Tag Archives: immigration

Minäkin olen suomalainen. Citizenship: Process and Identity

The eagle and the lion getting along

As long-time readers of this blog know I have lived slightly over ten years in Finland, basically one third of my life and almost my whole adulthood. A couple of months after my son was born I applied for citizenship, and it was granted slightly over a week ago (even if I didn’t find out until last Friday). It mirrors that well-trodden path elsewhere from immigrant to citizen, with the addition that it’s obviously the first time I go through it and it’s also a relatively novel phenomenon for the country I can now call my own.

The applicable Finnish law has significantly changed during my time here. Until 2007 time as a student or worker without A status (whose granting was always a mystery to me) didn’t count towards citizenship, which meant the 6 years I had spent in Finland by then were useless. This changed when four years ago the law was modified so that all the time spent in the country legally counts toward citizenship, regardless of whether it was spent as a student, a worker, a Finn’s family member or another reason. The residency requirement was 6 uninterrupted years for singles, 4 for those married to a Finnish citizen with the last 2 being continuous (i.e. if you moved away and came back even if you had lived here long enough you had to wait another two years to apply).

Besides the residency requirement, the law also stated that applicants should have a good command of one of the official languages of Finnish and Swedish (e.g. proven with the official Yleiskielentutkinto test which I took in 2007) plus a clean criminal record. Even minor fines could count against you. You also needed to show a demonstrable source of income.

I had no problem with those prerequisites, but the challenging bit for me was that when filling out the citizenship form I had to list all my absences from Finland since I moved here. Especially after ten years working in a multinational corporation and constant trips to visit my parents it was a challenging exercise (as you can probably gather from this Flickr collection). I created an Excel table with Destination(s), Travel purpose, Dates & Duration that gave me a total of over 90 absences from Finland (it could have been worse, but I was a full time student for the first 3 years). I understand very well why this is required (visiting e.g. Helmand in Afghanistan wouldn’t look good, I guess unless you’re a peacekeeper) but it was a chore. Thankfully I had my old passports, Dopplr & Flickr to help me out. I’m positive the list submitted was accurate. Based on the processing times published in the Immigration Service’s website I expected it to take at least a year, if not more.

Funnily enough I was awarded Finnish nationality right before the law was loosened up a little again (now you need one or two years less of residence, but you still have to prove the other points).

Unlike say, Spain, the United States, or Mexico, Finland doesn’t organize a ceremony of any kind for awarding citizenship nor an oath of allegiance of any sort. You “just” get a letter (blame it on Finnish distaste for useless ceremony if you will). As of last Tuesday, I’m now a Finn (or at least a Finnish citizen).

Every one of us is a product of our background and our experiences. Since the turn of the century I’ve learned to understand the Finns: their language and the way it modifies their thought processes, their love of nature, their diligence for hard study and hard work but respect of free time, their love of exercise and sports, their complex relationship with coffee and alcohol, their modesty, openness, directness and practicality, their trust in their state institutions (especially for education and security), their love of salmiakku, rhubarb pies, mämmi, new potatoes with dill, salmon, reindeer, sausages, more berries than I can name in languages other than Finnish and Karelian pies, their view that having sauna next to a lake or sea is the best way to end a summer’s day, the impressive mood changes matching with the seasons, their love of hockey and victories over Sweden, their stubbornness to the point of suicide (a.k.a. sisu, they say), and many other things. During my time here I’ve taken the tasks of internalising the positives, tolerating the negatives and trying to bring a bit of my own to the table. It’s not about this place and this people aren’t good. It’s about we can be better (crap, it still feels weird to say we).

If I didn’t like it here warts and all I wouldn’t have stayed this long. During that process of contact and adaptation, you start identifying yourself with your host society if the relationship with it is at the very least cordial. I won’t lie if I say I applied for citizenship almost purely for practical reasons: I have now the right to live permanently with my wife and son; travel to certain places like the US, Africa and the Middle East is easier (Finns have visa-free travel to 170+ countries, Mexicans to 120+) while coming back should be easier; I now have the right to influence where my taxes are used and where the society is going through my vote; I can even move freely to another EU country if I have a reason to do so.

However, I find myself in the situation where my sense of identity is being modified. Regardless of whether I liked it or not, one of the many factors that defined me in the eyes of others was the fact that I’m a Mexican in Finland, a foreigner, an immigrant. That meant (depending on the audience) that I always had to be extra careful and try to give the best possible impression, as they wouldn’t necessarily see me, but what I represent. It is a huge responsibility to feel you’re the only sample somebody knows of a country of 110 million people or of the 200,000 immigrants in Finland and you have the chance to make or break their stereotypes. While that is still somewhat relevant the turn from outsider to insider makes it weaker. I have proven myself. I’ve been measured, examined and approved. I am a part of this society and nobody can take that away from me. I am still me, but what me is evolves with my experience. Whichever term you want to use: new Finn, naturalized Finn, Mexican-Finn, Finn-Mexican, Finn of Mexican origin, etc. it is not anymore foreigner or immigrant.

Since this whole phenomenon is so new for Finland itself I know I will again be doing some trailblazing (sometimes I feel like Antonio Banderas in 13th Warrior, while on others like an Old West pioneer) and I know people with sympathies with the extreme right will never see somebody like me as equal to them. The good news is that my vote counts too and we are equal before the law. If they can’t live with that it’s their problem, not mine.

I am currently traveling for the first time abroad using a Finnish passport besides my Mexican one. It feels nice to be part of the society I’ve spent so long trying to fit with without losing the official link to my roots in the place where I was born.


Open letter to the Finnish political elite

After the latest soundbites from mainstream Finnish politicians regarding their stance against immigration and their apparent lack of hard knowledge of the subject, I decided to set the record straight.

With the help of Statistics Finland (Tilastokeskus), it was not difficult to find the exact numbers of immigrants living in Finland as of end of last year.  The breakdown in the chart below.

As you can see, 155k people of foreign citizenship live here (2.9% of the population and one of the lowest proportions in Europe).  Of those, 34k are refugees, i.e. 22% of all foreigners in Finland and 0.64% of the total population of the country.  Therefore, it is ridiculous to keep on mixing refugees with immigrants if they are only one fifth of the total amount of foreigners living here. By the way, that most demonised group of all, the Somalis, are less than 5k people in the whole country.

Now, after a little dose of facts, let’s tackle the 3 statements that have caught my attention lately:

  • “Maassa maan tavalla”: This phrase, part “In Rome do as the Romans”, part “Love it or leave it” was uttered to great effect by the leader of the Finnish Social Democrats.  She went further on to talk about the need for foreigers to obey the law and learn the language.  My first problem with this statement is not its content, but its patronising tone.  When you move abroad you know you will face new situations and have to adapt to your environment, which does include learning at least some of the local language.  Following the law is also part of this process (who wants to move thousands of kilometres at a considerable cost only to end up in jail?).  Furthermore, my second concern is related to the fact that Finnish laws and Finnish customs are not the same thing. Are we a tolerant enough society to accept people who look, dress and sound different as long as they contribute to society and pay their taxes, or is there an ideal of Finnishness they need to adhere to?  Have we agreed on what that ideal is?
  • Immigrants coming to Finland take jobs from Finns:  Eero Heinäluoma, another SDP figure, took this cheap stab recently in an interview, further saying that if there is racism it’s because there aren’t enough jobs around.  Let me get this straight: first we’re worried that foreigners (that “very homogeneous” group including e.g. IT workers, PhD students and people with low education from all over the world) don’t contribute to society and live off social security, then we’re worried because they have jobs?  Furthermore, Mr. Heinäluoma doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp of elementary economics: the amount of jobs available is not fixed, it fluctuates with supply and demand. In a functioning market economy such as Finland’s the more people employed means an increased demand for other products and services, generating a ripple effect accross the market.  As one of the Ilta-rags joked, the only thing he was missing was saying that “foreigners steal our women“.
  • Ville Rydman’s views on immigration: I’ve been meaning to comment on the platform of this young National Coalition Party leader for some time.  He mentions that recieving skilled migrants is challenging as Finland would be depriving developing countries of talent, while opening the doors to unskilled migration will create an uneducated underclass.  He’s wrong on both measures: skilled migrants earn experience in Finland that can later be transferred to their countries of origin, while unskilled ones have here educational opportunities probably unavailable for them otherwise.  I personally know examples of both.  He then reveals his true colours by saying that immigrants should integrate “fully” to Finnish laws (which is fine) and Finnish ways (discussed above) while expressing that multiculturalism is both wrong and dangerous, without amplifying much further on either statement.  If you simply don’t want people coming here, then why don’t you say so straight up and stop the posturing?

These are only 3 recent examples from 2 mainstream parties, but also certain Centre candidates share the same views (Paavo Väyrynen anyone?) and obviously our “friends” the True Finns are the reason why this whole brouhaha started, after their critical stance of immigration won them many votes in the last elections.  With the economy in the doldrums we knew immigration, with its demostration of the fear of otherness, was going to be an easy target to fish votes and unfortunately were not proved wrong.

Finland deserves better politicians (and politics) than this.

Battlestar Galactica

Finally had a chance to start watching Battlestar Galactica after having only seen the miniseries and I have to say it is some of the best TV and Sci-fi I have ever seen.  The character depth, the plot and the number and seriousness of the issues tackled are simply astounding, and production is also very glossy and visually appealing.

Without spoiling much of the plot, one of the many themes tackled throughout the series is the desire of artificial constructs to become human (and acting “more Catholic than the Pope” in the process) so they can assimilate into human communities.  There’s a link to the relationship between immigrants and their host societies there somewhere… 😉

Recommended movie: Indigènes (Days of Glory)

Finally had the chance to watch this French-Belgian-Moroccan co-production, and wasn’t disappointed.   The film tells the story of a contingent of North Africans who fight for the liberation of France in the Second World War.  The plot and psychological environment is quite interesting as they are quite patriotic for a homeland they have never seen (a scene of them singing the Marseillaise and the Song of the Africans is quite stinging), but are still treated like second-class citizens.

It is very refreshing to watch a WWII movie that doesn’t follow the typical American conventions, that’s for sure, even if I really like Saving Private Ryan.

Working immigrant professionals in Finland

Jorma Ollila at the EVA Forum

I have been involved in two initiatives lately, Finndiversity and the EVA Expat Forum, where professionals of foreign and local extraction come together and discuss what are the challenges faced by this community and what actions can be taken to bring it forward.  While a good start (in the sense that this section of society is finally starting to get organised), there is still a very long way to go.

For starters, we are showing that an immigrant is not necessarily a refugee nor on the dole, as is so often claimed here.


5a posada mexicana en Helsinki

The Mexican community in Helsinki organises a posada every December, and this year was not the exception.  The menu included chilaquiles and crema de chile poblano, we had a piñata “beauty” contest before breaking them, and of course we sang the traditional songs.

It was definitely interesting to have such a Mexican feeling so far away, and really good to see the kids getting involved, since it was their party after all.

Finnish citizenship test

Flags at work
If Finland were to apply tests for citizenship applicants, would you be able to pass it? Helsingin Sanomat created one.

I got 85%, while natural-born Finns I know got 30 points less. Doesn’t seem to make me or any other foreigner any more or less of a Finn in the eyes of society to know for example how people in Rauma speak, as the more I explore suomalaisuus it looks that it is an ethnic rather than cultural concept.