We global Welsh want to see Wales celebrate its history and heritage

Meredith Efken. Picture is copyright Hooton Images

Meredith Efken

I am an American living in Texas, but I’m also a 5th-generation member of the Welsh diaspora. My great-great-grandfather was a Welsh coal miner from Aberdare who emigrated to America along with his wife in the 1870’s to work in the coal mines in Iowa.

My family’s Welsh heritage has always been important to us, and I am proud to be the first Welsh language learner in the family since it arrived in America some 140 years ago.

Welsh history is my main point of connection to my Welsh heritage. I had to disagree therefore with Nathan Abraham’s recent editorial where he seemed to be saying that he finds Welsh pride in its history to be “looking backwards”.

Telling me that this history is unimportant is the same as cutting me and the rest of the diaspora off from Wales because that very history is the reason we exist.

Considering that Mr. Abrams is, himself, a member of a different kind of diaspora, I would think he might relate to this personally. A friend of mine is an atheist, but her family is Jewish. She grew up in America and has never visited Israel. Yet she still considers herself Jewish on some level.

Her cultural identity is formed through an awareness of her Jewish history. It’s a shared story and background that forms part of her perception of who she is individually and as a part of a larger community.

I’m assuming Mr. Abrams is also aware of how much his own cultural identity is shaped by Jewish history.

So he should be able to transfer that understanding to Welsh cultural identity, especially as it relates to those of us in the Welsh diaspora.

Because I have never even visited Wales (yet!), my sense of belonging to the Welsh community is rooted in my appreciation for Welsh history and how I fit into that story.

This sense of belonging, in turn, makes me passionate about the Wales of today and the direction it is heading. It’s the very opposite of backwards-looking.


There are people of Welsh heritage around the globe that want to show their support for Wales—support that is essential if Wales is to move forward in a global society.

Their reason for such passion and support is their personal connection to Wales’s past. Why would anyone want to see that connection broken?

Yet that is what will happen if we lose awareness or appreciation of Welsh history.

That awareness is already at risk. If history forms a key part of cultural identity, equally important is the perspective that history is taught from.

My understanding is that few schools in Wales teach children Welsh history from a Welsh perspective. Wales’s history has largely been portrayed as that of England, from an English viewpoint.

The result is a loss of Welsh cultural identity, not just for people in the diaspora, but for current Welsh citizens. I see the focus on Wales’s past as an essential corrective of this kind of “English-washing” of Welsh history.

In America, we have a similar problem. The history and contributions of our minority groups are often ignored by a narrative that favors the dominate cultural force: typically straight, white, upper-class, Christian men.

When a minority group either doesn’t know or isn’t allowed to learn its own history from its own perspective, their sense of who they are and what they are capable of achieving can be damaged.

The dominant culture needs minority history too. Otherwise, they can continue to believe that all the achievements in their society belong solely to them, with no awareness of how their power has been used to harm others.

As a result, systemic discrimination and oppression flourish—and so does the kind of harmful nationalism that Mr. Abrams is rightly wary of.

But when people learn about minority cultures from minority viewpoints, it encourages people in those cultures to have pride in their abilities and inspires them to greater achievements.

And for people in the dominant culture, it can serve to promote humility and to make them more aware of the oppression around them and inspire them to work toward greater equality for everyone.


What I think Mr. Abrams is either not aware of or is not considering is that Welsh culture is a minority culture, even in its own country.

The Welsh people are nowhere near developing a nationalism that is abusive. Harmful nationalism is rooted in a belief of superiority, and so it tends to thrive in dominant cultures.

In contrast, from what I have seen and read, Wales as a whole does not believe it is superior to other countries, nor is it moving in that direction.

On the contrary, it is struggling just to articulate and defend why it deserves to exist as its own distinct entity, and it has been arguing this case for centuries while England has made sustained efforts to destroy it.

If Mr. Abrams has truly studied Welsh history as he claims he has, then he would know that this destruction has affected every aspect of Welsh culture: language, music, dance, literature, art, religion, history, political structures, economics, education, and industry.

Wales has been working for ages to preserve and rebuild, and at times recreate and reimagine, their culture. So far, their achievements in this are astounding. But the threat continues, and therefore, so must their efforts.

To scold them for these efforts is uninformed at best, and at worst, incredibly cruel. Mr. Abrams seems to support the idea of an independent Wales, but not an independent Welsh cultural identity.

He studies the Welsh language, but won’t support a political party because the English translation of its name doesn’t say what he thinks it should say.

He criticizes the Welsh national anthem for doing what practically every other national anthem across the globe does: praise the past glories (usually military) of that country.

He wants Wales to “move forward” apparently without understanding or appreciating what they are moving forward from.

How, exactly, does he think that’s going to work? A country without a culture. A nation without a history. An indigenous language that must be viewed and interpreted through a foreign one instead of standing on its own and defining its own meaning.


In America, when minority groups celebrate their culture, many white people will react negatively and explain why those expressions of pride are inappropriate or somehow wrong.

And when minorities talk openly about oppression or systemic racism, many white people will get defensive and act like it’s an attack on them personally.

These reactions stem from feeling insecure because we think our cultural dominance is being threatened. It’s sometimes referred to as “white fragility.” This is a direct result of the racism that permeates our society, and it causes much friction and heartache.

It seems to me that a lot of English people have a similar “English fragility,” especially when it comes to Welsh culture.

I don’t know of very many other non-Welsh people who routinely criticize and nag about displays of Welsh cultural identity—it’s almost always coming from an English source.

Most of the rest of us think Welsh history and culture is fascinating and want to see more, not less, of it.

As a white person in America, I have to learn to examine those feelings of fragility and deal with them in a productive way instead of reacting negatively to displays of minority cultural identity.

I think this is another way in which Mr. Abrams and I are similar—he needs to do the same when he feels uncomfortable or threatened by displays of Welsh cultural and national identity.

From what I’ve seen from my immigrant friends, adapting to a new culture is difficult and uncomfortable, and it’s made worse when the host country treats newcomers with suspicion and hostility.

But Wales is not being hostile to its immigrants when it celebrates its own history and works to rebuild, promote, and preserve a sense of cultural identity.

If Mr. Abrams wants his new country to move forward and achieve its potential, instead of criticizing these efforts, it would make more sense to try to understand the reasoning behind them, and then do all he can to support them.

If he simply can’t bring himself to do that, I would gladly trade places with him in a heartbeat.

Some of us would dearly love to be immigrants in Wales. We think Mr. Abrams is one lucky guy.

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  1. Ardderchog! I hope you will have a chance to visit Wales soon. And to exchange greetings in Welsh with Mr. Abrams. During Eisteddfod Week perhaps?

  2. Ceri Davies

    Meredith, nice piece. Have you come across global welsh. May be worth a look.

    The only disagreement I would have that welsh history from a welsh perspective I would say is generally taught in wales and I can introduce you to many welsh history teachers who are annoyed that it’s regualarky suggested that we don’t. The past we may not have and even now the syllabus may cover other areas but welsh history is certainly taught and available for those who want it.

    • Thank you, Ceri! I am happy to be wrong about the Welsh history thing—thank you for that perspective. You’re right that the perception in the media is different. I taught middle school history and English for a short time and am very passionate about education. I would love to know more about the Welsh education system!

      • The Welsh Education System today is far superior compared to when I sent to school in the 1970s. British Colonialism and Imperial over Welsh History was rife back then. A great read by the way! Cymru Rydd.

  3. CambroUiDunlainge

    Nothing I disagree with here. Excellent article. Reaching out to those of Welsh heritage around the globe is very important – it shows we are outward looking internationalists (which we are). Looking at the Irish influence in the states I confess a pang of disappointment that the same cannot be said for Welsh influence. St. Padraig’s Day is like a national thing over there…. St David’s not so much. Hopefully see that change in the future though. 🙂

  4. I’m wondering about:

    “My understanding is that few schools in Wales teach children Welsh history from a Welsh perspective. Wales’s history has largely been portrayed as that of England, from an English viewpoint.”

    Is this the case? When I was in school in Wales we did have a Welsh slant on our history, along history from England – tutor kings and queens… but I only did it for 3 years, and in primary school, which was definitelt Weldh history. But that was all a long time ago.

    • CambroUiDunlainge

      Primary for me was Rebecca Riots. Wasn’t really in depth though – as it wouldn’t be. Secondary in Years 7 and 8 touched on Owain and Llywelyn but was more on the side – as in it wasn’t covered in any exams we did. As with yourself it was mixed in with a lot of English history – Norman invasion, Tudors etc. – beyond that it was Russia, Germany and USA in the 20th century. Some have said they had an option for Welsh history… but I think we need to abandon English history beyond where it effected us personally… that is to say Laws in Wales Act is relevant, Norman invasion in 1090s. Industry in Wales, Blue Books etc. essentially our path and how England and the world influenced us and how we influenced the world.

    • I went to English medium school….nothing about local or Welsh history……John Prescott at the time was dead against it…yet supported Cornish devolution .. funny thing….he was scared of tribalism lol

  5. Great article! Really love hearing views from Welsh-Americans across the pond. Also, you managed to sum up my thoughts on the Abrams article which, quite frankly, annoyed me to a great extent.

  6. What an incredible article – thank you Meredith for restoring some much needed balance in a media environment that appears hell-bent on labelling those who would see the preservation of Welsh history, language and culture as “racist” and in Abrams’ case “anti-semitic’. You have coined a very apt and relevant phrase: “English fragility” – I see evidence of that every day, especially from British (English) nationalists: Welsh history and culture reminds them that “Wales was Wales before England existed”.

  7. Also, you must come to Wales – we have a guest room near Cardiff!

  8. Gwych! Diolch Meredith.

  9. A heartwarming article and well written.Visit soon and enjoy a warm welcome.Our history has been systematically air brushed by the establishment for so long.However,the truth exists for those of us who want to find it, and this will always be a fly in the ointment of English historians – We are still here despite everthing.The truth against the world.Come to the Merthyr rising festival some time and many good people will open their doors to you and yours.

  10. Wrexhamian

    This woman should be running the Senedd. Or how about Queen of Wales?

    I’m regularly struck by the extent to which Welsh Americans are validated positively by their own Welsh identity (however distant), and the affection they have for this country. It contrasts with the anglo-centrism of of some of our own citizens (‘True Wales’, for instance, or the man in my village who flies the Union Jack, or Alun Cairns). And boy, doesn’t it contrast with the attitude of many people from England! When the American actress and singer Juliette Lewis (of Welsh origin) appeared on the Jonathan Ross Show and stated that she intended to visit Wales to see the land of her ancestors, the audience laughed. Ross laughed with them. She was completely bemused by the reaction.

    I have been racking my brains for a soundbite to crystalise the BritNat mindset regarding Welsh cultural expression. Now we have one: ‘English fragility’. Her dismantling of Nathan Abrams’s fragility towards the values of his adopted country is irrefutable.

    Flofflach is right though, in saying that Welsh history was taught in schools. It was, however, a secondary, and less detailed, element of the curriculum in relation to British (i.e. English) history and was never, in my experience, a feature of primary school education.

    I hope this lady enjoys her first trip to Wales. Dymuniadau gorau i hi.

  11. Wrexhamian

    P.S. Anyone else noticed how Welsh she looks after five generations in the USA?

  12. This was beautiful. *wipes away a tear.

    I find your framing of “English fragility” very useful as an explanatory term for this phenomenon. I hope you won’t mind if I borrow it. I myself have been using ‘Anglo-supremacy’ or ‘Anglo-centrism’ for a similar purpose, (potentially applying to the Anglophone sphere in language issues and media, as well as merely observations of the still entrenched colonial viewpoint we endure all too often in Cymru). It seems to me something akin to white-supremacy etc., not merely an issue of the actions and attitudes of individuals, but a wider (often less intentionally hurtful) mindset, way of seeing the world, and speaking about it, the whole accepted societal structure and framing to a large extent. It is often unexamined, and those unaffected by it are often blind to its damaging effect (privilege blind). e.g. It is even difficult not to worry about some people taking offence merely to me saying ‘Anglo-supremacy’. That must be a Pavlovian fear of response driven by so many run-ins with that “English-fragility” you identified, as l don’t believe I’ve said anything offensive, (or certainly didn’t mean to) merely ‘vocalized’ a minority/minoritized perspective and frame-work for discussing a real-world (I think, well-evidenced) issue. I am grateful for having your insight and that phrase to help discuss this issue better.

    My rambling aside (apologies), your words in defense for our history, identity, ‘soul’, and right to have them, spoke to me deeply, as I have been working to teach myself Cymreig history and culture, as well as the language, having been essentially denied it as a child, and am often amazed and appalled at how this is seen as unusual, unnecessary, even extremist. *sigh

    As it is said, we can’t know where we are going unless we know where we have been. And I hope one day your goings will bring you here ;). Diolch o galon.

    • Ned Thomas wrote a book way back in the 1970s called ‘The Welsh Extremist’. Maybe you’ve read it? If you haven’t, I suggest you do, then you will know why you’re regarded as an extremist, just for doing what people in any other country would be regarded as unremarkable. It’s perhaps one of the books that should be required reading in the Cwriciwlwm Cymreig.

      However, the point of the book was that we should bear the title of extremist with pride.

      • Diolch, it is on my bookshelf from a year ago… I got distracted and haven’t finished reading it yet. Thanks for the reminder. 😀

  13. Not sure about this. A family can move to America and we applaud their retention of ‘Welshness’ even unto the 5th generation, but if an English family moves to Sir Ddinbych, what then? Part of me wants to applaud Meredith for ensuring that the cultural memory lives on, and part of me wonders why she’s not learning Comanche (or whatever language is native to her part of Texas). Or maybe she can do (or even is doing) both?
    There are big questions here that I really have no idea how we answer.

    • Susan Floyd

      The language of the most recent indigenous people to live in what is now Austin, Texas, is Tonkawan. http://www.tonkawatribe.com/history.html Sadly, the Tonkawa were forcibly removed first by the Republic of Texas and then the United States to Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma) in the 19th century. The language has no remaining native speakers; however, a restoration effort is underway, thanks to the language having been recorded from native sources. http://www.tonkawatribe.com/language.html

      As a fellow Welsh-American of many generations hence, also learning the Welsh language while living in Austin, I, too, have thought quite a bit about these issues. In fact, I curated an exhibit for a local museum in 2015 about the history of one of Austin’s neighborhoods, and I purposefully devoted one of eight exhibit sections and a significant part of my opening lecture to the now little-considered history of the people who were native to and lived in this area for hundreds of years before Europeans arrived and colonized Central Texas.

      As an adult, I have also enjoyed learning more about the indigenous group that is native to my own home region in Northeast Texas, the Caddo people–also now “relocated” to Oklahoma, where their language and culture continues. Learning some of the Caddo words for native Texan flora and fauna with which I have grown up was particularly meaningful. However, I am not Tonkawa nor Caddo. Theirs is not my culture, either my geography or proximity or heritage or daily, lived experience.

      While I would very much like to learn many, many languages if I had infinite time–and brainpower–I have chosen to concentrate on Welsh because of my own tenuous but meaningful family connection there, coupled with the fact that the language is widely spoken as part of a vibrant, thriving literary and musical culture-one from which I myself am descended. The thousand-plus years of Welsh literature and music doesn’t hurt! The continuing precarity of the Welsh language despite this rich heritage and the fact of its dogged persistence in spite of endless, deliberate attacks is a two-sided coin that inspires me to keep at it. Yma o hyd.

      Thank you for this thoughtful and well-written piece, Meredith–and for the many thought-provoking comments like the one above.

    • a fair point……however the universe constantly changes…..even the “sir” in Sir ddinbych is a colonialist relic

      I wish the Europeans and Native americans could have shared their best cultural parts and intermixed….without the whole US empire thing…..but thats life

    • it is a bit of a tangle

  14. Marilyn Griffiths

    I too live in the US, in Florida. I would trade the heat and humidity here for cold rainy Wales in a heartbeat! My grandparents came over in 1912 to Philadelphia. They lived in Penmaenmawr which I visited once and felt right at home. Cynru am byth!

    • Not surprised to hear that your family went from Wales to Philadelphia from North Wales. One third of Welsh Americans live in Pennsylvania. Scranton PA has the largest community of people of Welsh blood outside Wales, and as you probably know, there’s a plaque in Welsh on the wall of Philadelphia City Hall commemorating the Welsh contribution to Pennsylvania. The Welsh built that state!

    • I think you might change your mind after a year or two of the unrelenting wet stuff. We only know it’s summer because the rain gets warmer!

    • JR Humphreys.

      When you retire you could house-swop with someone; Summer in Wales – Winter in Florida. (And maybe little trips to various cities in europe.) Of course you’ll need similar friendly people.

  15. There are a.ot of welsh poeple in Australia

  16. I was taught no history of my country when in school. When I went to grammar school, the history teacher ran thru the syllabus for us- when I then asked the question ‘Why is there no Welsh history in this syllabus?’, the reply I got was ‘. Don’t be stupid boy, there is no such thing as Welsh history!’

    • Was your teacher Dai Smith?

      You ride with the Romans, you survive all the tribes ending in ANS & ONS, your language and civilisation remain unbroken for for almost 2 millennia, you rule over vast parts of the island of Britain for a 100 years, you forge international royal dynasties, have the first written law in Europe, you take 200 years to be affected by a people that took your neighbours in 4 years, you have the oldest written literature that exists on these Isles, and on and on and on and on – you’ve got to be a pretty confused individual to say Wales has no history. For the history of Britain, See Wales.

      • Haha. But please, don’t be too hard on Dai Smith. When I was an undergraduate I once went to get some advice from Dai Smith about an idea I had for a long essay, namely the history of teaching Welsh history in Wales. At that time, Welsh history could only be studied as a joint honours degree, along with something else. It seemed that us Welsh only had half a history! I distinctly remember Dai Smith telling me, ( and yes, I did nearly fall over!) that, in his opinion, Welsh history was deserving of being studied as a degree subject in it’s own right, as a full subject area. In the event, I never did write that essay, though I did do some fascinating research into the subject, but Dai Smith’s comment will remain in my memory, so unexpected was his comment.

        I know that his has been a much maligned historian of Wales, (and with some good reason) but I have often wondered why there appeared to be such a difference from the public persona that promoted the orthodox Welsh Labour Party view that Welsh history was nothing more than about Medieval robber barons and the person who away from the limelight who was in favour of it being possible to study Welsh history as a subject in it’s own right.

        • Grrr, this site really does need an edit button – Ifan, please take note! That last paragraph is rubbish, and I inadvertently pressed the ‘Post comment’ button prematurely. So here is the amended paragraph:

          I know that he has been a much maligned historian of Wales, (and with some good reason) but I have often wondered why there appeared to be such a difference from the public persona that promoted the orthodox Welsh Labour Party view that early Welsh history was nothing more than about Medieval robber barons, and that proper Welsh history only started in the 18th century with industrialisation, and the person who away from the limelight who was in favour of it being possible to study Welsh history as a subject in it’s own right.

  17. Very good summing up of the situation.Hopeyou can make it over here in the not too distant future.Yoy seem to know more about Wales than a lot who live here.

  18. Benjiman L. Angwin

    Meredith. Erthygl wych (fantastic article).

    Im a Texan too, who has come to this wonderful country, made it my home and learned Cymraeg. Keep at it with Cymraeg, the cultural rewards are at first minute but increase exponentially.

    I made these words in Welsh for our homeland.
    Techas (Texas). Trehuws (Houston). Techiad (Texan). Techies (woman Texan). Dôl las (Dallas). Bwymon (Beaumont).

  19. It is unfortunate that this article on Welsh identity spends a lot of its time blaming us English for a lack of Welsh identity. I agree that Welsh and Scottish history are ignored for example by the BBC in programmes such as David Starkey’s Monarchy and it is wrong. Equally I object to English history being conflated with British history. To many in the media and politics there is Scottish Welsh Irish and British. We English don’t exist politically. That is why the political classes refer to England as ‘this country’. They refuse to say even England.
    So we all have our problems in asserting our identity. That said, it is 2018. Wales has its own Welsh Assembly and First Minister, Plaid Cymru has support in Wales. Wales is not oppressed militarily, or forced to do anything it doesn’t want to.
    So the Welsh need to move on and stop blaming us English. They need get on with promting their own identity! Vote for Welsh independence. Why stay with England?

    • Even when (if) we get independence, we’ll still blame the English for everything! It’s an old (bad) habit, but if we stopped doing that, we’d then have to blame ourselves!

    • Wrexhamian

      “…[not] forced to do anything it doesn’t want to.” Grannies selling up and buying Welsh properties that are unaffordable to local house-hunters, English local authorities dumping troublemakers in Welsh towns, planning-authorities building unwanted houses to help solve England’s housing problem. And Wales is forced to fund it all.

      So, yes, we really should vote for independence if we can’t put a stop to these colonial practices.

      You were borderline fragile there for a moment.

  20. Ms Anwen Parry

    Bendegedig !! Meredith …..a beautiful old Welsh name as I am sure you know…I really enjoyed reading your piece and agree with it. Thank you for taking your time to compose it and I sincerely hope you get to visit your ancestral home sooner rather than later. Dymuniadau gorau.

  21. JR Humphreys

    By the way, Nathan has this BIG thing going for him; he has skin involved. The family children are in Welsh medium education. They will go the the Urdd, read poetry, mix, and probably contribute more to welsh culture, and science than I ever did. So caps off to Mr Nathan Abrams, please.

  22. Two of the three Roman legions had to be permanently stationed in Wales back then, making it the Afghanistan of its day.The Cymru then defended its land from the Angles,Saxons,Jutes and assorted pagan tribes for 650 years after Rome left,whilst also fending off seaborne attacks by Danes and Irish.The Norman French then took from 1066 until around 1415 to finaly subdue Wales.The Normans,combined with fresh waves of Frenchmen,Anglo Saxons,Flemings and mercenaries from all over Europe joined in.The most expensive and extensive program of castle bulding required to do this almost bankrupt England,and all to subdue little old Wales.
    Holding out against the torturing Norman,Angevin and Plantagenates and all before them has been ommited from historyYet we are still here,a bunch of sheep worrying hill tribes who’,s 10 th century laws were the most progressive in the world until the later twentieth century. No wonder David Starkey and all the other academic establishment oafs avoid broadcasting any real history programs.Air brushed history will always find its way out and the more people who wish to seek the truth the better.We need a new curriculum for Wales asap and stop paying so much attention to illiterate oafs like the bloodthirsty Lionheart and the butcher of the north and their legacy of repression and violence.Our history is spectacular by any standard and it is a miracle the Welsh are here at all so lets celebrate our survival by embracing the past in order to secure a future.

  23. We look forward to seeing you in Nant Gwrtheyrn Meredith! Croeso unrhyw amser.

  24. The Bellwether

    Nice article.
    Having lived and worked in North Carolina for several years, I was amazed to find many settlements of people of Welsh origin in the Blue Ridge mountain range stretching from Virginia to Tennessee. There are more Welsh speakers, holding more eisteddfodae and sustaining more Welsh culture than in all of Wales today! This is yet another expat community we should be reaching out to.

    • And their not afraid of being proud of their Welsh ancestry, which some are in this benighted country of ours.

    • The Bellwether

      It is interesting to note that the Mormon Bible calls heaven ‘Beulahland’. There are at are at least three villages in Wales called Beulah. I’ve often wondered which one is the Mormon heaven named after – the one near Builth Wells or the one in the North. Many of the religious dissidents (persecuted in Wales) that helped found Mormonism were Welsh. Interestingly, the Mormons allegedly own much of the English county of Kent! south of the M25 to the coast.

      • ‘Beulah’ is from the book of Isiah, and I would strongly suspect that all those places thus named here in Cymru were named after that reference. We also have a Bethlehem and a Nazareth, as well as quite a few places named after places mentioned in the Bible. I don’t know whether this happened due to a consciousness of the idea that the Welsh are the descendants of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, or in anticipation of the Second Coming. You could have easily checked, ignorance in the age of the the internet is a choice! Wikipedia is your friend!

  25. Our country in our hands

    Well said Meredith ! Welsh history is important and should be used as one of the cornerstones of Welsh culture. We Welsh need to be confident in our history, our language, our culture and in our capabilities ! Regardless of what people (mainly English people ) say the Welsh have a strong identity that has survived 600 years of subjugation and often persecution. Belief in self determination must start with belief in ourselves !

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