Children of immigrants: “Only Finnish spoken here and you’re a mamu”

by , under Enrique Tessieri

We claim that Finland has one of the best educational systems in the world. We claim that we teach our children social equality and that they have equal rights to advance in life. Why then are children of immigrants called at some schools mamus and why do we force them to speak only Finnish?

The term mamu derives from the Finnish word maahanmuuttaja, or immigrant.

Finnish schools basically do the same thing today that they did in the 1970s, when they punished Saami children for speaking their native language at schools.

If we forbid and make clear that children shouldn’t speak their mother or father tongue at school, isn’t this outright discrimination and a lack of respect for the child’s ethnic and cultural background?


We only speak Finnish here reads a sign on the door of a Finnish elementary school.


Certainly if one or both of the child’s parents are migrants, it’s important that the child learns Finnish or Swedish. The better the child learns these languages, the better his or her chances of succeeding in this country. This is a good goal but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the child’s native language and identity.


You can’t speak any other language but Finnish and on top of that you’re labelled a mamu. Who labels you a mamu? The majority culture.

Why do some schools in Finland continue to call third-culture children, who have lived here most of their lives or were born here, mamus?

Why don’t we call them Finns who have a different cultural and ethnic background from white Finns?

Why is this still so difficult to understand?