Planet excerpts

Stranded in Missouri, historian Adam Coward contrasts political culture in the US and Wales, finding more to be hopeful of on the Welsh side of the ocean as the Presidential and Assembly election campaigns get underway.

More excerpts from Planet 222  

Coming from the title of Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel set in America and Europe during the Great Depression, the phrase ‘you can’t go home again’ has become an American colloquialism, but for all its overuse it contains a certain truth: once you step outside of yourself and your narrow experience, your old self can never encapsulate who you have become. I have spent most of my adult life living in Wales, but recently, owing to the expiration of a work contract and visa, I returned to the United States. I never expected that the transition back into American life would be smooth, given my hiraeth for the ‘green green grass of home’. But as much as I have changed, the country I left behind is not the land I find now. Attempting to negotiate my experiences as a stranger in a no-longer-familiar land through my Welsh experience has been unsettling and complex.

I returned to eastern Missouri, an area of rolling hills and a distinctive wine-making tradition, but today it is associated with racial unrest and the 2015 Ferguson riots. The same week I returned, the University of Missouri was rocked by a series of protests over racial inequality. My first experience of the evening news was the reporting of a racially charged incident in terms which would have made the Daily Mail blush. More striking, the protests were followed by online threats that any ‘n*****s’ caught on campus would be shot. This was just one of several incidents which occurred at that time, not to mention the many mass shootings. It would be naive to claim that the US has become racist during my years in Wales, but it would also be inaccurate to say that only international experience has opened my eyes to it – the very discourse of race in America has shifted, bringing that which festered, barely submerged, to the surface. With the rise of ‘politically incorrect’ language, overt xenophobic sentiments have become increasingly accepted.

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