I came to Finland at the age of three. I spoke only English and understood Spanish since my mother was a Finn who lived many years in Venezuela. We moved to a small city called Lappeenranta in eastern Finland. It is a beautiful city and the current unofficial capital of Karelia after Finland ceded Viipuri to the Russians after the Continuation War (1941-44).
When I moved to Finland, I was too young to understand how such a radical change could mark my life. I soon forgot how to speak English and learned to speak Finnish perfectly.
When I moved to Finland, I sensed something wasn’t right. I got bullied by the kids who lived next door to us and who came from so-called functional families. My parents divorced when I was about three years old. I still remember travelling abroad and asking my mother when she’d come back to live with us in Finland.
There is something unique about Finland. There’s the peaceful atmosphere that I have not experienced anywhere else. Even so, I remember being woken up as a kid at our apartment by yelling and shouting drunks in the street.
Finland still suffers from a deep scar that dates back to the war with Russia and when Finland was a part of Sweden for about 600 years. This continues to affect Finns and their identity. Some feel they are not good enough or that they should be ashamed of their roots because they were ruled for so many centuries by the Swedes and Russians.
I started school at the age of seven and I remember being hit and kicked by five boys. The teacher blamed me for the fight when I told him what happened.
Maybe the hate and xenophobia that some Finns felt about the Russians back then was because Lappeenranta is a border city next to Russia.
I switched schools many times when I was growing up in Finland. I was one of the top Finnish-language students in class getting A’s (10) and B’s (9) on tests.
I switched and promoted my nickname because it was more Finnish than my real name, which is difficult for some to pronounce. My mom spoke Finnish to me and my brothers so we’d fit in better and not get bullied so much by other kids.
As you can imagine, searching for acceptance led to a very rebellious adolescence since I tried finding love in the wrong places. It was a defective way to cure those scars for not having a father and for being mistreated and bullied continually for just being myself. I was just an innocent little boy who couldn’t understand why all this happened to me.
When i moved to Helsinki at the age of 10, I used to escape the pain I felt inside of me by visiting the public library. I spent as much as nine hours daily in the library reading all kinds of books like literature.
Part II will be published Wednesday.
* Joseph spoke on condition of anonymity.