Rich Tapestry of Wales' Cultural Mix Brought to Life by Family Histories; from Polish Shops to Indian Restaurants and Irish Pubs to Italian Ice Cream Parlours, the Presence of Different Cultures in Wales Is Clear to See. as an Exhibition Showcasing Mothers and Daughters from Multi-Ethnic Wales Opens in Cardiff, Emily Lambert Looks at How Multiculturalism Has Enriched Our Culture and Redefined Our Welsh Identity

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Byline: Emily Lambert

I MMIGRATION has played a vital role in the development of Wales since the end of the 19th century when the economic expansion and importance of its seaports and coal mines attracted workers from around the world, creating a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic, multi-religious country much earlier than any other parts of Britain and Europe.

The communities of different ethnic backgrounds who have chosen to settle in Wales have brought their cultural traditions with them, from language to religion, food to music, and these elements have been mixed with existing Welsh traditions, such as the Welsh language, to help make Wales what it is today.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has been supporting the celebration of our multicultural nation since it began awarding funding in Wales in 1995.

Dan Clayton Jones, chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund Committee for Wales, believes the role of our past is more relevant than ever in a world that's changing at a constantly increasing rate.

"Wales today is facing big questions about its role in British society, our identity as a nation, as communities and as individuals," he said.

"Our once rigid social and cultural groups are now constantly shifting, making it more important than ever to explore how this fits with our legacy, our heritage.

"Set against this rapidly transforming backdrop, 'Who do we think we are?' becomes an important question for our future, which can only be properly answered with access to the heritage of our past.

"These projects, among many others, have demonstrated the breadth and scale of the influence of multiculturalism on our identity.

"From the influence of the community developed around Cardiff docks to our strong links to the slave trade across the country, we have a hugely diverse heritage here in Wales which should be explored and recorded to pass on to future generations."

The HLF-supported projects aim to promote a better understanding of diversity, by enabling communities across Wales to explore their heritage and consider how our identities are expressed through cultural traditions, he said.

"Multiculturalism impacts on our everyday lives from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear to the music we listen to.

"The mix of cultures and traditions from Wales and across the globe helps to create unique identities and a sense of belonging."

"There are so many extraordinary stories and memories of people who have played a part in Wales' diverse history that hold the key to our heritage that we need to conserve them for future generations to learn from.

"Through innovative and emotive exhibitions, festivals and workshops, we want to acknowledge the role immigration and integration has played in Wales and for everyone to embrace the multicultural society we live in."

Bute town, the residential area which grew up around Cardiff's docks, is internationally famous for its diverse mix of ethnic groups including Somali, Bengali, Afro-Caribbean, Jamaican and Yemeni communities among others.

Now, thanks to a pounds 47,900 HLF grant, the life stories of multi-ethnic mothers and daughters who grew up in these areas will be told.

Butetown History and Arts Centre's project, called Bringing Our Archive Alive: Images and Stories from Multi-Ethnic Wales, aims to represent the varied human faces and lives that create multi-ethnic Wales, while promoting inter-cultural understanding and challenging notions of what multi-ethnic Wales actually looks like.

The project, once completed, will include 60 portraits of mothers and daughters who have volunteered to have their photograph taken and tell their life stories of their family's journey to Wales and the integration of cultures.

But the exhibition is unlikely to meet stereotypes of the images of multiculturalism, according to Michael Flynn, manager of the Butetown Heritage and Arts Centre. …