Ariela Patterson: The right to be me on my terms

by , under Enrique

One of the biggest challenges facing Finland in the new century is to come to terms with its ever-growing cultural diversity. While some Finns have no problems with this, others oppose it. Finland’s cultural diversity is, however, something that nobody can stop. There are today tens of thousands of Finns with multicultural backgrounds.

Ariela Patterson, 23, is one of them. Her father is from the United States and her mother is Finnish. How does she see Finland’s new face and what challenges await it today and tomorrow?

Migrant Tales: How did you feel about your Finnish identity when you were growing up in Finland?

Ariela Patterson: Since I haven’t travelled abroad a lot I can’t really compare because I am Finnish. I know I have as much of a right to be here as any person.

MT: What was the most important decision you made to come to terms with your identity?

AP: The most important decision I made was to accept who I am. It happened through an internet forum that touched briefly on race/ethnicities. I can’t remember what the person wrote, but it shook me to my core. It was something like,”don’t let others define you as a person. We are all individuals, human beings. Someone will love you because of who you are, not because of your skin color or the ethnicity you represent.”

MT: How old were you then?

AP: I was eighteen. I had trouble with my identity before I made that discovery about myself that changed my life. I felt before that I didn’t belong to either my African-American or Caucasian side. I was raised by my Finnish mother in Finland so it was difficult to identify with my African American side, especially because of the way the media portrayed, and still does to some extent, African-Americans.

MT: Did you fit in easily before?

AP: I was always the ”American girl” in Finland. So when I went to visit my relatives in the US, I thought I’d feel right at home. I did until my cousin introduced me to her friends as her ”Finnish cousin.” I now found myself in the same situation as in Finland but reversed. The feeling of not belonging anywhere was slowly eating away at me from the inside and I felt like my mother didn’t understand either because she’d never been in my situation.

MT: What happened then?

AP: So one evening, when I was 18, I decided that I won’t live up to stereotypes imposed by others. All I wanted is to just be me. It hasn’t been easy for me after this revelation since I’m still in the process of fully accepting who I am. Even so, I can now look back and look at myself in the mirror with pride because I am “me.”

MT: Another important decision you made was to extend your hand to those who don’t accept you.

AP: The majority of people, or all I’d say, who don’t accept me have never taken the time to know me. They have their prejudices that fence them in even before I’ve managed to blink an eye in their direction. Maybe they’ve had bad experiences with others and that’s why they generalize and stereotype people. They may have other reasons as well. I bet if they’d sit down and got to know me they’d walk out with a totally different view.

MT: What kind of pressure do you feel for being different from the majority?

AP: I feel that I represent every person who looks ”foreign” in this country. If I act badly, I feel I help them to judge every foreign-looking person in the future in a negative manner. This is a very stressful situation to be in considering that I was born and lived here all my life.

MT: What is racism to you?

AP: Racism is to me a worldwide disease that spreads. It’s a mixture of prejudice, ignorance, envy, anger and fear. In my opinion, only a fool will willingly pass it along to their children. I don’t know if racism will ever fully disappear but I hope that we can live one day in a post racist world.

MT: What does Finnishness mean to you?

AP: Being tolerant, acceptant and respecting other people.

MT: Do you feel that Finnish society is more open of its cultural diversity?

AP: Some people are more acceptant than others. But I’ve noticed that the darker your skin tone is, the more skeptical people are towards you.

MT: Do you think Finland will become a more tolerant society in the future?

AP: I think it will change for the better. But I also think there will always be an opposing group that will pin the blame for their problems on others.