I am a son of the Scottish Diaspora in America (in its current, popular sense) in that it was the numerous Highland Games, pipe bands, history book readings and Burns Night toasts which initially gave rise to my interest in Scottish and Highland culture.
In 2008, at the age of 18, I came to Scotland to study, eventually switching to Celtic & Archaeology in my second year. Since then, due to the difficulties of immigration visas in the UK, I have been back and forth between Scotland and the USA, now currently working and living in the strongest Gaelic-speaking community in Scotland, south-end South Uist, as a Gaelic Development Officer.
From having lived in America, Lowland and Highland (Island) Scotland, I have noticed a series of incongruities between those areas in the interpretation of Gaelic culture and the associated Diaspora. Each part generates their own understanding of the cultural inheritance, and those projections all – rightly or wrongly – form contemporary parts of the Gaelic cultural whole.
Why do nearly all Scottish Americans wear kilts at Highland Games, and some of them antiquarian, invented or absurd at that? Why are some of those same Americans then derided as romantic and eccentric when they then wear those kilts in Scotland? Why do many, particularly young, Scots, who have never uttered a word of Gaelic, view the once Gaelic-specific costume as a part of their national dress? Why do most members of the older generations of Island Gaels spurn the kilt? Why are young pipers in Gaelic-speaking areas today not allowed to participate in competitions unless in Highland Dress?
How are there so many contrasting practises? How did they come about? When did they form? Who is right? Is anybody right?
The kilt is only one example. Pipes, language, identity… the list could go on. They are all interrelated markers of a joint culture – or one side of it, formulated at different periods of history which challenge and influence each other. Gaelic heritage is immensely political in that nearly everyone has their own understanding and opinion of it.
That’s one role which GaelicUSA will play, to help those of the Scottish and Gaelic Diasporas discover an authentic and enfranchised interpretation of their heritage, one that’s both individually rewarding and collectively beneficial. Let’s face it, America, the Gaelic language and culture is under threat. We, as Americans, are part of that problem. And we, as Americans, can be part – a large part – of the solution.