Saturday, 2 November 2013

How Finnish do you have to be to be considered Finnish?

A Somali who grew up in Finland was on a television talk show panel this week talking about Islam. No I am not about to blog on Islam or any religion for that matter. But she made an off topic comment that got me thinking. She said although she was originally from Somalia she had moved here at the age of two. Consequently she spent all her life in Finland, grew up in Finland, speaks Finnish and identifies with Finland. She also said she and her family had adapted and assimilated to the Finnish lifestyle and culture yet she was always considered an immigrant. She said it seems that if you don't look like the stereotypical "ethnic Finn", white with blond hair and blue eyes, you are not considered Finnish. Her comment made me ask "How Finnish do you have to be, to be considered Finnish?" Will my daughter ever be considered Finnish?

There is a sort of mindset in Europe, but especially in mono-cultural Finland, that if your forefathers aren't from here and you don't look ethnically Finnish then you are not Finnish. It is a mindset foreign to us from the western hemisphere. A Brazilian friend and I once had this discussion. In our countries it didn't matter what someone looked like or where their ancestors were from, they were seen first and foremost as a Trinidadian or a Brazilian. It comes from being from a country where everyone's heritage is from somewhere else. We naturally assume someone is a Trinidadian or Brazilian until they say otherwise. Here it is the opposite.

Even my husband who is white with dirty blond hair, but his father is Hungarian, is sometimes introduced as "Robert who is half Hungarian". Or "This is Robert, his father is from Hungary". The first time I heard someone introduce him like this I was bewildered. I didn't understand the need for the explanation/qualification of where his father was from. To me he looks Finnish, sounds Finnish, thinks Finnish acts Finnish therefore he is Finnish and should just be introduced as Robert.

And these stories of Finns assumed to be immigrants because they look Latino or Asian or Middle Eastern are quite common. I was on the bus one day and a lady I had met at the local perhetalo came on the bus with her child and the stroller. Her child didn't want to sit in the stroller so they both sat on a bus seat while the stroller stood in it's designated space. When they were getting off the bus an elderly woman said " You foreigners should do like everyone else and ride the bus with your child sitting in the stroller!" She assumed my friend was a foreigner because she looks Latina as her mother is Colombian and she has dark hair and brown eyes. But the lady was born and grown in Finland! At work I have a co-worker who was adopted from Vietnam and she said she gets the assumption that she is a mamu (Finnish slang/derogatory word for immigrant) all the time. Even my open minded husband has made the mistaken assumption that someone is foreign based on how they look and I have to correct him. I guess this way of thinking is the consequence of still being such a mono-cultural country with very little immigration.

So my question is how Finnish will my daughter need to be to be considered Finnish? If she is born here, raised here, speaks Finnish without an accent, thinks like a Finn and acts like a Finn will that be enough for her to ever be considered Finnish? Or will Finns always assume she is an immigrant based on how she looks? Hopefully in the future mindsets will have changed.