Here is the Finnish-language version of the article below that appeared in the 4/2009 isuue of Monitori-lehti.
What will our new identity be like in the present century as our society becomes more ethnically and culturally diverse? Will immigrants be clumped into one group and called New Finns, or will they prefer a hyphenated identity such as Iraqi-Finn?
A middle-school geography book published in 1941 claims that the Finns comprised of two main racial groups: Nordic and East Baltic. The characteristics of the former group was, ”tall, thin, blue-eyed, fair-haired and have red cheeks,” while the latter one was ”stockier, blonde-haired and have no redness on the cheeks.”
Even though there is no scientific basis for such classifications and they appear odd from our information-age perspective, some history books continued to classify Finns in such a manner up the 1970s. One of the matters that these type of racial classifications did was keep the definition of the Finn on very narrow terms.
In my opinion, our identity as Finns took a radical break from the past with the passage of the new Constitution (1999), Naturalisation (2003) and Non-Discrimination Act (2004). Even though there is no mention of the term multicultural society in these laws, they do show great sensibility to minorities and acceptance of cultural diversity.
Everyone knows that laws cannot change attitudes in an instant. They can, however, be important watersheds of our values and aspirations as a society.
Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen has called immigrants uusia suomalaisia, or New Finns. In principle there is nothing wrong with this classification since it implies permanency as well as a readiness by society to accept newcomers. Others such as maahanmuuttaja, immigrant, have been met with mixed feelings since it implies non-permanency.
Even though these identity labels are imposed by the outside, it is important to keep in mind that what different groups call themselves depends on them. For some minorities this may be more important than for others.
Whatever identity a group prefers to use – New Finn, Finn, hyphenated, hybrid or none – isn’t the underlying case. The key factor is that we are capable as a society of drawing strength from our diversity, and that Finland can become a new home for those who may choose to live with us.