By Enrique Tessieri
It’s clear that as Finland becomes more culturally diverse this century, it will one day make a startling discovery: we are culturally rich and diverse. Some of those historians and social scientists that have kept us in the dark for now should reread their history over and over again until they get it right.
One of the most interesting questions about why we don’t acknowledge our cultural diversity enough in Finland is the question itself. Why hasn’t it been acknowledged? In which groups’ interest has it been to not stir things too much on this front?
As a person with a culturally diverse background who is a Finn, I have always been amazed by the simplistic and fictitious ethnic and national view we have of ourselves as Finns.
Today there are officially over 50,000 couples in this country that are bicultural, according to the Population Research Institute (Väestöliitto).
But like all far-reaching discoveries you will most likely find the answer under your nose.
All of those Finnish emigrants that left this country in large numbers from the 1880s not only faced a brave new world but a culturally diverse one as well. What role did their whiteness play in integration and in shaping attitudes of other groups?
What did the Finns think of blacks in the United States and what were their attitudes towards Amerindians? What did they think about marrying outside the group? What did some members of their community say if their spouse was black?
All these questions that were relevant well over a century ago are topical today in Finland. The only problem, however, is that for some reason we have avoided looking into this question.
It’s clear that some immigrant parents not only want their children to retain their customs but marry within the group. This was an important goal for some parents but became less important for the children never mind grandchildren.
One of the discoveries I made while doing fieldwork on a Finnish colony in Argentina from 1977 was their view of other ethnicities like blacks from Brazil and mestizos, a term used to describe people who have mixed European and Amerindian ancestry. The darker the person, usually implied greater rejection from the community.
The way they rejected such bicultural marriages was with the help of prejudice and racism. Some actually believed that marrying a mestizo would condemn you to a life of poverty. All the bad qualities of the white Finnish colonizer were the fault of the mestizo spouse.
Some of these racist attitudes and prejudices that some colonizers had of other groups were not only learned in Argentina but came from Europe.
I have a lot of data gathered through long interviews of how some Finns viewed other groups that were ethnically different. If I have such information I am certain that this type of information can be found among Finns that emigrated to North America, Africa and other parts of the world.
If researchers are serious about studying racism in Finland, they should look under their noses. The information is there waiting to be uncovered.