Like many second-generation Finns that lived abroad, I too hoped to move back to live in Finland one day.
While the decision to move back was an easy one, I encountered my first setback when I applied for a residence permit. In the late-1970s, Finland had a pretty draconian view of who was and was not a Finn.
Even though I had a Finnish mother and had spent most of my childhood and adolescent summers in the country with my grandparents, I was treated by the law like a foreigner with no rights. The first residence permit I got was for three months, then it was extended for six and later on for two years.
The treatment I got from the authorities, and those that were enforcing it at the Aliens’ Office, forced my naivety of Finland to vanish rapidly. A woman who worked at the Aliens’ Office once snapped at me, when I protested at the unfair treatment I was getting.
“You’re not a Finn!” she said, adding I had no bonds to the culture!
Certainly I wasn’t a Finn, officially, but that’s not how I felt.
Who is a Finn anyway? Who decides? Is it a passport? Language? What about if you’re deaf? Is it culture? Or does it boil down to a deep-rooted feeling of “where one feels he is from?”
Many challenges await Finland as we race deeper into the 21st century. One of the greatest of these is learning how to accept others from different backgrounds and use their synergies to strengthen and forge our sense of Finnish identity.
There is ample room for people from other national backgrounds to live in Finland and be accepted and encouraged to feel that they are a part of a noble project we call Finland. In this country of the future, Finland will prosper.