On Thursday 06/10/2016 Alun Cairns appeared on the BBC's Question Time, where he portrayed Wales and its people as xenophobic and unwelcoming to migrants, particularly in regards to English influence. The following weekend people from across Wales took to social media to criticise Mr Cairns. An apology has been unforthcoming but the hashtag #WeAreWales, and its welsh language equivalent #NiYwGymru, formed the basis of an assertion from the people of Wales, a demand that we be recognised as an an outward looking and welcoming people. Indeed, what the campaign showed more than anything else is that Wales is itself a country of migrants.
In a series of upcoming posts I am going to persue this campaign further, by interviewing the people of Wales, speaking to them about their past and present, their hopes and dreams and their relationship with Wales. It is not my intention to present a sugar-coated view of Wales, but to show us in all of our shades instead. This week we are in Swansea, where Rikki Withers moved from Walsall over ten years ago.
1. Hi Rikki. Can you tell us what first brought you to Wales?
Ok. I met my girlfriend - well she was like my wife eventually - I met her online when I was 16. She was from Swansea and initially she moved up to Walsall, but I used to obviously come back with her and visit her family and friends. I just found that more often than not over the two and a half year period that I wanted to come back, and when I did come back the periods that I stayed here would get longer. I used to take a weeks holiday and then call in sick so I could stay another week. Eventually it just made more sense that as I was spending so much time here it would just be cheaper to live here. So I made the decision when I was 19 and we moved back here, and we eventually lived in Morriston.
2. I understand that you have a pretty busy life here in Swansea?
Yes! I have two jobs. I'm an Independent Mental Health Advocate from Monday to Friday. So I work for a lovely charity called Advocacy Support Cymru. Basically I've been assigned a couple of hospitals, where I go in, do open sessions and take referrals, and basically I go in and make sure people have got a voice. So that entails making sure they know their legal rights, and telling them what options are available to them in terms of their medication, treatment and care. I can attend appointments with them, write letters, all that sort of thing.
And then I also work part-time as a singer. I don't actually get to sing that often in Swansea, but I travel all over South Wales, doing that. I usually do that on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
3. What sort of music do you play?
It has to be a wide range of stuff, so it goes from the Supremes and Stevie Wonder and Motown to Katie Tunstall, Amy MacDonald, to like the Pretenders. Just anything - like Adele - you name it it gets covered. Bit of everything! You have to cater to your audience.
4. The Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, recently implied that there are people in Wales who are anti-English or anti-Englsh influence. Have you ever felt unwelcome in Wales?
No! No, definitely not. I've always felt more than welcome. Don't get me wrong, you get the English jokes. The thing with me is I've got an accent so straightaway, where I'm from, it's really clear that I'm not from Swansea, so it's always a conversation starter for people. Not in a negative way though. Everybody can relate a story back to, Oh I used to work up in Birmingham, or I've been to Broad Street, or my niece has just moved there so we go and visit. There's always a story related to where I've come from. Some people say would you go back and I always say "Oh God no. I brush my teeth in the morning I can see the sea out the bathroom window. Why would you want to go back to opening your window and seeing concrete?". But there's never a negative slant on it, they'll always relate to that in a positive way.
5. The response on social media was the #WeAreWales campaign, which suggested that those who have chosen to make Wales their home, are essentially Welsh, and should be welcomed here as such. What are your thoughts on that?
I don't think that I feel Welsh, like fully Welsh. I think education as well probably plays a lot into that, if you're educated in Wales. Saying that, my great grandfather from my mother's side was actually welsh. He was from Port-Talbot. I don't know, maybe that's something that's been instilled from school. I kind of kept myself as 50-50. I mean it's very patriotic in Wales isn't it? Much more than what it is in England I think. You're educated to be proud to be Welsh. That's what I kinda get from it. Yeah a lot of people I talk to go back in history to when England oppressed Wales. I think it's something maybe that's in school and at home. In the environmental influences, like rugby, I think you're a nation that's proud to be Welsh. I think maybe that's something that's been instilled from quite a young age. So I don't think I'm ever going to fully feel part of that. But I do feel that my heart is here. Yeah, my heart is here.
6. So do you imagine your future in Wales or do you have other plans?
No! My future is in Wales. You know I'd like to think that I'm going to retire and move abroad to a warmer climate, but, you know, not for my working life atleast. I'm a home bird. Swansea is my home.
If you are interested in booking Rikki for a gig then you can contact her on her Facebook page at @RikkiWithers.SoloArtist.
The photograph included in this article is by Daniel Nathan of DNA Photography. You can find out more about Nathan at @DanielNathanAlternative on Facebook.
If you are interested in being interviewed for this series then you can contact me via the website, or else on Twitter @WalesBLOGlet. I want to meet people from throughout Wales and I'm happy to travel.
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