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.