When will people with “immigrant backgrounds” be accepted as Finns on their terms?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

After following on a daily basis news about cultural diversity in Finland and elsewhere, the stories that Migrant Tales aims to cover in 2014 are those stories that the mainstream media doesn’t consider news. 

One reason why the mainstream media still writes about cultural diversity from it’s perspective is because those writing the stories are mainly white. It’s especially difficult for some who are white to grasp how destructive a social ill like racism is if it doesn’t affect them directly.

While this may be the case, it doesn’t imply that you cannot learn. Learning, which enables you to understand the dynamics of intolerance, will help you to write better stories about migrants and visible minorities. The way to do this is to hear the opinions of migrants and minorities.

In the United States, the U.S. abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century wasn’t only led by blacks like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, but by white U.S. Americans such as William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Garrett Smith and others.

I had an interesting chat before the New Year with Mikko Kapanen, a Migrant Tales associate editor. He made an excellent suggestion on how more immigrants, especially those with poor Finnish or Swedish language skills, should be heard more by the government and public officials.

Kapanen said that usually the best-adapted migrants, who speak fluent Finnish or Swedish, are the ones that are heard by public officials. Even so, we should be listening more closely to those that aren’t as fluent in the two official languages of this country.

Another matter that gives us a distorted view of the plight of immigrants is that most of those that head anti-racism associations are white. I’m certain that many do their work diligently. Even so, more representatives of the migrant and visible minority community are necessary in leadership positions.

Another odd matter that I’d like to point out is how people are labelled by the majority. How come people like Nasima Razimar, Ali Jahangiri, Arman Alizad, Fatbardhe Hetemaj and others who have grown up in this country are not only portrayed, but allow themselves to be labelled “persons with immigrant background?”

Shouldn’t these people, who are public figures, be promoting our ever-growing culturally diverse society and that there are many types of Finns with different backgrounds? By permitting the white media and society to label you as something “foreign,” which is fine in some cases but suggests that you aren’t equal because you aren’t white enough, is to place obstacles and hinder the process of acceptance of tens of thousands of Finns who don’t have white Finnish backgrounds.

I was recently interviewed in December by a reporter from YLE. He wanted to do a short interview about what Finland’s independence meant for me as a foreigner. I told the reporter that I’m not an immigrant but a Finn.

I’m a Finn because that is one of the identities I have. I am a Finn legally because my mother is a Finn and because I am a citizen of this country, I said.

For most of my life in this country, I have allowed people to label me as a half-Finn or as a foreigner from Argentina or the United States.

We, who are multicultural Finns, or Finns with culturally diverse backgrounds, are a rapidly growing minority numbering in the tends of thousands. Our power lies in understanding that we are Finns, not half-Finns or so-called people with immigrant backgrounds. We’re real people and just as Finnish as anyone else.

At schools some of us, who have lived all of our lives in this country, are unfairly labelled and treated as “children with immigrant backgrounds.”  Such a label, which denies children of different ethnic backgrounds the right to be treated as Finns on their cultural terms or due to their ethnic backgrounds, is unfair because it promotes social inequality.

These are some of the topics Migrant Tales would like to write on this year.

Do you, dear reader, have any suggestions?


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