On being Welsh

I recently had dinner at a friend’s house. It was an amazing dinner where the Fujianese hospitality tradition was boldly and proudly on full display. I was stuffed with amazing sea food, I was plied with wine and despite language barriers, I had a great conversation. At one point my ethnic background was brought up, and my friend who had invited me over tried to translate the pieces of my ethnic background into chinese (I don’t know if they were speaking Mandarin, Fujianese or both). Irish was easily translated, as was German, but my Welsh side was met with difficultly, so we settled on telling my hosts that I was English.

This hardly bothered me, Wales is hardly known even here in the United States – where the children of Welsh immigrants have lived for centuries. I was half impressed that non-english speakers from East Asia were aware of Ireland, but the Irish do have their own nation and holiday. Wales on the other hand has been colonized by England for about a millennium, so the Principality as a state has hardly effected the world beyond its boarders since the long bow went out of style.

But this did get me thinking about my Welshness. I’m in no way ashamed of being (1/4) Welsh, the stereotypes that I know of are: the Welsh are lyrical and fond of sheep. That last one is applied to any herding group, and the first one is pretty cool. And stereotypes shouldn’t keep anyone down anyway. I also think that pride felt on the behalf of what others from an extended kin group have done is usually foolish. That an American once won a nobel prize doesn’t really make me any better for it. I do see how group pride can be useful for oppressed peoples, but do the Welsh really count here?

I did a little investigating into what it means to be Welsh in the 21st Century. Wales, the nation, is a Principality, which means that it is nominally governed by the Prince of Wales, who is the heir apparent to become the King of the United Kingdom. Its laws are almost all the same as those in England, though it now has an independent parliament of its own which has limited powers, many concerning culture.

And that to me is what Wales and Welshness are. They are a culture that stretches back to the traditions of not just pre-Anglo-Saxon britain, but also pre-Roman britain. Wales is the modern incarnation of those languages, beliefs and customs. So in my mind to be Welsh is simply to find those important and to contribute to these legacies.

I believe that Wales will continue to thrive because the cultural policies of the principality are not just keeping the old traditions alive, but making them relevant in todays world by making Welshness a living thing. Music, poetry, newspapers, all of these things are made, every day, in Welsh. This means someone can live a modern 21st century life and do so breathing, reading and thinking in Welsh.

This to keeps Wales from being England. If Wales could simply say it had a different regional history than England, it would hardly be something to celebrate – different regions within England have their own unique and special history. But Wales creates its own culture, in its own language, so it is thus able to participate in the crafting of the modern human cultural tapestry on its own unique terms. That is something I am proud of, and I think it would be cool if I could contribute to that one day. Until then I can only do justice to my Welshness by promoting the efforts of the Welsh cultural creators, like I am doing now.

Since I often post music on this blog, here’s some Welsh Language Music. There’s a fair amount of it, so I tried to stick to modern stuff to help out acts that are still around and creating.

Pluband – Arthur

Arthur is my middle name, so hopefully this is a love song where she’s talking about how handsome I am. Probably

Catatonia – International Velvet

This song is bi-lingual. The band is too, they make music in both English and Welsh. This is a pride song, the chorus is all about being proud to be Welsh. You can bet this is a fan favorite in little bars all across the west country.

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci- Patio Song

This is another bi-lingual song. Gorky’s is an alt-rock band that brought non-traditional Welsh language music in line with modern sensibilities.

Super Furry Animals – Ysbeidiau Heulog

Supper Furry Animals is the most popular band to sing in Welsh. And this single is the most popular song sung in Welsh.

What really impresses me about these acts is that they chose to use Welsh. Everyone who speaks Welsh in the UK speaks English. No one in their right mind would immigrate to the UK and then only learn Welsh. And amongst the Welsh people English is so pervasive, and important, that not knowing it is beyond unlikely. These musicians then chose to use Welsh, even though it limits the profitability of their work. This is a testament to the strength of the Welsh-language community and to the language itself. These artists, fluent in both England and Welsh, recognize a special value that Welsh brings to self expression, and that means so much to them that they have to record in it. Very cool!

The next time someone asks me about being Welsh, I will have a better idea of what that means, and what that will look like going forward. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m proud to be Welsh, it doesn’t make me better than if I wasn’t, but I am happy to see Welsh culture thrive under unlikely circumstances.

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