Martina Marti: What am I included in when people refer to me as a Finn?
I have been a Finn for almost four years now. The process of applying was easy even though it involved a language test that lasted a whole day and cost some 90 euros. I was informed about the decision in a plain letter so formal I had to ask my Finnish partner whether I got it right. It felt strange seeing my name in a foreign country’s passport. A while later, my Swiss passport expired. Now I always travel as a Finn. But am I a Finn?
What is inclusion based on? What am I included in when people refer to me as a Finn? There is a kind of agreement amongst Finns, what this identity is and what not. Identity always builds upon the past. We need history to define who we are. And in the case of a national identity, it is the national history, the grand narrative on which we build. History is not something long gone that we read about in books. History is here, right now, all the time, around us. It is in the streets we walk, in the houses we live in, in the places we work. History is in museums, in theatres, in concert halls and in libraries. These places are important and what they tell us about ourselves is important. If these places are exclusive, there will not be any inclusion.
The history that we tend to rely upon in constructing Finnish identity tells of the national awakening, the Fennomans, independence, World War II, gender equality, Nokia and the EU. I can read about this and I have; I can learn and internalize these important phases of Finnish history and I have. But nonetheless, it will never be my history. My great-grandmothers were not amongst the first women in the world to vote, my grandfathers did not fight in the winter war, my parents did not build the welfare state. So how can I be included into this narrative? How can I adopt my own Finnish identity?
There are many cultural differences between my new home and my original home. I live with these every day. But there is also nature. I recognize a strong similarity in the relationship towards nature within Finnish and Swiss culture. Nature is seen as a pure place, where we can find silence and connect to ourselves. For some maybe also a place where they feel closer to God. But while I love retreats to the mökki and while it helps me connect to something that is cultural also to me, this is a rather thin basis for inclusion. When I go to the theatre to see Tuntematon sotilas or the museum to see the works of Gallen-Kallela, I become painfully aware of the fact that this is not my story. I can relate to the experiences of my fellow Finns, the ones who were born here and whose parents were born here. For them it is their history, for them it is about who they are.
What then is the role of artists, arts institutions and cultural organizations? How can they help me feel included? The answer to this question can come from different directions. For me, the documentary theatre performance Kim, Lekki ja Namwaan at Theatre Jurkka in early 2018 was one such answer. During the performance I felt a very strong connection to the three Thai women telling about their experiences moving to Finland for the love of a man. The performance told a lot about Thailand, about immigration and love, but also a lot about Finland. I recognized the situations the three described, the language mistakes they made, the feelings they shared. The culture from which they come is nothing like the one I come from, their journeys couldn’t have been more different from mine and their looks and ways of being contrast with what I am and do. And still, their performance was also telling my story. In the space created by their performance we could all be Finns in our own way, with our own native languages, our customs, beliefs and our newly learnt Finnish habits. The story of Kim, Lekki and Namwaan, as mine, is not part of the grand narrative of this country. But it could be. For that we need the doors to be wide open to people like Kim, Lekki and Namwaan. Not just as spectators of the next new Tuntematon sotilas but as makers of the next new chapter of the grand narrative telling us who we are when we are referred to as Finns.