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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
California dreaming for Welsh business
By BBC Wales's Caroline Evans in California

It's a whirlwind tour for First Minister Rhodri Morgan, taking in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

He's networking with business leaders, charming the tourist industry and persuading ex-pats to promote Wales to fellow countrymen.

I joined them in San Francisco for a fast, intense and sometimes bewildering few days...

San Jose skyline
San Jose is at the heart of Silicon Valley
Ask many Americans what they know about Wales and they will ask, "Is that blue whales or white whales ma'am?"

Not an easy job, then, to convince them to take their holidays here, and if there's no great tourist traffic it stands to reason that businesses will find it harder to happen upon us.

But to know us is to love us and that was the challenge Rhodri Morgan set himself this week.


Despite talk of an economic downturn, there is opportunity aplenty in Silicon Valley

From TV station to radio station, from business dinner to banquet he went preaching the new Wales - a forward-looking, confident country capable of meeting any challenges which the high-technology industries care to throw our way.

Business people I spoke to responded positively. Despite talk of an economic downturn and thousands of jobs losses in the last few weeks, they told me there is opportunity aplenty in Silicon Valley.

And perhaps that's just as well, because it seems that most other people who know anything about Wales at all, would prefer us to stay in the Dark Ages.

So it was that at a dinner in the elite bankers club, at the top of San Francisco's tallest building, that the talk turned not on research and development, but on castles, legend and the rural splendour that is much of Wales.

Rhodri Morgan on an American financial news network
The First Minister did a round of interviews
The Wales Tourist Board was hosting a lunch for travel writers and in truth they were preaching to the converted when it came to the beauty and wonder of our country.

But it became apparent to me that this was not the Wales Rhodri Morgan had spent his morning promoting.

Events took a somewhat stranger turn as we travelled south to the first Festival of Wales in San Jose.

We were headed for what Rhodri Morgan said he regarded as a unique opportunity to sell Wales in America.


There's nothing wrong with myths - why should it be wrong to create a modern mythology?

In the capital of Silicon Valley, the modern and affluent city of San Jose, a festival was being held by the Welsh American Society of Northern California.

In a specially erected pavilion, Rhodri Morgan launched a video - slick images of the new Wales; at a society dinner he spoke of a need for money, for jobs. They applauded his call for them to be unpaid ambassadors, but they were from a different world.

These larger-than-life Welsh Americans wanted to celebrate our history, our hwyl, their hiraeth...and a series of dubious symbols of a Wales they'd loved and lost.

Our first encounter with this strange version of Welshness was a parade of the Celtic nations, in which the union jack featured large.

Don't get me wrong, they were nice enough people. I met a stream of them who'd tried to learn Welsh - yet there was a uncomfortable undercurrent about the whole thing.

David Evans
David Evans of Deloitte and Touche said Wales could lure businesses
Appeals from Rhodri Morgan for jobs and money didn't exactly fall on deaf ears, but they didn't meet the same level of applause as his references to the history of Wales.

True there were moves to modernise the event. Until this year it had been known simply as the Cymanfa Ganu, and in an effort to be more inclusive, they'd changed the name.

For the first year too they'd had a rock band perform at the Noson Lawen. This was revolutionary stuff, the organiser told me, there'd been heated debate in the committee room.

He wisely added that however old-fashioned they appeared, it was better for Wales to work with them to strengthen its profile than to go it alone in such a vast country. A successful businessman himself, he convinced me at the time, later I was not so sure.


They're SO over the top! I'm a fraud really but they're even bigger frauds

Welsh American describes Californians
Then I met a wonderful woman from London, a Welsh-speaking teacher, who'd lived her whole life in England, but retained such an affection for Wales she'd made the trip to San Jose to join the celebrations.

She summed it up with the feelings I hadn't been able to put into words. "They're SO over the top!" she said. "You know, I'm a fraud really but they're even bigger frauds"

And to be fair, what's wrong with this? There's nothing wrong with myths - why should it be wrong to create a modern mythology?

But it all adds up to the fact that they seem to have little to do with us, and I'm not sure we can count on their support to develop a new Wales.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Wales's Caroline Evans reports
"Seven per cent of our gross domestic product comes from tourism"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Welshness
What does it mean to be Welsh?
See also:

25 Oct 00 | Wales
02 Sep 01 | Wales
05 Dec 00 | Business
15 Nov 99 | Wales
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