Not long ago the Guardian published a blog entitled “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?” In it, Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, an African social activist and entrepreneur, asks why the heck the vast majority of Africans, Asians, South Americans and Arabs living in Western countries are “immigrants” while Europeans and North Americans living anyplace they weren’t born are “expats”.
Yeah, good question, Mawuna!
I arrived in Nakkila from New York in 1989. Technically I was an expat (ok, really technically I was an exchange student), but I learned pretty quickly that the best way to fit in was to… well, try hard to fit in. That meant learning Finnish as fast as I could and playing down my Americanness. Both were harder than you might think. But those two things have been the secret to my success here.
But that was 1989. Things were different then. Gay and lesbian couples were still 25 years away from marriage equality, the first Refugee Woman of the Year wouldn’t be chosen for another 9 years, and you could still buy “Neekerinpusuja” at your local supermarket.
But with parliamentary elections coming up on Sunday, I’m wondering why there are political parties for everyone from Christians and Swedish-speaking Finns to conservatives and conservationists, but none for immigrants? Especially since being an “immigrant” is actually one of the most political states of being there is.
The answer goes right back to what Mawuna was talking about and to what I learned in Nakkila – being an “immigrant” is a negative, not a positive. It’s not something to be openly proud of, like being a Swedish-speaking Finn, for example.
Yup, we immigrants (and expats, albeit to an unjustly lesser extent) are kind of in the same situation that gay and lesbian people have found themselves in. People are encouraged to “tolerate” us. Hmm… wait a second… so that must mean there’s something inherently bad about us that requires ”tolerance”. Gee, thanks.
Right now, there are over 300,000 people of non-Finnish origin living here. Guess how many MPs of non-Finnish origin there are? ZERO. In fact there’s never been one. Now, a handful of candidates of non-Finnish origin are hoping that changes this Sunday. And Social Democrat Nasima Razmyar (GO NASIMA!!!!), the Centre Party’s Husu Hussein and/or the National Coalition Party’s Fatbardhe Hetemaj just might make it happen.
But, seriously. Here in Finland, we’ve got a Pirate Party, a Poor People’s Party and although Timo Soini won’t admit this, let’s face it, we’ve also got an anti-immigration party. Isn’t it time for a party of people – immigrants, expats, whatever you want to call us – who deserve not to be “tolerated,” but to be truly represented?
Yes. Let’s go from ”maahanmuuttajat” to what we really are: ”maanmuuttajat”.