Where are you from?

by , under Enrique

Even if I have lived most of my adult life in Finland and my mother is Finnish, I’m still asked occasionally where I’m from. In a spirit of mutual respect, I ask the person the same question. Some don’t like it. 

The innocent question, where are you from, reveals a lot about our prejudices and ignorance about who we consider Finns.

In order to emphasize their Finnishness at the cost of your Otherness, you’ll even get sometimes a lesson in race-and-blood myths and how their ancestors have lived for centuries in Finland.

When faced with such exclusive views of who is a Finn, I ask them how many ancestors they’d have if they went back 20 generations. The answer is about one million.

Kuvankaappaus 2013-6-10 kello 8.23.30Read full story here.

Then there are those who claim they are as old as Methuselah, a biblical figure who died at the age of 969. Those who play Methuselah claim that their great grandparents fought in this and that war and built this land from scratch even if they had never seen war never mind suffered poverty.

I ask them a simple question: Are you 150 years old?

One matter that gives hope about building a more inclusive society is that we are still a young nation. Our national identity, which is nothing more than a social construct,  was built by and large on wars and our loathing of Russia. This must change in order to make our society more inclusive and acceptant of cultural diversity.

Certainly we should respect our veterans. Even if they had no choice but to fight in trenches and die in battlefields, we don’t have to be there with them since the Winter (1939-40) and Continuation War (1941-44) ended over sixty years ago. We have to forgive and move on. The longer we stay in those trenches the longer we’ll be resentful and suspicious of the outside world.

Despite all the challenges facing us during this century as we become a culturally diverse society, I’m confident that we’ll succeed at the task.

Our Nordic democratic social welfare state values and the spirit of our laws ensure success.

 

 

 

 

  1. Joonas

    Even I do understand that some people might find this question irritating if they have lived their whole life in Finland and then hear the question almost from every person they meet, it is sometimes hard to say if person is a native/immigrant or not.

    I’m have been asked, in EVERY country I have visited [and we are talking 20+ countries], the same question (+ “How long are you going to stay here?” and “What are you doing here – work, holiday, studying?”), but I did not find it offensive. Even native Finns asks this question sometimes, but referring to your home town.

    I would say it is quite innocent question, pretty much in the same level as “Where have you worked before?”.

  2. Jssk

    -Our national identity, which is nothing more than a social construct, was built by and large on wars and our loathing of Russia.

    You seem to have a very narrow opinion of what our identity is. We and our cultural aspects existed here way before the word “Russia” existed. Its a dubious and insulting claim to say that we have nothing else than hatred for a neighboring nation.

    • Enrique Tessieri

      Finland has always felt embattled by its neighbors. Look at foreign investment and immigration to Finland. Everything was doneto discourage these two things during the last century. Even if the Winter War ended in 1940 and the Continuation War in 1944, we are still glorifying war and our hatred of those that wanted to harm us. It’s time to forgive and move on, Jssk.

    • Mark

      Jssk

      We and our cultural aspects existed here way before the word “Russia” existed.

      The ‘we’ you refer too are dead. The cultural aspects you refer to are almost totally lost to history; nothing can be said about them. However, in terms of languages, in terms of traditions, in terms of the things that have survived – they all point to the same basic fact: ALL of human culture is one big melting pot, with all localised cultures constantly borrowing from and contributing to its neighbours’ cultures.

      The idea of ‘exclusive’ and demarcated cultural identities built up rather in recent decades, with the rise of nationalism. It is specifically an offshoot of nationalist political philosophy. This is where the distinction between patriotism and nationalism is itself flawed, because even patriotism borrows from nationalism to discover just what its ‘country’ actually is.

      The one issue that links the more distant cultural past with the present day nation state is power, and power was always built on families, money, religion and armies. It’s not surprise therefore that so much pressure came to bear in the Finnishisation on changing the name, and thus identifying with a different ‘family’ and their power base.

      You seem to have a very narrow opinion of what our identity is.

      I’d be very interested to see you try to flesh out and educate us as to exactly what you think ‘our’ identity is!?

  3. khr

    I would say it is quite innocent question, pretty much in the same level as “Where have you worked before?”.

    It’s a question that’s rarely intended to be offending, but becomes annoying when it gets heard often enough.

    I think people make it so often only partly because of curiosity. The other reason would be that if one treats a perceived newcomer the same way as every body else – that is, mostly ignoring them – they unsurprisingly feel ignored. So people try to pay more attention than normally. Unfortunately it is not too easy to strike casual conversation with someone you don’t know well, so the far too common question is made once again to have at least something to talk about.

    • Mark

      Khr

      I think you are right on the button with your comment.

      Of course, when people get to know you, they start to ask about your family, your projects, your house, your holidays, your pets and then things start to feel a whole lot more normal. Or, if you really start to get to know people, you start to talk about relationships, about men, or women, or politics!!! The usual stuff, in other words. I don’t think Finns are really that different to other people the world over; it just takes time to get past the ‘foreigner’ badge that you carry. At the same time, there will always be a whole lot of cultural reference points that you cannot share with Finns if you are a foreigner (theirs or yours), so it takes away a little bit of the comfort of living in a ‘shared’ community. But then, you can always ask.

  4. Jssk

    Jssk
    The ‘we’ you refer too are dead. The cultural aspects you refer to are almost totally lost to history; nothing can be said about them. However, in terms of languages, in terms of traditions, in terms of the things that have survived – they all point to the same basic fact: ALL of human culture is one big melting pot, with all localised cultures constantly borrowing from and contributing to its neighbours’ cultures.

    I wouldnt say they are all lost, ofc. some have been lost, some have adapted. Still we have some ancient traditions. Sure, alot of aspects have been borrowed from neighboring cultures and vice versa

    I’d be very interested to see you try to flesh out and educate us as to exactly what you think ‘our’ identity is!?

    Well, i cannot say for you. Do you agree with enriques view on that the finnish identity is based on wars and loathing of Russia? Because i dont.

    I identify myself as a finn, im native to this land, like a large part of my ancestors. I dont hate russia or russians. I dont actually give a single fuck about the wars. I think that one of the core elements of identity is also the feel of being native to a certain region.

    • Mark

      Jssk

      I identify myself as a finn, im native to this land, like a large part of my ancestors. I dont hate russia or russians. I dont actually give a single fuck about the wars. I think that one of the core elements of identity is also the feel of being native to a certain region.

      You have yet to flesh out these ‘cultural aspects’ that have existed since before the Russians. I’m interested to know. So far you have mentioned the land and ‘native to a certain region’.

      As we all know, Finns migranted to Finland from the Urals over long periods of time, supplanting other Uralic tribes (Saami – Kunda – Swiderians) and that other migrations to Finland by other people’s (Old-Norse, European Battle Axe cultures) also took place from the south west and south east (fishermen and peasants mostly) over long periods, meaning that there was significant mixing of blood.

      Moreover, Finnish as a language is thought to have already formed before Finnish tribes had arrived in Finland, while a third of the Finnish lexicon has no known etymology, suggesting that Finnish also absorbed a Paleo-European language (now disappeared) at some point. Clearly the Finns started out as nomadic travellers themselves migrating ever westwards from the Urals, and finally settled in this part of Northern Europe.

      You would be right to suggest that from the Baltics to the Urals, the native peoples were of the Uralic tribes and that Slavs (ancestors to today’s Russians) moved ever northwards and eastwards from their points of origin in central Europe, until today at least, the Slavs have largely supplanted many of the Uralic tribes and their languages (85% and 15% respectively in today’s Russia).

      This Uralic culture does predate Russians in the Baltic region, but it would be wrong to think that they are in some way ‘native’ to Finland, as it is clear that they themselves moved westwards and that there was likely also paleo-European settlements in the Baltic regions already during these migrations. Likewise, Saami and Finns had already separated as language groups before Finns arrived in Finland.

      Any comment?