"I feel both Canadian and Finnish,"
says Anne Putkuri, 29. Putkuri, who re-immigrated to Finland ten
years ago, spent her childhood and youth in Thunder Bay, Canada. The town
has received a steady stream of immigrants from the North over the centuries.
Thunder Bay, which is situated
about a day's flight from Helsinki, is a small town of 125,000 inhabitants
in the middle of the Canadian backwoods. The closest cities are Toronto
and Winnipeg, respectively twenty and eight hours' driving away. "With
its lakes and cold winters, Thunder Bay is very much like Finland. When
you're walking down Bay Street you might think you're in Finland, since
all the businesses - from hardware stores to dance halls - are owned
by Finns. My parents' sauna store is also on that street," says
The nine-year-old girl's
world expanded when the Putkuri family, together with her paternal uncle's
family, moved to Thunder Bay in 1980, leaving a small community in eastern
Finland and joining the paternal aunts and their families in Canada.
Like many other Finns, the family initially stayed on the Nakina Indian
reservation. Her father found work in the timber business on the reservation
and later the family started importing sauna products.
There was nothing new
moving across the Atlantic Ocean
for the Putkuri family
"In the 19th century
my great-aunt moved to North America to work as a maid. Back then, Finnish
workers were very sought-after in the United States. Finns who have
moved to foreign countries have diligently taken their whole culture
with them. In the close-knit Finnish community in Thunder Bay, both
the traditions and the language have survived, although not quite uninfluenced.
Finnish is spoken at home, but the children use English at school."
"We had a rule that
we couldn't speak English with our brother before he started school.
My sisters and brothers always communicated in English, but we spoke
Finnish with our parents. We cherished the Finnish language at home.
But not all Finnish immigrant parents wanted to slow down their children's
learning a new language and culture, so they spoke English with their
children at home, too," says Putkuri.
A strong community protects
Being a Finnish citizen
is important for Putkuri.
"I worked as a civilian
in the Canadian armed forces, dealing with monetary transactions. I
would have liked to have a career in the army, but that would have meant
changing my nationality. I wouldn't do that," says the young woman.
Putkuri's younger brother was born in Canada, and he automatically received
both citizenships. There are also strong Polish and Italian com-munities
in Thunder Bay, in addition to the Finnish one. The position of minorities
has traditionally been straightforward in Canada. The Church provides
activities for all age groups, as is typical of the New Continent.
"Canada is a cultural
melting-pot. Many of my school friends spoke Italian or Polish with
their parents. The different cultural communities have close internal
ties, but naturally there is also communication between the cultures.
My friends and I drank beer at the Italian Hall, but the Finnish Church
also provided youth activities which I joined in," recalls Putkuri.
The 15,000 Finns of Thunder
Bay make themselves heard in the town in different com-binations of
English and Finnish. The mixed language, `Finglish', stayed in Putkuri's
mind. For her master's thesis in English Philology she interviewed four
boys and four girls from Thunder Bay. The language used by the young
has not previously interested scholars. American Finnish as a wider
phenomenon has interested Finnish linguists because of Finnish immigration.
"If you can't find a Finnish word, you quickly replace it with
an English one. The word may be English, but you use the inflection
rules of Finnish. I do word-for-word translations myself, too; I do
the dishes, and I don't seem to be able to learn that in Finnish one
washes the dishes," Putkuri laughs.
Young people interest Putkuri
too because she is a qualified teacher. At the moment she has a firm
of her own, which offers translation and English lessons. There has
been plenty of work for this bilingual young woman in Helsinki.
The most important
thing is leaving
Re-immigration causes the
same longing for the Country beyond the Ocean as emigration once did.
Still, Putkuri denies that she misses Canada. When nine-year-old Anne
spoke English, her school-mates in Thunder Bay found it funny, whereas
in Finland she has to explain her origins all the time. "I didn't
think about re-immigrating immediately. At first, I only came to Finland
for a summer job, to work for a couple of months. The idea matured slowly.
I wanted international work experience and time to think about what
I wanted to study," Putkuri recalls. She studied public administration
in Ottawa for a couple of years, but found working more interesting
and so abandoned her studies. It was not easy for a twenty-year-old
to move alone to the other end
of the world. "I moved straight from Canada to my grandmother's
place in Kitee, Northern Karelia. I spoke Finnish with a strong eastern
accent. Many people thought that I was from Estonia or Russia. Moving
to Helsinki to work was also confusing, since I had to build up my social
circle from scratch once again," says Putkuri, describing her re-immigration.
At the same time, she started studying at Helsinki University. "I
travelled around Finland with other foreign students. It really expanded
Putkuri has not had
any real trouble in Finland
"Still, I do feel different.
After all these years, English is still my first language, and it kind
of makes me a foreigner in my own country," she says. At the moment,
Putkuri lives in Helsinki with her Finnish fiancé. The couple
have been engaged for almost 18 months. When she is not freelancing,
this happy returnee works on her master's thesis, and does not dream
about moving back to Canada.
"I could imagine living
in another European country, but Canada belongs to the past. I see my
family every now and then, but I'm first and foremost European, and
this is where my home is." ß
Finns have emigrated
for hundreds of years
Finns have always left their native country. And returned back
home, when the longing has grown too strong. In the late 19th
and early 20th centu-ries, whole villages from the western parts
of Ostrobothnia emigrated to the United States and Canada. In
addition to the Ostrobothnians, there are also emigrants from
nearly all other parts of Finland in the United States. The old
dialects were - and still are - mixed with English in their language.
This mixed language, `Finglish', is spoken by both old emigrants
and their des-cendants. The main reason for emigration was unemployment;
when there was no work, there was no food. Many people gathered
together their scarce belongings and went west to gain better
living and working conditions. The huge road and railway networks
of the new continent required the labour of thousands of people
to complete them. The new inhabitants often stayed, and whole
generations grew up in North America without any immediate contact
with Finland or what is considered Finnish.
Over half a million Finns
Up until the 1990s, the Finnish Government paid returnees a so-called
re-immigration subsidy, which was supposed to help returnees to
a new start in their old home country. The wave of mass emigration
at the turn of the last century was followed by further emigration
waves, first to North America in the 1930s because of the depression
in Finland, and then in the 1970s to neighbouring Sweden. People
often moved back to Finland from Sweden as the standard of living
in Finland rose. According to Statistics Finland, 753,905 people
emigrated from Finland between 1945 and 1999. In the mid-1990s
there were 13,830 Finns living in the United States and 10,095
in Canada. In both countries the gender distribution of Finns
was almost exactly fifty-fifty. The number of female emigrants
was a few per cent higher than the number of males. A third large
Finnish community is to be found in Australia. In addition to
these countries, there are Finns in lesser numbers in nearly all
parts of the world. According to a study conducted in 1996 and
1997, the number of Finns living abroad at that time was approximately
250,000. The figure included all Finnish citizens who had moved
abroad for at least 12 months.