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    A RETURNEE HAS TWO HOME COUNTRIES

    BOTH LEAVING AND RETURNING WERE EASY FOR ANNE PUTKURI

    Maria Seppälä

 

"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 Putkuri.

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 in
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 the culture

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 my horizon."

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
have emigrated

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.