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11.00  Defining Welshness through the Transnational Heritage Network

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In an effort to begin exploring the intersection of diaspora heritage studies and social network analysis, this paper will explore the functionality of a transnational heritage network in which both institutions and individuals from the Welsh homeland, as well as the Welsh Patagonian diaspora, participate to preserve Welsh heritage. Currently, there is a gap in the literature on diaspora heritage in regard to the complex heritage networks diasporas and their homelands construct in order to mutually support and maintain a meaningful identity for both communities, meanwhile resembling elements of an “imagined community.” As the authorized heritage discourse of the Chubut province is currently constructed, the Welsh are not only credited with the settlement and modernization of Chubut, but the Welsh Patagonian community has also become an increasingly important symbolic marker of Welsh nationalism in the homeland. 1865 marked this transformative moment for Welsh identity formation, when a group of just over one hundred and fifty settlers from Wales migrated to Chubut, a southern province in Argentina, with the intention of creating a Welsh colony where the community could exist uninhibited by outside, hegemonic powers (namely British) and in a location where the Welsh language could flourish. While the initial goal to establish the community was achieved, the ideas behind its formation were met with resistance by the Argentine government throughout the following decades. 2015 marked the sesquicentennial celebrations of the Welsh community in Patagonia and, along with the annual landing festival, the year was characterized by conversations surrounding the current state, as well as the future, of Welsh heritage in Patagonia. Local and regional history museums serve as important venues through which the Welsh Patagonian community maintains visibility. These exhibitions recount the history of the community, but also make implicit statements about the future of the Welsh Patagonian community. In the homeland, museum exhibitions and institutional programming surrounding the Welsh diaspora in Patagonia serve the additional function of promoting the Welsh language and heritage, in the face of historical oppression. 

The reciprocal discourse surrounding Welsh heritage between the Welsh diaspora in Chubut and the Welsh homeland provides a unique case study to understand the ways in which transnational heritage networks, and the exchange of people and ideologies within the network, are continually redefining not only what it means to be Welsh in Argentina, but also, Welsh nationalism in the twenty-first century. 

This paper will address the significant and influential role that institutions including the Welsh National Assembly, the British Council, the National Museum of Wales network, the National Library and People’s Archive, Cardiff University, and the Wales-Argentina Society play in shaping Welsh Patagonian identity, through ever-increasing personnel exchange. Specific projects like the Welsh Language Project and Patagonia 150 gained significant momentum throughout Wales in 2015, and have had a trickle-down effect in Argentina, where Welsh descendants, as well as other community members who do not have Welsh ancestry, have benefited from the increased attention and resources put toward solidifying Welsh heritage in Patagonia. In addition, this paper will explore the role that individuals moving between the homeland and the diaspora play in affecting heritage narratives in Welsh Patagonia, as well as shaping contemporary Welsh nationalism, which relies on the strength of the Welsh diaspora as a testament to the robustness of Welsh identity and culture. The analysis of the transnational heritage network provides a unique theoretical and methodological perspective through which to explore and understand the consequences of mobility for individuals that move between homeland and diaspora communities, and the implications of such exchanges for global minority identities.

Kimberly Berg


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