I’ve felt included and welcomed in Wales – regardless of my language and race

A busy Queen Street in Cardiff. Picture by Jon Candy (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Radha Nair-Roberts

I recently read Oruj Defoite’s complaint on WalesOnline about feeling excluded in Wales because of race and language with disbelief and consternation.

I was puzzled and dismayed because her experiences were in no way related to mine, following my arrival to live in Wales, at the age of 30 in 2006.

Like Oruj, I too am an immigrant with brown skin. I was born in Singapore, to an Indian father and a Malaysian mother. I was raised in Pakistan and then France.

Not a word of Welsh crossed my lips before 2004.

Yet it seemed completely obvious to me to make an effort to learn as much as I could of the Welsh language when living in Wales, in the same way I learned French when living in France.

It seemed clear to me that learning Welsh was the way to truly connect to the culture and history of my adopted country.

After all, Welsh place names from hundreds of years ago were all around me – curiosity and a passion for the land and culture naturally drove me to find out more, and in doing so, I gained so much more than a language.

Rather than exclusion, my first clumsy attempts to converse with native Welsh speakers (including my own husband, a native Welsh-speaker from Wrecsam) were met with nothing but kindness and encouragement.

This gave me the confidence to carry on learning, and to welcome the opportunity to send my children to Welsh medium school.

They are both thriving academically in a truly bilingual environment, slipping seamlessly from one language to the other.

This, I believe should be the future for this country I love and I have chosen.

Dismay

I’m Singaporean by birth, Welsh by choice. I have never once felt that the requirement to speak Welsh influenced whether or not I was able to gain employment.

As a scientist, linguistic ability has been largely irrelevant to the positions I’ve applied for and obtained in Wales.

I do of course realise that some jobs (translation, government, administration etc) might well require Welsh language skills, or at the very least a willingness to learn.

But there are many jobs I am excluded from because of a lack of basic skills in that field – would I expect to get a long-distance haulier’s job without an HGV license?

The same is true for the small subset of jobs in Wales requiring Welsh language skills.

As we live in Wales, is it not entirely natural to expect Welsh residents in certain public-facing roles to speak a modicum of the language of Wales (even if it’s only a few words)?

A small effort to converse with Welsh speakers in their own language in the public sphere would show respect for their decision to live their lives through the medium of their own native tongue.

To conclude, I feel dismay but also considerable pity when reading Oruj’s opinion piece.

I am sorry she has felt unable to access the language, culture and communities of her adopted land.

If I ever had a chance to meet her, I would hope to show her that another way is possible.

I have found that through respect, cultural appreciation, open-mindedness and a bit of linguistic graft, it’s possible to find a meaningful place in Welsh society even as an immigrant with brown skin.


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James W. Soares Jones
Guest

Diolch, for your well written depiction of your Welsh welcome.

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

The tides
Rush over ribbed shores
Of our land,
Touching ankles lying deep,
For those it soothes
The softly open mind,
To learn, to give,
To cherish, to love,
For these are qualities
Of who you are,
And pray will
Always will be.

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

Best article in a long time. Thank you for making the effort, please send out a call for more of your kind to come and live among us and be part of us.

Colin J Williams
Guest
Colin J Williams

Thank you for this. This reflects my experience as a second generation Welsh man who returned home two and a half years ago having lived my first 50 in Birmingham.

T
Guest
T

As Osi Rhys Osmond would say you can make Welsh people out of Martians. I read the apology on WOL by the editor responsible for said article,making all the right sounds, and protesting that as a Welsh speaking individual he and many in WOL are pro-Welsh. It’s a pity therefore that they are working for an organisation that is so entrenched in the colonised mindset and which contributes on a organisational level to a culture of subservience, internal colonisation, and many other things unhelpful to the aspirations of the Welsh people. The original article unlike this one was poor and… Read more »

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

The article is one thing, but as Huw Edwards commented, it’s up there with the worst. But the editorial header line is as mendacious, and up there with the worst. I’ve deleted my WOL app. It’s the poorest anyway that I see. Always a survey of low quality, adverts popping up in text, and a site this is eternally crashing. Isn’t there any proper management of this site, and does it reflect the values and culture of Wales. I’d like to know who funds this news service, by reference to poorly written and subjective personal and one sided rants,and xenophobia.… Read more »

Elvey MacDonald
Guest
Elvey MacDonald

Thank for your excellent article Radha. Roedd yn gysur mawr cael ei ddarllen a deall eich bod, fel cynifer o dramorwyr eraill, wedi cael croeso yng Nghymru ac na wnaeth neb wahaniaethu yn eich erbyn oherwydd eich tras neu eich lliw. Pob dymuniad da i chi yn eich gwlad fabwysiedig a gwlad eich plant.

Radha Nair-Roberts
Guest

Diolch yn fawr for these kind responses, and the beautiful poem (speaks straight to my heart). Tolerance and open-mindedness are a blessing, especially if you are a migrant, and I have been so fortunate to have encountered that here in Cymru.

sianiflewog
Guest
sianiflewog

Diolch Radha Nair-Roberts am ddysgu ein hiaith ni – iaith dda hefyd ‘nde! just had a quick look at the piece in wales online: Pretty obvious you can’t won’t learn any language with one session a week: language is not an ‘academic subject’. It is not easily acquired by reading books and writing essays. Language is more akin to activities such as running or carpentry: the more you do, the b etter you get. The more frequently you do it the faster you learn or improve your competency. It is my personal belief that language is ‘taught’ in the uk… Read more »

Robert Williams
Guest
Robert Williams

Diolch yn fawr, Radha. ‘Rydych wedi codi fy nghalon.

Radha Nair-Roberts
Guest

a gwylio Cyw 😉

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

Great piece, Radha. As for , Oruj Defoite’s, article – Well, that comes from the, Diane Abbot, outlook of finding racism in every molecule of life. Like her I suspect, Oruj never leaves her home without her “race card” in her purse.

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

Diolch yn fawr i Mrs. Nair-Roberts. In presenting a description of a positive approach (albeit with the encouragement and support of a Welsh-speaking husband), and putting that approach into practice, she has done the language an untold amount of good. We can only hope that others with a non-Welsh background will adopt the same attitude and engage with our culture in the same positive and successful way. I suspect that at present she is in a minority among those born outside Wales, however, although something tells me that that might change with the next generation, through the influence of increasing… Read more »

Neil McEvoy
Guest

Welsh by choice. Exactly. Lovely piece.

iantoddu
Guest

Very good piece. Mind you, it is always difficult to access the “language, culture and communities of [an] adopted land” unless you actually live in that land. Oruj Defoite lives in England, and has done for some time- something that was omitted from the original article.

Isabel Adonis
Guest

Dear Radha,
Thank you for your article. I’m glad you have felt included in Wales, but that does not disqualify Oruj from her feelings of exclusion.

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

Try damning the language with even fainter praise. That article in Walesonline was a ghastly piece of shabby prejudice. A person struggles to master a language then blames that language’s speakers and surrounding cultural environment for her lack of success. Worse still the Mail uses the material to push its own devious anti Welsh language agenda.

Isabel Adonis
Guest

Hi there Dafis, My understanding from the piece is that the writer has understood that racism and the language go hand in hand. For me identity (through language) is already problematic since to create an identity involves those that are in and those that are out. She feels out. Besides I thought that Welsh people have already made the language a race issue?

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

Anglicising everybody is no way to treat anyone’s identity. It’s not an “in” or “out” matter but a basic part of one’s makeup. There are examples of people who seem to be able to integrate into their host communities either easily or with a bit of effort, while another set seem to think that their new community will just get on and adapt to suit them. This is especially so if they come with a strong sense of superiority like a lot of the more recent wave of Anglicised arrivals ( English and people from further afield who just want… Read more »

Isabel Adonis
Guest

Davis, what does .. Anglicising everybody is no way to treat everyone’s identity mean?”

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

It means exactly what is written. Evidently people of colour or other nationalities are happy to come to Wales and push the Anglicising agenda. Given the historical exposure to colonialism I’m surprised and disappointed. Rabab below asks ” were you not aware that ‘other kinds’ of people have been living in Wales for generations?” Yes indeed well aware. The difference is that until some time in the late 20th century people came from all over especially into the more rural parts and integrated smoothly picking up a working knowledge of the language and adapting into the way of life. Since… Read more »

Petroc
Guest
Petroc

As a Wrecsam boy myself it is heartening to read your story and the success you have made of it. As a fellow scientist and welsh speaker I appreciated your clear analysis of the welsh language in work. Nice to have a wide variety of topics on Nation.Cymru. Diolch o galon.

Rabab Ghazoul
Guest
Rabab Ghazoul

Appreciate your article Radha, but also found it deeply patronising, not to mention concerning in how it served to further exclude and castigate what were someone’s existing feelings of exclusion. Those feelings of exclusion that Oruj experienced are her entirely legitimate experience. It’s always dangerous when we refuse to acknowledge people’s experience of racism, which is real, and not for anyone else to judge. That you haven’t had that experience Radha, is wonderful, but others have, important to let them be the judge of their own their experience, otherwise we enter very dangerous territory. That no one on this thread… Read more »

Isabel Adonis
Guest

And there I was trying to keep my colour out of it !! A very articulate heartfelt and measured response Rabab..wish I could have written it myself!

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

I’m of black origin, Rahab (touch of Jewish). I find your own comments – presumptious disgusting, offensive, vitriolic, hateful; judgemental, invalid, etc..Just for the record many people – such as myself – say the same about, Diane Abbot – that she plays the race card. By the way not all of us darkies are on the left: even if the left think they own our vote. Many of us have left the plantation…Just saying.

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

I meant I have a touch of, Jewish too – not you, Rahab.

sibrydionmawr
Guest

I can’t comment on Oruj’s experience of racism, which no-one should be subject to, but her comments regarding the Welsh language are quite simply bizarre and unbelievable. Over the years I’ve met many, many people who have claimed that to get a decent job in Wales one has to speak Welsh, but that just isn’t true; it wasn’t true back in the mid 80s when I first heard those arguments, and it isn’t true in the Wales of 2017. There are of course some jobs that are regarded as ‘Welsh essential’ which basically requires the postholder to be a Welsh… Read more »

Isabel Adonis
Guest

My understanding of the original piece is that the writer is Welsh but finds herself feeling excluded because of her colour and her inability to speak Welsh. She is not in a position to separate the intimacy of her skin colour with the intimacy of language.Her feelings are neither good nor bad..they are just her feelings. Interesting how few people have validated her feelings…is this not the exclusion she is talking about? It is my experience that Welsh people have already conflated the language with racism as just about any critiscism becomes an issue of race. Isn’t it time that… Read more »

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

Majority of people in and around Ebbw Vale, in fact the entire south only speak English. So some talking about feeling excluded because they do not speak Welsh in an English speaking area completely bemuses me.

Rabab Ghazoul
Guest
Rabab Ghazoul

Langauges are a lot of work to learn, and money. I’m a Welsh learner, I paid recently for an intensive 5 day course, but I’m self employed, so don’t have an employer who is going to sponsor any future Welsh lessons. But I’m fortunate to at least to be working. The learning of a language assumes a certain amount of economic capital, and this is the glaring oversight people seem to make when they insist everyone should learn the language. Personally I’d be quite happy for every single person living in Wales who was not Welsh speaking to have to… Read more »

Rabab Ghazoul
Guest
Rabab Ghazoul

Hi Kim. I’d like to point out that my name is actually Rabab not Rahab. You’ve made a point of rolling out your extensive use of adjectives to invalidate my points…but have failed to actually address a single one of them. Both you and Radha have very conveniently used your identities to invalidate both Diane’s and Oruj’s experiences of facing racism, and you’ve done so, in Wales, in order to gain favour and social and economic capital amongst your White peers…the fact that an article like this is being commissioned in the first place is testament to that. With that… Read more »

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

I’m at a loss to what your points are or see the logic of your post, Rabab…including this part. “It’s rare, but sometimes there are indeed people of colour who happen to be Muslim hating, Trump-supporting, right wing xenophobes, not many it has to be said, but they do exist…” Er, what!…Seems to make assumptions that I can’t fathom out…Could you expand so that someone, not on the the left or uses its rhetoric could understand?..From my experience most racists have been both left and right – though both equally rare. Whether or not I support Israel I’ll keep to… Read more »

Rabab Ghazoul
Guest
Rabab Ghazoul

Isabel – sorry 🙂 It remains the case that yours was the only comment that made sense on this thread.

Isabel Adonis
Guest

Rabab, Well yours made a whole lot of sense too and very well expressed. I debated whether to come out and support you in the light of such hateful comment but decided against it. Best Wishes.

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

For an explanation of why the private resentments of Rabab Ghazoul and Isabel Adonis are wrong, slightly offensive, as well as inappropriate, see Sibrydionmawr’s response above. Any immigrant of whatever colour would almost certainly be welcome if they invested in the culture of Wales and learned the language, and it requires no financial investment or privileged position in order to do so, as Sibrydionmawr also pointed out. The comments of both contributors, and those made by Oruja Defoite, are blatantly anti-Welsh, and the last-named cannot escape condemnation by highlighting her status as a member of an ethnic minority. Accusations of… Read more »

Isabel Adonis
Guest

Hmm..where have I highlighted that I came from an ethnic minority?

Isabel Adonis
Guest

Yes..I see now you didn’t mean me!

Rabab’s post is very measured I thought and well written. I thought she was in the main defending a woman of colour’s right to speak about her feelings and I wholeheartedly agree with that. I am an ethnic minority and Welsh and have experienced racism over many years living in Wales. My family in fact were forced to move house because of it.

Wrexhamian
Guest
Wrexhamian

Very saddened to hear that, but it’s not pertinent to the discussion in hand, which is a comparison and critique of two women’s contrasting approaches to coming to a country and learning to live with the culture and language. One embraced it, the other didn’t and was isolated as a consequence, prompting her to make derogatory remarks about her host nation.
I give you leave to have the last word if you wish, but I shall refrain from replying as I have to practice my Welsh. Pob lwc i ti.

Rabab Ghazoul
Guest
Rabab Ghazoul

To be clear, I don’t harbour private resentments, I’m expressing myself on a public forum, which invites debate around issues that intersect across the culture, society, history and politics of Wales, seems perfectly appropriate to to share my thoughts. A couple of questions: when we say an immigrant is welcome if they invest in the culture of Wales, what does that mean? Language? Certain traditions? Observation of certain customs? What is meant by the culture of Wales? I have no idea what people mean when they talk about the ‘culture of Wales’ in as much as I wouldn’t understand what… Read more »

Isabel Adonis
Guest

Interesting that my support for a black Welsh woman should be seen as offensive, wrong, inappropriate and anti Welsh. I would be interested to discover what if anything you are referring to…Wrexhamian? Are you saying that if you learn Welsh you will be immune from racism? That has not been my experience. My Welsh children were not welcome in the community, nor were they welcome in local schools and despite my Welsh mother , as a family we suffered years of racism and harassment from all levels of Welsh society. A discussion of racism is relevant to this discussion. It… Read more »

Rabab Ghazoul
Guest
Rabab Ghazoul

I can’t help but agree with you Isabel, I can’t understand why your position in supporting another black Welsh woman is inappropriate or offensive. These are deeply relevant questions, thank you for raising, and for sharing your experiences which are also deeply relevant if not horribly traumatic for you and family. It’s so vital to challenge the lazy catch all of ‘I didn’t experience racism so why should anyone else’ articulated by the article in question, I appreciate the perspective you bring, especially this articulation of oppressed and oppressor, true in so many many ways.

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

Rabab, I see both you and Isabel are artists – do you know each other?

Trailorboy
Guest
Trailorboy

Sounds like a new twist on “I walked into a pub and they…”.

Let’s see where this new line goes…

kim erswell
Guest
kim erswell

“I walked into a pub and they…all asked, if they’d be an opinion piece on, Gareth Bennet in – Nation Cymru…”

Elin Tudur
Guest
Elin Tudur

Diolch Radha. Erthyg i godi calon. Bu fy mab yn byw yn Singapore an flwyddyn tra yn y Brifysgol. Yr hyn a wnaeth argraff ddofn arno oedd mor oddefgar oedd y gwahanol ddiwylliannau at ei gilydd (‘aml ddiwylliant’ ar ei orau). Fe es yno ar wyliau hefyd tra roedd yno, ac fe brofais yr un goddefgarwch a’r cyfeillgarwch.

Benjiman L. Angwin
Guest
Benjiman L. Angwin

Erthygl dda. Good article

Jonthan Edwards Sir Benfro
Guest
Jonthan Edwards Sir Benfro

Thoughts on drawing lines: “The World is like great big onion… What we need is a great big melting pot Big enough enough enough to take The world and all its got And keep it stirring for a hundred years or more And turn out coffee coloured people by the score…” Blue Mink 1. Who else remembers this feel-good anthem from way back? A lot of people hold this view, often subconsciously. 2. The problem with the Blue Mink view is that there is another perfectly valid view, completely opposed. Diversity is one of the riches of being human. Sub-divisions… Read more »

Trailorboy
Guest
Trailorboy

I have wondered how much tuition and education is freely available for people who come to Wales and have no knowledge of the language. I notice that Syrian refugees and asylum seekers are provided with extensive English language lessons and access to interpretors, in order to enable them to participate actively in society, but are we giving equal precedent to Welsh language services? It could be argued that English is enough and is the most important – I don’t adhere to that logic, precisely because some people are going to end up feeling excluded in some ways from being able… Read more »

JasRob
Guest
JasRob

Okay, Radha.
But here’s the thing, what can we learn from Singapore, apart from the lovely “Inspector Singh”, to enable Wales to go forward?
A monthly column by you, if you could spare the time, using the Singaporean experience, on what direction we could take, would be great!
I think we are ready to be humble and disciplined.

cadarnresearch
Guest

The Westminster government idolises Singapore but the reality is that the prosperity of Singapore is built on the back of cheap migrant labour. Try 30% immigration (and rising). No natural resources tThe one of those at Port Talbot). One thing Wales could learn from Singapore is to set up a sovereign fund genuinely for the Welsh people. All Wales’ coal wealth squandered over the centuries. If only a small portion of that had been invested for the Welsh nation, we’d be in a much different place now. Singapore would die for the land and water Wales has.