A Voice for Wales in America: An Interview with Simon Lloyd

Profile picture of Saint David
Saint David July 7, 2020

Simon Lloyd is a man on a mission. Originally from California, based in Arizona, with his sights on Philadelphia, Simon is setting out to educate people of all ages from the West Coast to the East Coast about Wales, and what it is to be Welsh.

We caught up with Simon to find out more.

Hey Simon! Can you tell us a bit about the Welsh Welsh League of Arizona?

There’s a community of Welsh Americans here, who either emigrated to America, or they have ancestral roots in Wales. They formed a community here back in 2001 or 2002 for people to come and celebrate their Welsh Heritage. I stumbled across it back in 2009 and got involved last year. But really it’s a good way for people to come and congregate, to talk about ways to be a presence of the Welsh culture in the local community, and to interact at local events.

The big events are for St David’s day. We do a lot of things – we do fundraisers and go to the Scottish Highland Games and Festival. Since it’s usually sandwiched between St. David’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day every year, it brings all of the Celts together. I myself have very strong roots within Wales and Scotland and I’m very proud to be both Scottish and Welsh.

Can you tell us a bit about your roots?

I’m mixed. I identify as Celtic and Creole. On my dad’s side I’m predominantly Welsh and Scottish. There’s a bit of English in there, too. I have to admit, they got all of us! They got our soul! My roots are from North Wales and possibly from other parts of Wales, but that’ll be revealed as we look further into the genealogy.

Then on my biological mother’s side, we’re Creole so that’s, black, French and then some Native American in there too, and then more Scottish and English on her side. So I have a nice little hodgepodge.

“And they’d say to me, ‘Wait. What are they? Are they whales? Are they like, humpback whales? What is that?!’. And I was like, ‘it’s literally a country!'”… because of that and having to not look crazy, I’ve actually had to be a teacher about Wales throughout my life.”

Simon Lloyd

How did you first learn about your heritage?

So when I was a kid, I found out what my heritage was and I remember telling people like “oh, yeah, so I’m Welsh” and everyone was like, “what is that?”. I was like, “it’s people from Wales”. And they’d say to me, “Wait, what are they? Are they whales? Are they like, humpback whales? What is that?!”. And I was like, “it’s literally a country!”. And they’d say, “oh well that sounds made up!”.

So as a kid I was trying to tell people that there’s this country called Wales and it’s really cool and there’s all these cool things about it, and people were looking at me like I was crazy. But yeah, just because of that and having to not look crazy, I’ve actually had to be a teacher about Wales throughout my life!

So you’re a “Voice for Wales in Arizona”?

Yeah! Arizona. Well, I was born and raised in California and I did a bit of that there, but I moved to Arizona and I still do that – I do it everywhere I go.

I prefer a “Voice for Wales in America”!

I’m a modest man, so I do feel a bit special being called that! But one thing I have been able to do is to find like those links between America and Wales and tell people about them. A lot of people don’t realise it but America has a very strong presence of the Welsh and I like to bring that together.

So for instance I went to Philadelphia back in February with my girlfriend. She’s not Welsh but I remember she was showing me some of the place names in Pennsylvania and I was like “wait, what?”. There’s a place called “Bryn Athyn”, and another called “Gwynedd”. And then we went to see all these monuments of people with Welsh names – there’s a really strong presence of Welsh-ness there, and I really feel connected to that. I love it.

“A lot of people don’t realise it but America has a very strong presence of the Welsh and I like to bring that together.”

Simon Lloyd

What are some of the events that you’ve been involved in with the Welsh League of Arizona?

My role within the group was to come up with a lot of ideas for different events. I understand that they do have some annual events they like to do, and they have a certain kind of expectation of a turnout and it’s good for them. But I also realise a lot of their stuff is geared towards a more mature demographic and I wanted to give focus on the fact that there’s a lot of kids out there who don’t realise how interesting and how proud they could be of their Welsh heritage. So I wanted to try to connect with them.

So we wanted to do something for St David’s day and it was a bit impromptu how it happened. I said we’re going to have a whiskey tasting, we’re going to promote it around town and that’s it. And then people are going to show up, not knowing exactly what it is. We’re going to make sure that they know what Wales is by the time they leave.

I discovered Penderyn Whisky before joining the Welsh League. While I was on Facebook one day, I was trying to look for communities that were geared towards Welsh people around the world, coming together about Welsh-ness. I stumbled across a few, but they seemed a little disjointed, like a couple of posts here and there, and one of them talked about Penderyn Distillery.

So I looked into it – it was the first distillery in Wales in over a hundred years and I was like, this is perfect. I mean, I love whiskey and it’s very… it’s intertwined with our Celtic roots and it was just like, I need to be a part of this. I need to find out more about this. I found it. I tried it. I fell in love with it. I got in contact with the vendor here in America. We spoke about it. And then I told them I’m a part of the Welsh League of Arizona and said I would love for them to do something as part of our events, and we coordinated some stuff for St David’s day.

Because I coordinated all that stuff, it actually brought a decent amount of fresh faces. Everyone was like, “who are these people where they come from?” I was like, “I’ll take credit for that!”. So it was a beautiful turnout, with a lot of people who didn’t even know the Welsh League was here before then, and it got more people interested.

“I feel like I was destined to do something – to bring consciousness to people about Wales”

Simon Lloyd

Have you got any more events coming up?

So last year when I joined I had several ideas. One thing I came up with, that’s a very good example of not only expressing the presence of Welsh people in history, but also the relevance of it in pop culture, and how to get young generations involved. So do you play video games?

Not since 1999 (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, N64).

Okay. Have you heard of a video game called Assassin’s Creed?

Yes!

Okay. Well the fourth video game “Black Flag”. The main character is Welsh. The main character is actually from Swansea. I wanted to do an event about pirates and the Welsh influence – the Celtic influence, even in the world of piracy, and kind of bring it together by using the video game. Because there’s actually a lot of historical accuracy in there and a lot of fun stuff. And it was a very successful video game which got kids of all ages together.

So using the game as kind of a bait bike, we’re going to reel people in. Then once they’re there, we’ll say, “By the way, there were a lot of Welsh people in this game because Wales had a lot to do with pirates”. And then use that as an opportunity to teach the history about some of the Welsh pirates, like Captain Henry Morgan. The rum unfortunately, it’s not that great – it doesn’t do him justice, but still!

So when I came up with that idea, I was still very much so predicting being here in Arizona when I wanted to start it. Because apparently there is an international Pirate Day in September – it’s like September 19 or something. So I wanted to do it in conjunction with that to get the community together.

But now that I’m moving to Philadelphia. I would definitely plan to do it there in Philadelphia and try and get in touch with any Welsh organisations out there. It’s apparently the home of the Welsh Association of North America. So my eyes lit up when I knew that – I needed to be there.

Is that the only reason that you’re moving to Philadelphia?

I met someone unexpectedly, who I fell madly in love with. She’s a nurse who was moving back to Philadelphia and she asked me to go on a trip there with her. Along the way, I experienced something…there’s something that I call “Welsh Magnetism”. It’s like, wherever I go, if there’s something to do with Wales there, it finds ME.

Even when I visited New York for the first time my friend said, “I’m living in Queens, is there anything you want to do here?”. And I said “this sounds like a tall order, but if you can find a Welsh pub, we’ll go there”. He looked it up online, and there’s actually one Welsh pub – I think in all of America – that’s right around the corner from his apartment! It was called “Snowdonia”. They were serving a lot of Penderyn in there!

So I went to go back to Philadelphia. I saw a lot of things along the way. I was just like, there’s something that’s pulling me here. There’s an omen – a good omen and when I went there it just culminated and I felt like this is where I need to be. Something called me here. So I just made the plunge after I realised my feelings for her and my feelings for what was going on. So there were a lot of beautiful things happening at once.

So your girlfriend wants you to move back to Philadelphia with her, and it also happens to be the area where the Welsh first emigrated to. The perfect love story!

Yes it is! And you know, I feel like I was destined to do something – to bring consciousness to people about Wales, because as a kid I was telling adults who hadn’t heard anything about it, and I had their attention.

I tried to get in contact with the Welsh Government to be – almost like an ambassador – to set up a program for having young people in Wales come to America or young people in America go to Wales – just have a cultural exchange or just a sense of tracing Wales in America, but unfortunately I didn’t hear back from anyone.

What’s next for Simon Lloyd?

So I’m kind of in a transitionary period right now with things. I’m applying for a teaching position where I teach English to kids around the world. One of my life goals is to be a Welsh teacher; to keep the language alive and bring it to the younger generations, and I feel like a good way to work my way up to that is to be an English teacher first, and then once I do that, it’s easier to break down how languages work.

Could send to all our readers a message in Welsh?

Well actually something I want to get tattooed on me, if and when it does happen, is “pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad”, which means I’m devoted to my land or my nation, in reference to Wales. It’s actually in the Welsh national anthem.

Resources

Simon Lloyd: https://stdavids.world/members/simon-lloyd/
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania community page: https://stdavids.world/communities/philadelphia-pennsylvania-usa/
Phoenix, Arizona community page: https://stdavids.world/communities/phoenix-arizona-usa/
Welsh League of Arizona: https://welshleagueofarizona.org/
Snowdonia NYC: https://snowdonia.nyc/