In the last week of March Angharad and I visited New York City in the United States of America. Wow – what a place!
I’ve been to many places around Europe and even stepped foot into Asia (just) and despite always receiving a welcome by residents of the places I visit, I’ve never had the feeling that a place itself was doing the welcoming. It was a feeling I’ve never felt before (except at home in Wales) and one which I find difficult to put into words – especially in English.
Before my visit I was prepared to expect the worst – “Are you English?” and “What’s Wales?”
I was so surprised that this was simply not the case and all but one person knew where (and what) Wales was that I posted the following Facebook post:
So, first things first, I shall happily step down from my metaphorical soapbox and apologise fully and wholeheartedly to the citizens of New York. Great stuff. The only person who didn’t know where (or what) Wales was worked at the Rockefella Centre – and even she promised to Google it after work. I told her it’s like the giant sea mammals but without the H.
As a side note, my reference to Tom Jones in the above Facebook post is not made in the slightest lightly. Literally everyone mentioned his name when I said Wales. A few even broke into song!
Yet despite complete knowledge of our nation across the Pond, I was still left baffled by the references to England. It seemed that even though people knew about Wales (as well as her geographical and political situation), the term ‘England’ was still used to define most things that would usually (and in my view unfortunately) be deemed as ‘Britain’ – although I was more than happy to let people recall the history of their previous colonial masters as simply England ;-)!
From tour bus narrators to shop keepers, museum guides to information boards, it seemed England was the primary (and only) way of referring to what I know as ‘the British Isles.’ I lost my faith in the world several times on this otherwise fantastic trip. One particular bus tour guide (from Brooklyn with Russian heritage) asked us where we were from, told us he loved the Welsh, proceeded to sing Tom Jones songs at us, then went straight upstairs to tell the population of the packed bus of how ‘England’ did this and ‘England’ did that in American history when he really should’ve been referring to the islands as one entity. It was painful.
The worst example was in the Ellis Island museum. One particular lady who was helping people search family members who passed through the island on their way into the United States was incredibly clued up on Welsh immigrant history. She knew of the demand for Welsh miners and how so many of them became very rich owing to their mining knowledge and expertise. We didn’t discuss the huge swathes of Americans who can, even today, trace their lineage back to Wales (nearly 2 million) or of the large percentage of Welshmen to sign the American Constitution. It wasn’t her in particular that disheartened me – it was the rest of the museum. How can a blatantly clued-up set of people with so much knowledge completely disregard Wales in EVERY single exhibit? Visually at least, Wales did not exist.
Are Welsh tracts and place-names and family names and traditions disregarded by Americans? No. Not at all. Residents of their nation know full well about how their nation was shaped by our peninsula of the British Isles.
Maybe no one told them that the Wales and Berwick Act (1746) was repealed?!