Article by Gloria De Felice
Did you know that the number of people living in multicultural families in Finland is more than 300000, which is comparable, for instance, with the Swedish Speaking population in Finland?
Based on the fact that many social organizations and institutions are using only Finnish and Swedish, how hard is it for the citizens and residents who don´t speak fluently those languages?
Through a collaboration with the organization Monimuotoiset Perheet, which aims to provide information regarding the needs of diverse families, I decided to interview four female artists from Finland and different countries, who are living in Finland in a multicultural context. Let´s read their points of view.
“When we started dating I heard people telling me how challenging and difficult it will be to negotiate between two such different cultures but that all turned out not to be true in our case”
Anna Olkinuora is a Finnish performing artist. She and her husband, Harsha, originally from India, have been together for over 10 years. They are currently living in Finland.
“We have never really faced too many difficulties or challenges because of our multicultural relationship. When we started dating I heard people telling me how challenging and difficult it will be to negotiate between two such different cultures (Finland-India), but that all turned out not to be true in our case. I had far more issues trying to date people in my own culture. I mean, fair enough, there are some legal issues that we needed to deal with. We had to get married to be able to stay together, since that was the easiest way for both of us to get a visa. I think what really helped was that we lived in England the first years of us getting together. Maybe being in a third country helped, as neither of us was in their home country. We have managed to create our own cross-breed of an Indian-Finnish culture by picking the bits we like and leaving the bits we don’t like. I’d like to think our presence in each other’s lives has helped some of our greater family members to become more open minded. I have friends and in-laws with small children in India and I hope they grow up to think that having someone who looks very different and speaks a different language to join the family is a natural thing. Regarding challenges and difficulties, I’ll only speak for myself here, but once we moved to India I had a bit of a culture shock on how much parents control their grown-up children’s lives. Not just with my in-laws, but I noticed this with my friends too. The only way to get over such a thing is to adjust your attitude really. And this didn’t affect our relationship actually. It was just something I found awkward at first, and then sort of just let it go. I have since started appreciating how much freedom (and responsibility) I was given rather early on growing up. I like that I am more of an equal with my parents now that I am an adult.”
Anna and Harshan´s Art
Anna´s theatre company: UtoUto
Harsha´s Works: @boxesoflight
Visual artist from non-European country living in Finland:
“I am a fully independent and highly educated person, why do I need my husband to come to the bank to get my right to have access to online banking? What gender equality are we speaking in Finland, who is it meant for?”
How many years have you been married/living together?
Now it has been six years from the time I have moved to Finland to pursue my passion for contemporary art and to complete my master’s degree in art. I remember that I was writing my thesis and planning to leave Finland for another country, but I met my husband. At first it was about having fun time and to create good memories of my life in Finland, but after a while it has become serious, now it has been 3 years that we live together and we are married.
What kind of difficulties and challenges do you and your partner encounter?
What we have faced in the past three years are related to bureaucratic processes, whether it is bank office or migration office, Migri and so on. I have had these difficulties even before meeting my husband. The unjust official processes have made my life so difficult that I have decided to leave Finland for a better place. Even marriage at first did not change its difficulties, considering that I am a non-European citizen.
This has had an impact directly on our relationship, feeling unsafe constantly. I have noticed how much my husband has changed while understanding the Finnish system and difficulties related to that. I have been treated usually different, no matter if I have paid taxes and have been working in Finland actively contributing to the cultural life of people in the society. Being treated differently in society or at working places has changed my perception of Finland and I have been very critical toward the present image of Finland which is known nationally or internationally. It has been promoted to show how equality exists in Finland and it is such a great country for people to live, but unfortunately this is not the truth of our lives as POC (people of color) living in Finland. The gender equality or social equality exists for Westerners who are white and not for the rest. In any procedure in Finland, a person’s nationality, race and/or gender always comes first. Challenges mostly are related to bureaucracy and structural racism and discrimination embedded within. Discrimination is existing so deeply in the system that it has been normalized and yet difficult to be recognized, unless you are subject to that. For instance, I have had permanent residency in Finland based on working and being married at the same time and I went to the Finnish bank to get access to my online banking and the lady who was there said I cannot have the access because I am citizen of a country outside Europe, while I needed this access for my work and applications in Finland. I went home and described it to my husband with anger and frustration and next day we went together and in front of my eyes the same woman made the access possible in less than a minute! It made me outrageous, I have never been treated this way in my thirty years of life, I am a fully independent and highly educated person, why do I need my husband to come to the bank to get my right to have access to online banking? What gender equality are we speaking of in Finland, who is it meant for? Being a professional researcher and artist why should I need anybody (specifically my husband) to be approved to have accessibility? This is only one example. I have other friends who have similar or worse experiences of these discriminative treatments in their daily life, and it is responsibility of every person to question them and to respond to them for change.
What kind of advantages?
I cannot recall any specific advantages for myself, considering that I am actively working in Finland and paying taxes same as everyone else, yet at the same time being subject to prejudice and racism in everyday life.
If you faced challenges and difficulties how did you overcome them?
I am dealing with these difficulties on a daily basis and reflecting them in my artistic work and doctoral research with the hope to raise awareness and to tackle them. I work with so many other women and younger generation to address individual struggles and to find strength, as collective potential is more important in creating change. Furthermore, I am aware of the privileges of being an artist, one is to be able to address and to voice up the most difficult concepts, so I endeavour to address them in the courses which I teach and in my artistic practice. I am hopeful and working for change in the society. Although I cannot deny these difficulties have impacted my personal life so much. Considering the longer time and my wellbeing, one option is to consider another place for living where I do not have to fight for my basic rights. We constantly discuss the matter with my husband and are thinking about it, as we can see changes in Finland are happening but very slowly. Every person deserves safety and sense of satisfaction in life, this is a very important fact to consider living our lives.
Geneva Rosett- Hafter :
”If I think about dealing with grants and other various applications, I would always need her help as most of the applications were in Finnish and my Finnish is not fluent.”
Geneva is an artist originally from the United States. She does performance art, painting and installation. She has been together with her Finnish partner for more than 10 years.
”As I’m not from Finland I tend to stand out and it makes it easier to network and be remembered. Living in Finland is generally quite easy. The only problems I’ve ever had is to deal with the Finnish language in official documents such as taxes or grant applications, and it’s very easy to get help with that especially since I’m living and married to a Finn. I also have friends that can help.
A lot of the applications these days are available in English, so as my Finnish gets better and as Finland uses more English it’s slowly getting easier.
Overall, it’s an easily rectifiable problem.”
“Living in Mexico for one year was very important for him as it was very important to me, before coming here. To face the realities.”
Rosamaría Sánchez Hernández, in art Rosamaria Bolom, is a Mexican artist who lives in Finland. She does Sculpture, Painting, Engraving, Masks, Poetry, Performance, Photography. She has been together with her partner for 10 years.’
“The main challenges for us was to learn both languages for communication needs. Be willing and open to dialogue in this experience of culture exchanges. Living in Mexico for one year was very important for him as it was very important to me, before coming here. To face the realities around love and cultural shock.
He knows Spanish. This was an advantage when I was studying Finnish, because there are many things that are not explained in the study books, since they are of the cultural dominion of each people in a society. Personally, I feel motivated and supported by my partner but also my personal interests on otherness, subjectivity, human relations, and symbolic language, they lead me to continue developing my professional goals in this country.
Regarding challenges and difficulties: I like to face situations through dialogue to try to find answers to the concerns that come to me when I cannot understand some bureaucratic, emotional and cultural things. Being a psychologist and artist helps me think with different perspectives, of course sometimes as human being I am temperamental but I work to channel my emotions in art and cultural projects.”
Nainen, joka puhuu suomea is a poem about migration, love and being. It is written in FInnish by Rosamaria.
Nainen, joka puhuu suomea
Olen nainen, joka puhuu suomea
missä seisoo tällä hetkellä
ja katselee ympärillään maailmaa
rakkauden takia Helsinkiin saavuin
kuuntelemaan ja tuntemaan metsällisen kielen
kaupungin Itämeren vieressä
ja kaikkia sen aikeita en vielä tiedä
Olen nainen, joka puhuu espanjaa
mistä hän on kotoisin
mikä oma äidinkieli on
ja mitä joskus ikävöin
lapsen muistot kertovat
kuka minä olen,
aikuinen todellisuus suuntaa
mihin minä menen
Ja nyt haluan jakaa
jonka tunnen joskus
syvänyöllä ja pitkänpäivällä
joka puhuu suomea
joka asuu Suomessa
ja on edelleen
Cover Photo: Gloria De Felice