This is part II of Joseph’s blog entry, What being Finnish means to me. Click here to see part I.
…Later on I discovered rap music to deal with my feelings. There were just so many things wrong in this society that I saw all the Somalis and other foreigners not integrating well enough into Finnish society. They grew up in gangs and were rebelling against a society that had excluded them socially with racism and prejudice.
Something I connected with these people. Maybe it was because of the loneliness or simply due to the feeling of being an outsider that brought us together.
I started hanging around with Somalis at the age of fifteen and I was the only so-called ”white boy” of the group. Even so, we did all kinds of crazy stuff young adolescents usually do. We connected despite the fact that we came from different cultural backgrounds. We were like brothers growing up in a hostile world.
My friendship with this group resulted in trouble and social workers wanted to take me away from my mom. My mother sent me to live with my dad in the United States, where I ended up in a boarding school. I got bullied a lot at the new school and was called a Russian because I spoke English with a foreign accent.
Calling me a Russian and being a Finn was as bad as calling a woman a whore. Being a citizen of two nations and being rejected by both is very painful. Racism is a sickness that reveals a person’s fear about something he cannot understand or deal with.
When I came back to Finland and spoke English with an American accent, people no longer recognized me as a Finns. They constantly shouted at me and told me to go back to where I came from. Some even called me a Russian or Arab. In my opinion, the identity we carry is a personal matter that nobody else can place on you.
I get very angry and bitter at my Finnish side when I remember what happened to me as a child and young man. I once even wanted to erase my roots and renounce my Finnish citizenship and move to faraway country.
Despite these initial setbacks, I calmly accept that I am a Finn who is a citizen of this country and who can speak Finnish fluently. I love my Finnish roots and find inner peace in them when I walk in the woods, whether I am in Helsinki or sit by a lake enjoying a sauna. I can never forget going fishing at our cottage with my grandpa and all the good times I spent in Finland. I have learned a lot of wisdom from my grandma and grandpa.
What does being a Finn mean to me? It means that even though Finnish people suffered a lot in the past, they managed to learn from their mistakes, pull through, create a vibrant economy, well-functioning social-welfare state and great educational system that is an example for many countries.
I have to forgive those people who mistreated and bullied me in the past because I wasn’t a so-called typical Finn. I understand that not all Finnish people are like them. I can therefore say honestly that some Finnish people who I have met are one of the best people I have ever known. They are so honest, humble and sincere that it is difficult to find people like them elsewhere.
I sometimes fall in tears when I think about what Finland has done for my family.
When I travel abroad, I tell people proudly that Finland is the only country in the world that paid back their debt to the United States. I can never hate the country where my mom and grandparents were born and, importantly, gave us an opportunity to start life anew.
Long live the Finnish Sisu! Be proud of your home country and roots!
* Joseph spoke on condition of anonymity.