Nikolas Fagoaga


Interviewed by: Miel Anjel Elustondo

Location: Elko, NV



Index and translation by Kate Camino
Sound byte files by
Pedro J. Oiarzabal


The interview was done at Elko’s festival and so the conversation begins by talking about how the youth don’t do much work.  Nikolas says that the old people are doing the work because after the young people party they need to sleep the next day.  But since the work has to be done today and not tomorrow the old crew does the work.  He had slept for one hour the night before.  When asked how he can do it he says that work is health and since he’s worked hard his whole life that’s the way it is. 


He was born in 1926 in Lesaka and came to the U.S. in 1951 at the age of 24.  He came because there was no work there.  He is a carpenter by trade but there was no work for him.  He’s one of 7 siblings so someone had to leave.  He thought he’d come for around 5 years but he’s stayed for 43.  From Lesaka there were 30 that came together.  He came as a sheepherder but left it 1958-59.  When he left he came to Elko with his brother who owns a hotel called the Silver Dollar.  He told him to come to Elko.  He came directly to Elko but he didn’t like it.  He didn’t like being alone all the time. He grew up always surrounded by people and so the isolation was hard for him.  The work wasn’t hard just being alone all the time.  Then he went to California but it was different there since he had more time with a family, he always had someone to talk to. 


When he returned to Elko he married a local girl and they have two girls and a boy.  The youngest girl speaks Basque since she spent two years studying in Donostia.  She’d also go to Lesaka on the weekends to be with her family there. 


This year Nikolas was asked to be in charge of the Elko picnic and so he brought entertainment from Lesaka and they did a good job he thinks.


He thinks his family is Basque-American.  The girls are more involved and feel more Basque he thinks.  The youngest daughter danced with the Elko dancers and even danced with the Salt Lake dancers while she was studying there.  The oldest daughter doesn’t speak Basque but speaks Spanish really well.  Their son understands Spanish but since his friends are involved in the Basque community.  He really enjoys Basque things, he was in the Basque country 2 years ago and really enjoyed himself but he’s more involved with his school friends here and their activities.


He works in construction with his son.  Before there used to be 10-12 of them working together, most of them Basque, but then little by little the others stopped and now it’s just he and his son.  Now he thinks they do more work than ever before.  But as long as he has his health he’s happy to work.  He also enjoys working hard at the festivals.  He’s also become famous for building houses. 


He learned English on the ranch.  His first year and a half he worked for Bernardo Yanci’s uncle in California who is also from Lesaka, so during that time he only spoke Basque and Spanish.  So when English speakers would come around he’d just avoid them since he had no idea what they were talking about.  After that since his boss’s son returned from the Korean War there was no more work for him at that ranch so he went to an another one owned by an American.  He was the only Basque there, the cook was German and the owner was also German-American.  There he had no choice but to learn.  For the first few days he used hand gestures and so that’s where he learned. 


For the most part the Basques in Elko get along pretty well, with the usual things that happen between Basques.  He says, “They always say Zazpiak Bat,” but he’s not always so sure about that.  But they get together for festivals and always between the Basques they speak Basques.  There are a few youth that speak Basque but not very many.  The fact too that Elko has a number of Basque restaurants also helps as it gives them a place to get together.  They get together a lot and play mus, mainly in the wintertime. 


Nikolas thinks that the Basque culture will continue in Elko.  The youth don’t speak Basque but they still take part in dancing and other activities so he feels it will continue.  He agrees that the language of the future will be English however.  There are some kids though that speak Basque at home but once they go to school and get with their friends they only speak English.  The kids that grow up out of town, in the country, seem to hang on to the language better than kids in town.


He doesn’t get to the Basque Country as much as he’d like too but he does go pretty often.  The last time he went they first went to the Olympics in Barcelona, but his wife didn’t like Catalunya so now they just go to the Basque Country.  When he’s there he visits with his family.  He has 2 brothers and 2 sisters plus all their kids so he spends time with them.  He also likes to get in the car and travel around.  His wife enjoys the beach so they spend time there as well.  His wife likes to take rides in the evenings to see the different greenery there.  They’ve been in other places in Spain but his wife prefers the Basque Country so they stay there now.  He also still has childhood friends so he also spends time with them.


In his spare time he likes to go to the ranch that he purchased twelve years ago with a few sheep.   Even though it’s work there too, it’s more relaxing for him than his work as a carpenter.  He doesn’t have to use his head on the ranch like he does working with employees etc.


He describes his dress, since he’s dressed for San Fermin in a white shirt, pants and a red gerriko and red neckerchief. 


He also follows bicycling really closely.  When he’s in the Basque Country he always goes to watch the Tour de France.  He’s been to Tourmalet, Pau and other places to watch the event.  When he’s home he watches it on TV.  He continues talking about various cyclers.  When he was young he used to ride bikes a lot.  He used to ride mostly with Gipuzkoan riders he names Patxi Michelina, Pedro Matxain, they had two races with Jesus Lagrońo (?), and the Bidaurreta brothers.  He said that if they had the help that riders today have they could have been better.  They used to leave Lesaka in the morning ride to San Sebastian, then to Beasain, then they’d ride the race and still have to ride home on their bikes.  Today the riders are followed by cars etc. so it’s a lot easier today than it used to be. The best rider he ever met was Logrońo that rode with him, but there was another guy Gantzarain he was a great sprinter but he wasn’t chosen for the time.  The best ever rider he ever met were the Rodriguez brothers.  He couldn’t keep riding once he came to the States especially he had to work.  Plus it was hard to train at night after working hours.  Cycling is his favorite sport.