Turning up the volume – how Wales is making its voice increasingly heard in North America
“Good Welshman make good Americans" - George Washington.
During the recent Presidential election campaign, Joe Biden was spoken extensively of as an Irish-American, a tag that he relished, and one that played well with the electorate, but on closer inspection his Irish roots are quite distant - he has one great-great grandfather from Mayo and another from Louth, so no direct links more recent than the middle of the 19th century. It’s a widely observed phenomenon in the US that some ancestry groups have a higher profile than others, with Irish and Italian being the most well-known. When in fact its German-American that is the biggest single self-described ancestry group in the USA, with approximately 49m people claiming links. Yet, they are a silent majority. Indeed, Biden’s opponent, Donald Trump who had a grandfather born in Bavaria, was rarely, if ever, labelled German-American.
The Welsh community in North America, has also historically kept a lower profile, and as the first President of the USA noted, were particularly adept at integration.
The Welsh community in North America, has also historically kept a lower profile, and as the first President of the USA noted, were particularly adept at integration. This despite the likes of politicians Thomas Jefferson and Hilary Clinton, financier JP Morgan, legendary producer Quincy Jones, actor Leslie Nielsen and architect Frank Lloyd Wright, being just some of the varied and talented Americans and Canadians with direct and recent Welsh links.
But now, a new research report, conducted on behalf of GlobalWelsh by digital anthropologists sapient.d, has found a fast-growing interest in Wales among the diaspora of Celtic Nations. Whilst Ireland leads in terms of overall ongoing discussion, followed by Scotland with Wales coming in third ahead of Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, discussions around Cymru are growing at the fastest rate. The reports numbers clearly highlight that interest and discussion around Wales has increased dramatically more than those around their Celtic cousins.
The reports numbers clearly highlight that interest and discussion around Wales has increased dramatically more than those around their Celtic cousins.
Taking a sample of 60,000, in 2015 the volume of discussions featuring Wales was around 15,000, in 2018 it had risen to 28,000 and in 2020 it was 32,000. Ireland and Scotland have both seen small declines in their volumes between 2018 and 2020, whilst Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man have all largely remained the same.
I asked Giles Crouch, Chief Information Officer of sapient.d what he thought of these numbers; “Ireland is always very popular, with it firmly woven into the fabric of US immigration and New York and Boston in particular having large Irish-American populations. They really began being reached out too heavily during the Celtic Tiger around 15-20 years ago, and the Irish government is still majorly invested in doing this. Scotland started connecting with their diaspora about 8-9 years ago, and Wales only really started two years ago. Before that they tended to be a bit of an afterthought in more UK orientated messaging. But Wales is certainly making up for lost time now!”
"Scotland started connecting with their diaspora about 8-9 years ago, and Wales only really started two years ago. Before that they tended to be a bit of an afterthought in more UK orientated messaging. But Wales is certainly making up for lost time now!"
The growth in the interest and discussions around Wales in this period matches an expansion of digital platforms serving Wales and Welsh culture; freshly launched news websites, the further proliferation of social media which has also given fresh impetus and connectivity to Welsh speakers and learners, the growth of a host of podcasts covering Welsh sport, culture, humour and history among other topics, strong Welsh rugby performances particularly at the World Cup in 2019 and an all time high for the football team at Euro 2016, a change of name and strengthening of some powers for the Senedd and of course a focus on Welsh laws and leadership amidst the Coronavirus crisis.
This period has also seen an explosion of interest in genealogy with popular television shows detailing celebrities’ journeys into their past and several websites that, at a few clicks of a button, can offer a treasure trove of documents, data and even photos into their family heritage or even results based on your DNA.
Running parallel to and supporting these developments has been the establishment of GlobalWelsh in 2015, the global community for Welsh people & friends of Wales, its founder Walter May tells us more about what he’s seen change in this period:
“The foundation on which we built GlobalWelsh was an in-depth phase of research where we learnt from many other countries who had decades of experience in diaspora engagement. It was very apparent from this work that Wales had an amazing diaspora that were digitally engaged on various diverse platforms. Taking key learnings from other small nations' digital engagement experience, we are bringing these diverse groups together via our Connect platform. The Connect platform is better able to serve these communities via meaningful and focused ways of engagement that generic platforms cannot.
"Digital natives, millenials and Gen Z, are beginning to understand that in order to develop their careers and secure their futures they need to learn how to build a business network of warm connections - much of which can be done, at least in the first instance, digitally. Having a shared passion and belonging for Wales is a great place to start connecting. This may be one of the reasons for the growing interest in Wales from our diaspora. I think its time to demonstrate that we have learnt the Irish lesson and that us fellow Celts are ready to up our game and reap benefits that they have. We have a lot of catching up to do but we’ve made a great start."
"Digital natives, millenials and Gen Z, are beginning to understand that in order to develop their careers and secure their futures they need to learn how to build a business network of warm connections - much of which can be done, at least in the first instance, digitally."
The turning up of the volume around conversations around Wales is a hugely positive development for a nation that always has things to say, but doesn’t always have the platforms, or sometimes the confidence to proclaim then. Digitisation and digital engagement offer a huge opportunity to change this, the data in this report underline how important this is to Wales in driving trade, tourism, confidence and connections and we must all make sure we seize this moment.
This is the first in a series of articles showcasing the key findings of the Digital Diaspora report.
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