A voice was sounding: This Finland is your Finland

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

A few weeks before the election in April, I visited a group of second-graders at a local elementary school in eastern Finland. Like many schools in this country, the class was made up of a few kids with African, Middle Eastern and other European backgrounds.

One girl sitting in front of the class surprised me with an emphatic statement:  “I don’t want to be a Finn because I’m Arabic.”

A boy sitting a row from the girl gave a knee-jerk response: “I don’t like where you’re from!”

The argument between the two started to gain momentum until it came to an abrupt end. I told the class that an important lesson could be learned from the incident: The importance of acceptance.

I tried my best to tell the class that some of us are fortunate because we have two home countries. Accepting one does not wear off your feelings for the other.

On that day I noticed something else missing at Finnish elementary schools. There weren’t any songs where everyone, irrespective of their background, could feel included in Finnish society.

I told them about Woody Guthrie’s song, This land is your land.

“This is a nice song we used to sing at my elementary school when I was a kid in the United States,” I said. “Why would a song claim that this is your land and this is my land if everyone knows that Finland is our land?”

I explained to the class that the United States is a country that has a lot of immigrants and people of different ethnic backgrounds. Some of them feel excluded from society. That’s why Guthrie’s song was sung at our school so people from all walks of life could feel at home.

One worrisome questions that the April 17 election has raised is whether Finland will become a more hostile country to visible newcomers, minorities and multicultural Finns?

Apart from greater euroskepticism, one of the most regrettable consequences of the election is growing nationalism, anti-immigration and anti-refugee sentiment in Finland.

While it would be unfair to claim that all Perussuomalaiset are against immigration and accepting our ever-growing cultural diversity as a society, some don’t hesitate to make a case about how “white” Finland is coming under threat. Immigrants and multicultural Finns are not the only ones feeling the adversity but our Swedish-speaking minority as well.

It is surprising, if not shocking, that in 2011 some politicians are making a case for racial “hygiene” in Finland, a concept that was prominent in the Europe of the 1930s and with the rise of fascism. It was the smoking gun that unleashed World War 2.

Those that make such a ludicrous case conveniently forget our history and that over a million Finns emigrated to other lands in the last two centuries. Those that left these shores have prospered as well as mixed with other cultures and people in many forms and ways. Thanks to them Finnish culture is more diverse today.

Talk of tougher immigration laws, fuelling myths and suspicion of immigrants, refugees and minorities rarely affect those that may want to move to Finland. It spills over like poison on the whole community.

I sometimes think about that Arabic girl in the class who was adamant about not wanting to be a Finn. Was it because she felt unwelcome?

No child or person who comes to our country should ever feel unwelcome by our society because it’s not the way we treat our own.

Taking into account the election result, Finland needs today more than ever its version of Guthrie’s famous song.

    • Enrique

      Thank you Lilla My and welcome to Migrant Tales. An important matter that is missing in the ongoing debate is acceptance and inclusion. Finland is your land and my land.

  1. Niko

    Of course it is Finns fault if an Arabic girl doesn’t want to be a Finn. Have you ever consider that maybe she doesn’t want to be a Finn, because she is taught that way? Many Muslims kids calls Finns pigs, because they eat pig meat. And where they have learned this: from their parents. You know, also immigrants and minorities can be racist as well…

    But it is possible that she feels unwelcome, but you should always consider all sides in your blogs. Now you are just speculating, as am I.

    • Enrique

      –Of course it is Finns fault if an Arabic girl doesn’t want to be a Finn.

      Your thread shows the vital importance of mutual acceptance. The girl was a second-grader so she must be about eight years old. For a kid to feel that way at such a young age is worrying. Whose fault it is isn’t the point but how do we make everyone feel included in Finland? Parents may influence kids but it isn’t 100%. Kids have free will as well and sometimes a mind of their own!

  2. Niko

    Yes, I understand your points and you might be 100% right in this case. It just annoys that you seems to always blame Finns/Finland (which is sometimes true) and never consider that maybe, just maybe there is some things are immigrants own fault. Of course, in this case we can’t really blame the person because she is just a kid and still learning.

    • Enrique

      The column only attempts to point out that a lot more work needs to be done by EVERYONE to feel at home in society. You can appreciate that some parents, even Finns who were immigrants, want their kids not to forget their culture. This is ok because it has a lot to do with their identity. If we live in a society that is culturally diverse the first thing we all have to learn is mutual acceptance. If a person is a Finn or another one considers himself/herself a multicultural Finn, both of them should feel comfortable about themselves and not feel as if they were threatened.

      Identity is a power thing and so is exclusion be it imposed or self-imposed.

  3. Hmmm

    “The column only attempts to point out that a lot more work needs to be done by EVERYONE…”

    Well then how come you always seem to speculate ONLY on the potential faults of natives?

    • Enrique

      –Well then how come you always seem to speculate ONLY on the potential faults of natives?

      Do I? I think at least this column points out very clearly that we all need to do a lot of work on this front. When I make such a statement, I want to make it clear to everyone that I don’t believe that assimilation works. I like cultural diversity, I feel comfortable in it and I hope others would too. People integrate but I like to use adapt to society.

  4. Hmmm

    You state on a very general level that acceptance thing, kind of a generic disclaimer, but yes, you only speculate on the faults of natives: “Was it because she felt unwelcome?”

    I don’t believe (or at least hope) that you don’t put the blame on one side only, but I totally understand what Niko is talking about. Your writing style often seems very biased.

  5. Melanie Kirwa

    Enrique, I love the fact that you mentioned “this land is your land” to the group you were visiting. That is a great song to start teaching kids the positive aspects of multiculturalism. I am Canadian, and have grown up with a mix of nationalities and religions, and I believe that the classroom is the most important place to start teaching the value of diversity. Children are not only influenced by their parents opinions, but their teachers, coaches and other authority figures, and I am sure you had a positive impact on them!
    So thank you for that!
    As a parent of a multicultural child (my husband is Kenyan) living in Finland, these issues are extremely important to me. As parents we are dedicated to making our son aware of both his Canadian and African heritage, as well as being proud of the fact that he was born here and is a first generation Finn. Finland now has the opportunity to put the right things in place to make multiculturalism a success story in this country. Let’s hope they do.

    • Enrique

      Hi Melaine and thank you for visiting us on Migrant Tales. Guthrie’s song is not only beautiful it packs a very powerful message as you said. I also come from three national cultures (Finnish, US and Argentinian) and learned an important lesson: All of them are one instead of separate. I totally agree with you: We must do a lot of work to show that multiculturalism, or cultural diversity, works. Canada in my opinion is a good example that it has succeeded.

  6. Alejandra Garcia

    Gracias Enrique!! nos seguís concientizando acerca de este tema. Creo que muchas de estas reacciones adversas a la inmigración y al multiculturalismo son una muestra de una terrible ignorancia. El Día de los Trabajadores estaba con una amiga en “Tori” tomando el desayuno como es tradicional aquí en Finlandia. Nuestra mesa estaba muy cerca del puesto de café; las paredes del puesto están llenas de Grafitys con distintas inscripciones, de las que comunmente se ven en todo el mundo. Se acercó a nuestra mesa un hombre, finlandés, de aproximadamente 75 años y nos dijo, casi por lo bajo: “Ven esas inscripciones??? las hacen los extranjeros” a lo cuál preguntamos: “Cómo sabe??”, entonces contestó: “Porque esas letras no son finlandesas”. Terrible; él está convencido de eso y así lo difunde entre sus pares. No es eso una muestra de ignorancia? Un abrazo.

    • Enrique

      Hola Alejandra y me alegra mucho verte por acá. Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con vos y lamento que te pasó. Eres un buen ejemplo para otras mujeres que pueden llegar de muy lejos y tener éxito en este país. Gracias a vos.

  7. Alejandra Garcia

    Thanks Enrique! You alert us about this topic always with good examples. I think many of these reactions to immigration and multiculturalism are a sign of a terrible ignorance. On The Labor Day I was with a friend in “Tori” having breakfast as it is usual here in Finland. Our table was close to the coffee stand; its walls were totally filled with Grafitys with various inscriptions, which are commonly worldwide. A finnish man about 75 years old, came to our table and said, almost under his breath: “see those entries?? they are made by foreigners” To which we asked, “How do you know?” then, he replied: “Because these letters are not Finnish. ” Terrible, he is convinced of that and spread it among his peers. Isn´t that a sign of ignorance? A hug.

  8. Hmmm

    Correction: “I don’t believe (or at least hope) that you don’t put the blame on one side only,…” was supposed to be “I don’t believe (or at least hope) that you want to put the blame on one side only,…”

  9. Allan

    Alejandra – I’d be more worried of the youth messing up the place with graffiti than some 75-year old coot.

  10. Allan

    “We must do a lot of work to show that multiculturalism, or cultural diversity, works. ”

    You can not make something work that is broken from the start. Multiculturalism is a failed ideology resulting in segregation and chaos.

    • Enrique

      Allan, society is made up of people and people are imperfect. So if you think multiculturalism is a “failed ideology” as you point out with what do you want to replace it with? Europe is already demographically culturally diverse and so if Finland.

  11. Alejandra Garcia

    Hola Allan, maybe I couldn´t make myself understood. The graffities are not the subject in this blog; we can open another discussion in another place, maybe. What worries me is that what is installed in the collective imaginary of some finnish people is,that what they consider a bad action is made by foreigners. Then we can talk if to “draw” gaffities is a bad action…I see some very artistic, no matter who makes them.

  12. Ezi

    As this posting states the work of educating the youth has to start at elementary education level, there are many fully qualified professionals in the field , the problem lies in the magic ruler “money factor”. Since the politics of extremists is not based on offering solutions to the ills of the society that , they so passionately speak of, is only a means to get to the “throne” , only then their true ideology meets the destruction of some elements of the society.The funniest thing or should I say the saddest part is that; Fundamental Finns’ party has yet it’s biggest support in rural Finland where there are no immigrants at all or they are few in numbers and these communities are the biggest beneficiaries of EU sponsor ship and aid.

    • Enrique

      Hi Ezi and welcome to Migrant Tales. I agree with you that we need qualified professionals in cultural diversity. As long as the Perussuomalaiset use xenophobia and racism to drive home their political message, they will never have any credibility as a party that watches over the interests of all those that live here.

  13. Klay_Immigrant

    If anything sums up the failure of multiculturalism it is what that young girl said ‘I don’t want to be a Finn because I’m Arabic’. She obviously didn’t learn this herself but from her parents and immediate surroundings influencing her with their prejudice. Yet in all likelihood if not already her parents will want her to get a Finnish passport and citizenship, funny that and a complete contradiction.

    How on hell can a society ever function to it’s full potential or as close to it as possible if there are parents and children in it who have immigrated with this mentality. Multiculturalism creates division and segregation instead of unity and cohesion which will inevitably lead to conflict. The fact that Enrique saw no problem with this statement from the girl tells it’s own story on how he views immigrant’s contempt for Finland and it’s people. But ofcourse as usual and with no suprise Finland is to blame for everything.

    • Enrique

      –If anything sums up the failure of multiculturalism it is what that young girl said ‘I don’t want to be a Finn because I’m Arabic’.

      Klay, I think you don’t understand what cultural diversity is and mix assimilation with integration. In first place, Finland is not a multicultural country. It may have sensibilities in this area but nowhere does it state in the Constitution or the Equality Act that we are a multicultural society. The culprit behind that little girl’s attitude is in my opinion exlcusion, imposed and self-imposed. For her to embrace both cultures as one a lot of work has to be done in the area of acceptance in Finland.

    • Enrique

      –Enrique, cultures should be left to evolve naturally.

      Cultures interact and evolve. That is how to develop naturally. Even among the same cultures there are vast differences. Cultural unity is only something in between your head. Its predictability of behavior and a common language to reinfroce the latter.

  14. George

    Thanks much Enrique, for your poignant post. You certainly put Woody’s great song to good use. If you ever have the chance of meeting with Finnish children again, you might wish to play them another song too – or give them the link(s) as it were 🙂 I mean Mary Travers’ interpretation of Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia hymn, or “Song of Peace” with the beautiful English words:

    Of course, the Queen of Folk herself, Joan Baez, also has performed the same:

    Idealistic as the words may be, they’re precisely what’s needed in this country today!

    • Enrique

      Hi George, thank you for these moving video clips and welcome to Migrant Tales. I will copy the lyrics and bring it to the class the next time. We need today in Finland a major shift in how we include others in our group. A song would be a big step in that direction. Thanks again!

  15. Mary Mekko

    I can tell you that growing up in San Francisco, a complete mess of a melting pot, back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, our Catholic school was full of Irish, Italian, German, Polish, French and American kids. My parents were immigrants straight from Ireland. Our mother distinctly taught us that some things that the American or Italian kids were doing were wrong, and just because some other group does it, does not make it right. This included petty things like what to wear, hair styles, food (like white bread as taboo, as well as pizza), and shopping ideas, which we’d now call materialism. As to music, all modern music of that time was also taboo at our house. I know exactly how that Arabic girl feels: her parents and relatives are teaching her to ignore much of Finnish customs, right down to simple things like clothing, food and music, in which she must genuinely wish to participate if she’s a normal kid. They’re telling her, “You’re not a Finn and you won’t do those ridiculous Finnish things, or wear that skirt, etc. You will behave properly because you’re Arabic.”

    I see that poignant girl’s remark as a sign that she feels excluded by her own parents’ wishes, and in self-defense, she claims, “Well, I don’t want to be a Finn anyway!” In fact, she does, but…

  16. Mary Mekko

    “This Land is Your Land” is an interesting song, popular with kids back in the 60’s and 70’s, written by the Communist Woodie Guthrie. Check out the final three stanzas of the original lyrics. Perhaps Finland swings left far enough to keep those last three verses in, and children of all kinds growing up in Finland can learn the leftwing point of view from a 1930’s American bum/vagabond/singer/hippie Commie! I have to admit I like the song, hokey as it is. Guthrie wrote it in 1940 because he hated the song “America the Beautiful” by Irving Berlin.

  17. Niko

    –Well then how come you always seem to speculate ONLY on the potential faults of natives?
    Do I? I think at least this column points out very clearly that we all need to do a lot of work on this front.

    Well, at least for me it looks like that you are picking up Finns flaws and discriminations against immigrants. You don’t have any blogs about the immigrants violence toward natives or discrimination, but you have several blogs the cases other way around. Isn’t that quite one sided?

    • Enrique

      –You don’t have any blogs about the immigrants violence toward natives or discrimination, but you have several blogs the cases other way around. Isn’t that quite one sided?

      Niko, you can find a lot of these starting with James Hirvisaari’s blog, Scripta, Hommaforum etc. Take you pick. There’s one for all tastes in this spectrum.

  18. Niko


    Well, the problem with the “bloggers” you mentioned, is that they are also quite one sided. Basically as you, but just the other side of the coin. I read your blogs, because I always found it interesting to hear immigrants side of the story, but unfortunately I think there aren’t any immigrants bloggers who can be totally objective in these matters.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do like your blogs and I wouldn’t be reading them if I didn’t, but they are lacking the perspective from natives side.

    • Enrique

      –Basically as you, but just the other side of the coin.

      Niko, as you know this is a blog and it has a certain editorial line so to speak. Taking into account the negative stuff that one can find on different blogs about immigrants, Migrant Tales is a humble countervoice that disagrees with them. This is our aim: “Migrant Tales is a blog that debates some of the salient issues facing the immigrant and minority community in Finland. It aims to be a voice for those whose views and situation are understood poorly and heard faintly by the media, politicians and public.”

      Contrary to the blogs I mentioned, we strongly believe in the Finnish Constitution, Equality Act and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

      We have our editorial line but anyone is free to disagree with it.

    • Enrique

      Niko, in the first place I would not call myself an “immigrant” in Finland because my mother is Finnish and have lived here more than in any other country. I know many people like myself, who are multicultural Finns, who are expatriates but feel like immigrants because acceptance is still a difficult matter in Finland.

      Despite what I may call myself or what you think I am, this is my home and it has a lot of memories.

  19. Hmmm

    “…but unfortunately I think there aren’t any immigrants bloggers who can be totally objective in these matters.”

    Well, nobody can be totally objective, really. But at least some level of objectiveness would be nice. Talking about both sides of the coin would also add to credibility. Furthermore, consistently biased representation of issues might push potential readers away and definitely creates a hostile starting point for any discussion.

    • Enrique

      Hmmm blogs are places where people can have strong opinions on an issue. if you look at the bloggers that have taken part in our debates, you will note that there are all types with a wide variety of opinions.

      When I started this blog in 2007 some of the first visitors were quite hostile. But as the blog grew we got a greater mix of opinions.n Moreover, and contrary to those other blogs, people who visit us are immigrants, Finns, expatriates etc.

  20. Niko

    Of course these are your blogs and you can decide what are you writing about. I was just thinking to give some constructive criticism from a reader point of view.

    • Enrique

      Niko I am very happy that you share your views with us. We can always learn from other people’s opinions. Criticism is no problem. You are always free to disagree with what may be written on Migrant Tales.

  21. laimach

    I think you missunderstand a bit the terms “objective and criticism”. How is it possible to be objective when you employ the term “native” ?? It sounds as : the “others” will never be like “us”.
    Oksanen has said very clear, even when she is a native of Finland, educated, raised et al. she is still not a real finn. How can start to be critical and objective??

    • Enrique

      Hi laimach, thank you for pointing this out. I personally feel that one of the biggest issues in Finland is the acceptance and inclusion of immigrants, their children and grand children. How can any integration program work if (a) we spread myths about immigrants and (2) don’t give the light of day to be part of our society?

      Taking into account how few immigrants Finland has had recently, Finland’s integration program is improving (see http://www.mipex.eu sruvey). We also have in Finland many decades managing a welfare state, which means that we know our stuff and the dangers that lurk from lack of acceptance.

      Niko, you should give Finland more credit.

  22. Niko

    If I move to China, I never will be “native” even if I have to citizenship, know the language, have learned parts of the culture etc. My children might be native, but not me. It doesn’t mean that I can’t have a happy life and integrate to the society. With “native” I mean a person who has born and raised in the country.

    • Enrique

      Niko, I think the question is acceptance. We all come from different backgrounds but our home is Finland. That’s what is important.

  23. Melanie Kirwa

    On the weekend I was sitting around my kitchen table in Lahti and our guests included a Canadian, a Brit, a Dane, 2 Kenyans and a Finn. We are all employed, self sufficient and certainly are not asking for any “charity” from the Finnish, and yes, we are all “immigrants” to this country. It really irritates me that people think all immigrants are here milking the system. There are many immigration success stories in Finland, including my husband who came from Kenya with 2 t-shirts in a plastic bag, and went on to represent Finland internationally in athletics, and never received 1€ of Kela money.
    You want to look at “charity?!” Look closer to home. During that first warm week of weather in May, I stopped at my local Siwa to get some groceries at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon, and the local pub beside the store had their patio open, and it was full of people drinking. As far as I could tell, there were no “immigrants” sitting there having a pint. Seeing as it was 3pm on a Wednesday, I think a can assume that at least some of those people were having a few beers thanks to Kela, or my “charitable” immigrant tax money.

  24. Mika

    Melanie Kirwa

    I think anyone has nothing against a person like your husband or your friends, but mainly complain comes to some specific group of people which has high number of criminal records and unemployment rate amongst them. Also those beer sipping, unemployed Finns are disliked amongst hard working Finns.

  25. Melanie Kirwa

    Thanks Mika. And you are totally right, “those beer sipping” Finns are disliked amongst most of the Finns I know as well.