Enrique Tessieri: Racist harassment was part of my short childhood in Finland

by , under Enrique

When I lived briefly in Helsinki in 1958-61, I still remember how I got harassed as a child by other children for not looking Finnish enough. If I experienced such violence when I was a child over 50 years ago, why do we still have a difficult time coming to grips with a social ill like racism?

Even if I didn’t understand it completely, I knew what racist harassment was at the age of five.

Looking back at those years and my relationship with this country thereafter, the saddest part of it all is the exclusion. You don’t belong because “you aren’t Finnish.”

Back then your fits were you best weapons to defend yourself from such verbal and physical violence. Acceptance was only possible that way.

I was strong but what would have happened if I couldn’t defend myself? How would it have affected my life and self-esteem?

Even if I knew how to defend myself, the racism I have experienced and seen inflicted on others have affected me greatly.

I never liked to go to play outside of my grandparents apartment house because there were 3-4 older boys who would constantly harass me verbally and physically every time they saw me playing outside alone.

Since they were older, I had no other choice but to run from them.

Once, when I went to a cinema to see a children’s movie, a complete stranger started to ridicule me at the top of his voice. The child started making fun of me because I had a plastic sheriff badge on my jacket. My ethnic background gave him a pretext to ridicule my clothes.

When hearing and writing about the experiences of other multicultural children and adolescents who grew up and went to school in Finland, I sigh with relief that I grew up elsewhere.

If I’d stayed in Finland, who’s to say that I wouldn’t be a victim of racism and bullying at school? I’d be all alone. The teachers would approve my classmates hostile behavior towards me with their silence and inaction.

One of the reasons why I write so much about a social ill like racism is because it changed my life.

You are left with only a question after its hostility: Why?

I have found that answer thanks to Migrant Tales.