Wales Away – where is the North American diaspora, who are they and what are they looking for?
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau… (Land! Land! I am true to my land! As long as the sea serves as a wall…)
It is widely thought that the emotionally charged lyrics to Mae hen wlad fy nhadau penned by Evan James were in response to two of his brothers having emigrated to the United States and him having received a letter from them praising their adoptive country and urging their younger sibling to set sail across the Atlantic and join them. James wasn’t persuaded, living all his life in South Wales but an estimated 250,000 Welsh men, women and children did emigrate to North America. History hasn’t recorded what became of the Evans brothers, but a new research report from digital anthropologists sapient.d give some fascinating insights into who the Welsh North American diaspora live and a little into who they are and what they are interested in.
The education levels are high, with 33% educated to undergraduate level, 17% securing postgraduate qualifications and 11% gaining PhD’s. As can be seen, those engaged in with Wales are likely to be well educated and this would also suggest they are in a higher income bracket. For those within the survey the primary engagement age is 40-60, which also aligns with these education levels and estimated higher incomes.
"Historically the Welsh diaspora in the USA was centred around the mid-Atlantic states, New England, Ohio, Georgia and Alabama. With Pennsylvania as the largest centre, where a number of place names such as Bala Cynwyd, Berwyn, Narberth, and Uwchlan show the origin of their founders."
Historically the Welsh diaspora in the USA was centred around the mid-Atlantic states, New England, Ohio, Georgia and Alabama. With Pennsylvania as the largest centre, where a number of place names such as Bala Cynwyd, Berwyn and Uwchlan show the origin of their founders.
One of my favourite little details when researching this area was that as the railroads encouraged suburbanisation out from Philadelphia in the late 19th century, living in a Welsh named community was viewed as highly desirable. As a result some places were renamed with Welsh sounding names to make them more commercially attractive, one example being Merion Square which ‘Celtified’ to become Gladwyne, which is actually meaningless in Welsh.
"The education levels are high, with 33% educated to undergraduate level, 17% securing postgraduate qualifications and 11% gaining PhD’s. As can be seen, those engaged in with Wales are likely to be well educated and this would also suggest they are in a higher income bracket."
Today however, with the major waves of immigration from Wales being several generations ago, the diaspora is now, thanks to data based on Facebook Groups, twitter mentions, LinkedIn groups and online forum mentions and community websites spread across the USA, with New York being the state with the largest number, followed by Illinois, Florida and Texas.
Giles Crouch, Chief Information Officer of sapient.d sees no surprise in New York being at number one in the USA; “There’s a particularly strong diaspora, from those with Welsh ancestry to those recently arrived in New York. The city has its own vibrant organisations, St. David’s Day celebrations. and I believe even a podcast devoted to those from the diaspora calling the Big Apple home.”
"One of my favourite little details when researching this area was that as the railroads encouraged suburbanisation out from Philadelphia in the late 19th century, living in a Welsh named community was viewed as highly desirable."
In Canada, where according to the 2016 census 478,805 Canadians claimed full or partial Welsh descent, the top four provinces that they call home are Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Alberta. Much like in the USA, they are spread across the country and in the major conurbations.
So, we know more about who the diaspora are and where they are, but the data research also supplies some insights into what they are searching for online when it comes to Wales. Literature comes out on top as the highest interest area topic, meaning books and prose rather than poetry which is a separate segment. Second are recipes, which although not thought of as a major industry in Wales in this survey, is clearly an area that resonates with the diaspora. Food is a primary way that diaspora communities engage with each other, particularly around special days. The third is music, followed by genealogy, celebrations, travel and poetry all recording broadly similar scores, with Eistedfodd (as the main cultural event associated to Wales has its own category), history and immigration finishing up the list.
"GlobalWelsh's aim is to complement the activities of the existing Welsh societies in the US and Canada with a focus on business and economic impact back to Wales."
The research also found that the Welsh language is increasingly popular with diaspora communities, especially with third through fourth generations, who take pride in learning key words and sentences. There’s a particular trend within this that finds people often look for interesting turns of phrase or quotes they can use in Welsh to share on their social media channels.
Giles Crouch shares some more insight on the importance of the Welsh language for the diaspora; “Online learning platforms, such as Duolingo are a big driver. And particularly in the past year, one of the biggest things people have done outside watching Netflix during the pandemic is learn a language.”
There’s no such thing as a typical member of the Welsh diaspora in North America, but if you would take this data to use as a template – they would be college educated, living in one of the more populous states in the USA or provinces in Canada, have a particular interest in Welsh literature, recipes and music, and although not a Welsh speaker, seeks out key words and phrases to use.
Walter May, founder of GlobalWelsh, the global community for Welsh people & friends of Wales says that this is quite an accurate picture of their North American members; "Our aim is to complement the activities of the existing Welsh societies in the US and Canada with a focus on business and economic impact back to Wales. We can all coalesce around the amazing cultural aspects of Wales, our language, heritage, and the shared passions for those things that bind us together, but beyond that we want to encourage connectivity and facilitate ‘giving back’ in ways that can help Wales become a more prosperous and levelled up nation."
This is the fourth in a series of articles showcasing the key findings of the Digital Diaspora report. Read more.
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