Card Game Links Idaho Players To Spanish Roots

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Saturday in Boise, Idaho, people are sitting down to play "mus," a Basque card game. They're playing as part of the lead up to a national tournament. From Boise State Public Radio, Sadie Babits reports that for many of these players, more is at stake than just winning a card game.


Today in Boise, Idaho people are sitting down to play mus - not Rocky and Bullwinkle. It's a Basque card game - think poker meets chess. They're playing as part of the lead-up to a national tournament. And from Boise State Public Radio, Sadie Babits reports that for many of these players more is at stake than just winning a card game.


SADIE BABITS, BYLINE: Upstairs in Boise's downtown Basque Center, four people - all in their twenties - sit around a card table.

TYLER SMITH: I'm Tyler Smith.

BABITS: Smith and his friends each hold four cards in their hands.

SMITH: I'm first to act. Unless I have really good cards, I'll typically pass it over to my partner and see what he wants to do, so mus.

BABITS: Mus is a game of bluffing and strategy. The first team to reach 40 points wins. And believe it or not there are set facial expressions.

JERRY ALDAPE: The signs are a wink for 31, eyebrows for doubles.

BABITS: That's Jerry Aldape. Unlike these younger folks, he's been playing the game since the 1960s. His father moved here to Boise from the Basque region of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Like many immigrants from that time, Aldape's dad felt pressure to shrug off his cultural ties to the old country.

ALDAPE: I think as he got older, I don't think he was really interested in us learning the Basque language. He didn't want us to be embarrassed, to have that difficulty that he had.

BABITS: But Aldape did learn traditional Basque dancing and how to play mus.

ALDAPE: The whole heritage is very important to me.

BABITS: So, when Aldape sits down with other Basques to play mus today, it's not just about the card game. It's about trying to stay connected to their culture.


SMITH: If the younger people like us don't play then it's not going to be around anymore. So, it's important for us to learn how to play and keep playing to keep the tradition going.

BABITS: Tyler Smith learned to play mus when he was just 14 and he helped teach everyone around this table how to play the game. Annie Gavica didn't grow up with mus. For her parent's generation it wasn't cool to be Basque.

ANNIE GAVICA: They were supposed to learn English be American as possible and go to school and be part of the melting pot of America, not stand out as a Basque.

BABITS: That's why she along with her sister have teamed up to learn mus. For her and the rest of these 20-somethings, the old country isn't something to be embarrassed about.

GAVICA: The next generation has kind of, no, I want to stand out as whatever my culture is.

BABITS: One way to do that is to keep this card game with its funny facial expressions alive. For NPR News, I'm Sadie Babits in Boise.


SIMON: This is NPR News.

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