A Welsh Approach to Multiculturalism

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), December 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Welsh Approach to Multiculturalism


This Christmas, as the debate around multiculturalism rages in the UK, Wales finds itself well positioned to cast a discerning light on how to address some of the challenges of integration. It does so in the context of a rapidly changing global scene where almost one in every 35 of us is now a migrant. That capacity to discern comes from modern Wales' own way of addressing migration and cultural differences.

In the context of the debate on multiculturalism, Wales' contribution remains largely understated. Although the National Assembly has begun to make its presence felt, to anyone glancing at the 2001 census statistics, Wales appears overwhelmingly white and British in ethnic complexion and consequentially peripheral to the debate. There is however a different story to tell. Dai Smith's perceptive 1984 description of Wales as a singular noun but a plural experience still rings true today. If anything marks out the identity of modern Wales it is the movement of people.

From the time a native of north Africa called Macrinus left his name on a piece of Roman pottery in Holt near Wrexham, Wales has encountered and handled cultural diversity in its own way by frequently reinventing itself and adapting to new realities. That process is dynamic and ongoing.

Today, a Welsh-medium school such as Plasmawr in Cardiff can record that 9% of its students come from black and ethnic minority homes. That would have been inconceivable 30 years ago.

The CRE's Croeso project, by the time it ends, will have worked in every secondary school in Wales, drawing together conversations about what unites us now in a shared sense of humanity. Wales is being recreated as we speak.

Ancient patterns of migration still have their modern impact. The electoral map of the 1997 devolution referendum showed an uncanny resemblance, in the case of the 'no' vote, to the demographics of medieval Norman migration. In more modern times, the human experience known as the Valleys took shape during a time when Wales' population almost quintupled over four generations. At one stage before World War I, Wales had an immigration rate of 45 per 10,000 and ranked second, by rate, only to the US as a world centre of immigration. Today, a quarter of the people who live in Wales were born elsewhere: frequently from other parts of the UK, but not exclusively so. Wales shares, without really knowing it, such realities with cities such as London.

Significantly, a small nation with two formal linguistic communities, formidable traditional barriers of geography and only a recent and still limited expression of national governance cannot turn to increasingly frayed badges of national identity for a sense of security. …

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