirentxu Ausqui, and we will perform here next Saturday, August the 2nd at 9:30p pm at a festival at the local fronton.


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