Welsh identity is often simplified by those outside of Wales, our cultural importance reduced by the belief that the Welsh, the English, the entire United Kingdom share the same culture and identity. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, Welsh identity is as complex as any other. Oftentimes, the added strain of having to prove you are not just British can make it confusing, even frustrating, especially when living outside of Wales.
When I was younger, my Welsh identity was a simple thing. It mainly consisted of everything that stereotypically belonged to Wales.
Who decides what is Welsh?
In primary school the teacher asked the class to draw a poster for St David’s Day, depicting everything that made up our Welsh identities. So I took my pencils and crayons and drew everything I knew about Wales. I sketched big bursting daffodils across rolling hills, a badly drawn dragon flying through the skies alongside rugby balls and little Welsh love spoons. And, of course, a whole herd of sheep.
It was what I knew about my country. And though those things are all still a big part of my cultural identity, as I grew older I realised it was much more complex than just those things.
Because underneath those stereotypes, hidden under the crust of the simple, childlike view of Welsh identity, there is an entire history of injustice and oppression that often gets ignored. The discovery of those injustices led me to a reassessment of what it means to be Welsh.
The complexities of history
I find it shocking that historical injustices such as the “colonial diktat” the Treason of the Blue Books in 1847, the drowning of Capel Celyn in the Tryweryn Valley to provide water to England, and the Henry VIII Act of Union incorporating Wales into England, to name a few, are not apparently taught to Welsh school children.
These are crucial historical events that seem to be swept under the rug. Unless the youngest generations of Welsh people go digging themselves, it seems such things often remain hidden. I myself have spent many years trying to learn and unearth the historical truth of Wales, and still stumble across new information I have never heard anyone discuss.
Very recently, I was reading a Jane Austen novel and came across a slur used against the Welsh in the 1800s: to welch, meaning to refuse to pay a debt. It was a word that stemmed from the belief of the English that the Welsh were inherently dishonest, a stereotype that can also be seen in old English nursery rhymes and playground chants.
Who decides about Welsh identity?
I have always been passionate about being Welsh, the identity strongly enforced by the community by which I was surrounded. But all this new information created an entirely new level of passion I felt about getting others to take that identity seriously. This proved to be much more difficult than I expected as, in common with many younger Welsh people, the English know very little about the plights and history of the Welsh.
When I moved to London, I felt as though I had to prove my Welshness. I do not have the stereotypical Gavin and Stacy Welsh accent, and don’t speak much Welsh, two things people often see as defining traits of a Welsh person. Both these things led me to feel insecurity about my identity.
But neither of those things define what it means to be Welsh, because being Welsh is so much more than an accent, or the way you look, the colour of your skin, or what language you speak. It is the community you grow up in, the values you carry, the mannerisms you learn, the friendliness, the happiness, the song in your heart. The passion for a country of dragons and sheep, yes, but so much more.
To be Welsh is a complex but beautiful thing. Who decides who is Welsh?
Only you can define what it means for you, regardless of how others may see it.