INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
INTERVIEW WITH: Mrs. Beryl Rohrer - Welsh
PLACE: Folklife FestivaL, Institute of Texan
August 5, 1989
M: Our respondent today is Mrs. Beryl Rohrer. Today we're
going to be talking about the Welsh booth at the Texas Folklife
Festival and the reaction of the people who are
operating the booth to what goes on here.
R: Okay. We started off with the Welsh booth through our
organization called Daughters of the British Empire, which
was an organization started in 1909 in Canada and then
spread to the united States, and it's been going since
And the object of the group - it's strictly a nonprofit
organization - and the object of the group is •.. in
the beginning was to get homes together for the aged -
British aged at that time - so that they wouldn't be a drain
on the American government. In other words, we would look
after our own, and this is how the organization started.
It ... in essence, it is still operating that way,
except, of course, down through the years, now, we open the
home up to anyone, anyone and, but, that's ••. we're allover
R: the United States and especially in Texas.
M: What's your home? Tell us the name of it and where it
is, and so forth.
R: My home?
M: No , the ••.
R: The home. The home that we support is in Houston,
Texas, and it's called the Mountbatten House after Earl
Mountbatten and we have had •.• we are •.. I •.• we are the oldest
organization that is recognized by Her Majesty the Queen.
And Princess Anne has visited the home. Prince Charles has
visited the home. And we have ... I think at this point we
have about twenty residents at this point, and we are now
getting to where we're going to add a wing.
M: Beryl, can you tell me when the Welsh booth first
opened at the Folklife Festival?
R: I think the Welsh booth ... I think we've been in the
Festival for six years. I believe this is our sixth year.
And we were the Cardiff Chapter. Of course, Cardiff is a
big city in Wales, so that's why •.. we thought, "Well, maybe
we could represent Wales".
So we did some background and tried to get things we
could ... our uniforms are, of course •.. have to be modified to
this climate. So our uniforms are not completely, you know,
authentic, but they are modeled. We took a picture - the
closest picture we could come up with - of a Welsh costume
and modified it for the weather. And so, we've been here
six years, and we thoroughly enjoy it!
M: What types of food do you serve at your booth that are
representative of Wales?
R: We serve Welsh Rabbit. In other words, I suppose you
can say it's a cheese sauce served on a toasted crumpet, and
we serve it •.. it's served in Wales for breakfast. Normally.
Or for afternoon tea. But it seems to go very, very well.
People just don't know what it is and they always ••• 'cause
everybody thinks it's a rabbit, but it isn't .•. it's a cheese
sauce served on a crumpet.
M: Thank you for telling us about the foods. That's very
interesting, and Americans know a little bit about Welsh
Rabbit, but they don ' t know much about the other Welsh
people from the united Kingdom, Great Britain and
Northern Ireland include the Welsh people who live in the
western part of the British Isles - that is, just to the
west of England. What is different between Welsh people and
R: I would say there is not too much difference. Welsh
people are very proud people and they speak Welsh; in Wales
they speak their own language.
M: What is that language?
R: Well, it's .•• I don 't know ... it's a mixture, I think,
because I don't know what it is. But you have to learn
M: Is it an ancient language?
R: Yes. Oh, yes! It goes back, I would say, to William
R: the Conqueror. But they do speak Welsh, and they are
taught Welsh in their schools. But, of course, they also
speak English. And, of course , they're hard-working people
and, of course, Wales is always known ••. when you 're born and
raised in England, you always think of the Welsh as working
in the mines - the coa l mines. And, of course, that was one
of their main industries, was coal mining.
One of the main industries.
It still is.
M: Americans oftentimes think that the Welsh sing a lot.
Is that true?
R: This is very true. In my lifetime I have never met a
Welshman who couldn't sing. Their men's choirs are
wonderful. They're absolutely wonderful. They do have -
especially when they sing - they have their own national
anthems, too, I understand.
M: And flag.
R: Uh huh, and flag.
M: And the Prince of Wales is prom inent.
R: Yes, at Caernarvon Castle.
M: Who is?
r: The Prince of Wales, he •.. the Queen ••• the investiture
was at Caernarvon Castle, and that's a very rugged ,
well-built castle. Marvelous!
M: Everyone in American knows Prince Charles and Princess
Di, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and he has been to
Texas a number of times for a variety of purposes.
it's very interesting.
M: If I were to go to Wales today, what would I see? Is
it a mountainous country, is it hilly, or is it a flat
country, or just what's the weather like?
R: The weather ... of course, situated where Wales is, it's
rugged. It's very rugged; it ' s mountainous, and, of course,
you have Snowden - Mount Snowden in Wales, which is a famous
landmark, also. And ... but their cities - Cardiff, Swansea -
in their bigger cities are just more or less like any other
cosmopolitan city in this day and age.
But the country itself is very, very rugged. And very
M: Is Wales a special holiday site where people go to get
away from the cities into the mountains to relax in nature?
R: You get a lot, lot of mountain climbers. You get the
spelunkers, because of Hosa ' s caves, and also underground
caves, and, of course you get the rugged .•• and it's so
peaceful and serene in certain parts. And, of course, you
are on the coast. You do the coast there.
I was in .•• I have been to Wales and it's ••• it is a very
M: Thank you. I'm thinking back in history now. Probably
it would be difficult to identify the first Welsh person who
came to Texas, but can you talk a little bit about
emmigration from the British Isles through the last 150
years? What has caused people to come to America?
R: In my own opinion on that would be, of course, the land
of opportunity. And people do emmigrate to the united
R: states of America for a better life. A hard-working
life because I still feel wherever you're born and raised,
that is your horne country. But if you do choose to go to
another country, make that your country. That you're going
to live and work in, then work and do your very best for
that country. And I think, also, people from Wales and
England, Scotland and Northern Ireland would also agree with
me. You corne over here .•. you emmigrate for a better life
and maybe better opportunity.
M: Do you think the immigrants even today ••• for example,
you are an immigrant, you are. You carne to America for a
specific reason, and you have established a horne, and you
have a family here, and you 're raising your children as
Americans. How do you feel that differs from a family you
might have had in Britain?
R: Basics, I think, are still there. Good homelife, good
family life, just bring the children up to respect one
another, respect their fellowman and to work for your
living. And I honestly don't think that differs too much
from if I had brought my family up in England.
Of course, life is totally different in England and
Wales than what it is in San Antonio , Texas, for instance.
But I still think that they had a better chance to maybe go
further with their lives, educational-wise, here than what
they would have done in England or Wales.
M: What about the social level differences that you can
mark? England Versus America.
R: Social, I would say •.• well, I'm .•. I am a firm believer,
for instance, in the medical fee in England.
M: Socialized medicine.
R: Yes, I'm a ..• I will admit I'm a very firm believer in
M: What about classes?
R: The classes? You still have your class distinction.
You still definitely have your class distinction in Britain.
M: What about America?
R: In America, I don't see the class distinction quite as
sharp in America as it is in Eng ... because in England
whereas you have your lords, you have your ladies, you have
earls , you have dukes, duchesses - all this, you know. And
over here, it's Mr. and Mrs.
M: Then why are Americans so fascinated with British
nobility and royalty?
R: That ' s a very hard question to answer. I wouldn't
know, because I myself am totally a royalist. And I follow
the royal family, and I have books sent to me from home and
magazines and anything I can read on them; I do. I think
I'm just like the average American now.
greedy for any information I can get.
M: Thank you very much. Let's go back and talk about the
organization you belong to - the Daughters of the British
Empire. How do members network in the united States? Are
there chapters in each city or each state? Is there an
umbrella organization? How do you meet new members in San
M: Antonio and attract them to your club?
R: The organization ... we have a national chairman, or a
national regent, and we have a national committee. Each
state also has their own state chairman and state committee.
And then from there under, it's each city has their own
chapters and each chapter has their regent. And this is how
we work. We come under guideline, one set of rules. And we
just ••• we meet people, other English people, British people,
through shopping, through the workplace, through other
people that we know, through Americans who will say to you,
"Oh, Beryl, I know I ' ve just met an English girl, or a Welsh
girl, or she might be interested in joining your group."
Therefore, I will contact them and ask them and invite
them to come to our group. And this is basically how we
work. We don ' t advertise or anything like that. It is more
or less through word of mouth and knowing people.
M: That's an interesting networking, because you obviously
have to build a very significant number membership to keep
your organization operating. I understand that we have a
Welsh dance group here at the Festival this year. Have you
met them, or do you know anything about them?
R: No, unfortunately, I'm here working on a Saturday, and
they're not here today. But apparently members of our group
did meet them yesterday. And we're also very interested
once again in the costumes they're wearing, too. Because we
want to do new costumes next year, and we were going to try
and take picures and try - to more or less go from their
M: Do you know the name of the group that is here and from
what city in Wales?
All right, we don ' t know that information, but we can
get that from the Festival office. They have a long name
that is in Welsh and not in English, so it would be very
difficult for us to pronounce it anyway.
I think it's a very interesting thing, though, that the
Daughters of the British Empire have united to represent
Wales, because their chapter was named for Cardiff, the city
in Wales. And that they ' re trying to attract members who've
come to Texas from Wales as well as from the British •.. the
entire British Kingdom. Do you have any other comments
you'd like to make along these lines?
R: It's also very interesting to note ••• in fact, just this
morning a lady came up and she was from Wales. And, you
know, she asked us if we any Welsh cakes ... made any Welsh
cakes. Well, we used to make a Welsh cake. It's I ike a
cookie. And I think the closest thing I can come •.. it's a
cookie. It's cooked on a griddle. We used to do the Welsh
cakes, but we had to stop doing those about three years ago.
And they just didn't seem to be going over too well. So we
didn't do them anymore.
But we do get Welsh people come up to the booth every
year in Folklife.
M: Do you sign them up in your club?
R: If they're in San Antonio, yes, definitely we take
R: their name and address and contact them. Definitely.
And that's one of the nicest things about Texas Folklife is
the different people you meet, especially. And they're so
pleased when they see a Welsh booth. Because it's a very
small country and sometimes in these big festivals they're
M: In other words, they feel ignored and left out because
they think everyone concentrates on England or Scotland or
Ireland, for that matter. I think it's wonderful the Welsh
have a lengthy history as part of our Texas population,
going back to the beginning of our colonization 150 years
ago. And we still have immigration coming from Wales also,
depending, I think, on economic motivations, basically.
When times get hard in Wales, people do leave, do they not?
Where else in the world do people from the British
Isles go when they leave their homeland?
R: I would say they go to Australia, New Zealand, Canada.
And I would say that those from when I lived in England •.•
was raised in England ••• if people emigrated , those were the
countries they chose to go to.
M: Why did you leave South Africa off the list?
R: For instance, I did not know too many people that
emigrated to South Africa, ever. I think I knew of only one
person that went, and that was many years ago when that used
to be Rhodesia, I think.
M: That was in the heyday of the British Emp ire.
END OF TAPE I, Side 2, About 20 Minutes
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