Thursday, December 23, 2010

No longer a second class citizen

This essay was published in the recent New World Finn under the title No longer a second class citizen.

You can also read the article in pdf format by clicking here. (page 16)

Not too long ago the Finnish Immigration Service called my place of employment to check up on me. According to Matti, who answered the phone, all they were interested in was whether or not I was still employed at Vakiopaine. This bit of snooping by the government agency that can make or break any immigrant’s chance at a future in Finland was welcome on my part. It meant that they were finally handling my citizenship application which I had dropped off at the local police station about a year ago. When I turned in my paperwork, the bureaucrat behind the desk let me know that the process could take anywhere from one to three years once my application had been sent forward to wherever it may be that such decisions are made. The fact that my paperwork had made it to the top of the pile in such a short amount of time was more than likely a good indication of a positive outcome.

To make a long story short, I received notification in the mail at the end of October that my request for citizenship had been approved. I am now the holder of two passports, a citizen of two nations. The most obvious benefit for me is that I am no longer merely a second-class resident of the country where I have spent the last 5 years of my life. Although I had received a permanent residence permit a year ago and was guaranteed every right enjoyed by Finnish citizens, I was denied the most important right of all, the right to vote in national elections. Now that I have the right and responsibility to vote, I also have the right to complain, to expression my dissatisfaction with the status quo. For the time being, I’ll keep the negativity to myself. There are still some months to go before the next general election.

What would my great-grandparents think of all this? They made the decision to set off across the seas to an uncertain future, looking to find something different than what they were used to. They decided to gamble with their own lives in the hope that they would find a better place with more to offer than the Finland that they left behind. Speculation on what might have been is a fairly useless exercise in my opinion, but I feel that these ancestors of mine made the right decision. They managed to avoid the one of the bloodiest civil wars in European history (the Finnish Civil war of 1918). We American-Finns, at least those of us who are descendants of the great migration that occurred towards the end of the 1800’s don’t have to bear the psychological scars that accompanied the legacy of bitterness, fear, and hatred that followed that horrible conflict. These scars, to some extent, still affect Finnish society today. We were also spared the trauma of the Winter and Continuation Wars, which even now, over sixty-five years after the fact, affects the collective psyche of the Finnish people. Of course as Americans we have had our own wars and domestic struggles over the decades that have left their mark upon us. Korea, Viet Nam, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror. McCarthyism, corporate opposition to the Labor Movement, and more recently the Teabaggers trying to crush the pursuit of happiness for everyone but themselves. I guess we too have our own painful histories that have the potential to leave their marks across generations.

On December 6th I will be celebrating Finnish Independence for the first time as a Finnish citizen. I’ve never been one for in-your-face patriotism, but I will be the first to admit that there is something really fine about the independence of a sovereign nation, especially when the ideal of democracy is able to be fulfilled. I wonder how Kiimingin Kalle or Kyrönlahden Matti would react to the fact that their great-grandson is a citizen of a nation that didn’t yet exist when they struck out from their homes in pre-independence Finland towards the hopeful shores of the United States. Although I have moved on from the country in which they chose to make their own futures, that doesn’t mean I have turned my back on it, in fact it is highly likely that I will come back to America to live and work from time to time. We live in a big new world with greater possibility than ever before. With migration comes a new way of seeing the world and a greater chance for understanding our fellow humans. Immigrants should be regarded as a potential resource rather than a burden. We can improve upon our humanity, if only we don’t squander opportunity.

December is upon us, and so is the polar night. The skies are dark and the air is crisp and cold. I feel optimistic about the world we live in, despite the occasional setbacks that befall the human race. I for one am going to try to remember the responsibilities that accompany the rights that I am blessed with. With that in mind, I guess I should go to the kitchen and wash the dishes. Maybe after that I’ll take out the recyclables and enjoy a moment in the chilly darkness of this winter evening in the country that I have come to regard as my second home.

An interview with J. Karjalainen

This interview which I did a few months back with J. Karjalainen was recently published in the New World Finn. This fine quarterly is carrying on the long tradition of a Finnish-American free press and I highly recommend that you subscribe to their publication.

If you would like to read the interview in the New World Finn pdf version, please click here (page 7 of the pdf).

The 3rd record of J. Karjalainen’s Finnish-American Trilogy Polkabilly Rebels was released last spring. On a chilly evening at the end of October I got a chance to catch the last show of the Polkabilly Rebels tour at Tanssisali Lutakko in Jyväskylä. A few hours before the show I stopped by “Lutakko” to have a little chat with Mr. Karjalainen.

It’s been four years since the first album of this trilogy, Lännen-Jukka was released. You have stated previously that the Lännen-Jukka project is now coming to an end. Would you happen to know how Lännen-Jukka is going to spend his retirement?

A trilogy is always a good thing – a three record collection. Although the recording project ends here, it doesn’t mean that I won’t be playing these songs anymore. As far as performing the material goes, this project doesn’t really have an end. I’ll play this material at gigs if the opportunity arises, either solo, or with Veli-Matti (Veli- Matti Järvenpää -accordionist on the second record of the trilogy Paratiisin pojat as well as on Polkabilly Rebels), or even with the Polkabilly Rebels (Veli-Matti Järvenpää, accordion, Tommi Viksten, electric guitar, and Mitja Tuurala, bass). I figure Lännen-Jukka is going to spend his retirement like I hope to spend mine – playing music. And I have to say that it has meant a lot to me that Finnish-American folks and folks here in Finland have taken Lännen-Jukka as one of their own.

During the course of this project you had the opportunity to travel to the States and see some of the places settled by the Finnish emigrants, and perhaps more importantly you got a chance to meet some of their descendants. What sort of impressions did these American-Finns leave you with?

The American-Finns were absolutely fantastic, especially after all the difficulties we had getting in to the country. Once we got to meet the people we had an incredible experience. We were lucky enough to get to know musicians like the Haapalan pojat and Jingo Viitala. Everyone was so warm and friendly and we got along right away, real natural-like. I had been a little nervous beforehand about how people over there would react to Lännen-Jukka because the style is kind of rough and raw. I needn’t have worried. Everyone we talked to appreciated the music.

Over the past few years you have managed to discover some original Finnish-American material and record it yourself. Have you noticed any differences between Finnish-American and Finnish music of the period that these songs were originally recorded?

Something in the music over there in America was a little different. For example, in the music of Hiski Salomaa there is a completely different sort of mentality – livelier, more reckless. It was kind of strange when Jingo taught me Siantappolaulu, I was sure that it was a Finnish-American song but it’s actually a Finnish song from up in the north of Finland. When we started performing the song people would come up and say “that’s the song our grandpa used to sing!” Jim Leary from the University of Wisconsin in Madison introduced me to the recordings that were collected by Allan Lomax – that’s where we found Varoitus Duluthin Pojille. It was nice to have an opportunity to revive some old, mostly forgotten songs.

U.S. Immigration treated you rather harshly when you visited a few years back. Would you consider visiting the United States after that unpleasant experience?

I would return to the States, of course only if we can get all the visas in order. Actually – and here’s a scoop for you – it looks like we’ll be performing at Finnfest in San Diego next summer. We are going to make sure ahead of time that we have every possible visa and permission slip in taken care of before we even get on the plane. Our problem with the U.S. Immigration Services was really the result of misunderstanding. We weren’t sure what exactly what documents were needed in advance. I’m sure we won’t have any problems this time around. During the same trip I’d like to swing through the North Country and hook up with our friends there.

Immigration is a hot topic these days, both in the U.S. and in Finland. As someone who has spent a few years working with music that is pretty much the product of people who have migrated to a new homeland for one reason or another, do you have any personal insights or opinions concerning the movement of people from one land to another and politics of immigration?

I’ve approached these immigrant songs with consideration and compassion. I know what it feels like to be in a strange land and not really understand the language – you know - the feeling that others might think that you are some kind of idiot for not being able to speak the language properly, and feeling yourself that you are kind of stupid for not being able to express yourself properly. I realized how important ones own language is. Being with the Haapala boys in their own home up there in Upper Michigan and speaking Finnish – it felt like a bit of Finland was right there. Take the immigrants in Finland, from Somalia for example: How did they feel when they arrived? Lonely and lost, not having fluency in the Finnish language? But when they are at home, or with other immigrants from their own country, a part of their homeland is born again. I feel that first and foremost we need to think of immigrants as people. We need to try and understand how it feels to be in their shoes. Sometimes entire families end up moving from one place to another, for whatever reason – the future of an entire family may be at stake when the decision is made to leave their home country. Working on the Lännen-Jukka project, meeting Finnish emigrants and their descendants has helped me think about this whole immigration thing. We have all been immigrants at some point in history – half a million Finns made the decision to emigrate in not-so-distant history. Ultimately this project has helped me understand what it might be like to be a stranger in a strange land.

The Polkabilly Rebels performing Sun kloorin klooring halleluuja at Tanssisali Lutakko:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Piparit ja sinihomejuusto/Ginger snaps and blue cheese

I'm not exactly sure who came up with this combination but I ran across it here in Finland. Blue cheese and ginger snaps. Any blue cheese will do - Danish blue, Stilton, Roquefort,Gorgonzola, or if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Finland, a nice Finnish blue like Aura Gold.

Aura Gold by Valio and ginger snaps by Auran Pikkuleipä

Blue cheese and ginger snaps

Friday, December 17, 2010

Malli kuvitellusta rakenteesta/Model of an imaginary structure - by Jaakko Niemelä

Malli kuvitellusta rakenteesta / Model of an imaginary structure is a kinetic light/shadow installation by Jaakko Niemelä, located at the corner of Vapaudenkatu and Kilpisenkatu in downtown Jyväskylä.

Here is a video of the installation, followed by a couple of photographs.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Leipäjuusto is a traditional Finnish fresh cheese. Originally made at home from the milk of a cow which has recently birthed a calf, leipäjuusto is now produced comercially with normal milk. Some claim that the flavor of the modern product is not as rich as that of traditional stuff, but since I have never tasted the old-time version, I am unable to verify this.

Leipäjuusto by Mäkiahon Juustola Oy

Leipäjuusto has traditionally been served as is, or as an accompaniment to coffee. A more recent serving variation is to warm it up with either fresh cloudberries or cloudberry jam. It also works well in salads as an alternative to feta-type cheese.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lapin Liha kylmäsavu hevosenpaisti/ Lapin Liha cold-smoked horse roast

Lapin Liha makes a pretty tasty cold-smoked horse roast. My only complaint with their product is that they could be using domestic Finnish horse meat as opposed to meat imported from South America.

I bought this product from the meat counter at Mestarin Herkku in Jyväskylä, but I guess it is also available pre-packaged in the deli-meat coolers at most major Finnish supermarkets.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ice skating on Lake Jyväsjärvi

This post is from last year. I figured I'd post it again since the weather has been so cold this year that the Jyväsjärvi skating track is already open and waiting for you to get out and try out your skating skills. According to the Kotakahvila blog, the cafe won't be open until the 6th of January, although since I haven't been down there to check things out this year, I'm not sure if this information is correct or not.

After a long wait the ice skating track is open on Lake Jyväsjärvi. It is most conveniently accessed from the harbor area. I'm not exactly sure but I would guess that the track is at least a few kilometers long if you skate the full loop. There is also a cross country ski track that follows along next to the skating track.

The Kotakahvila offers hot beverages as well as kicksled rentals. According to the sign, the sleds rent for 5€/hour.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Finnish Cultural Assimilation Lesson # 33 - Rautalanka

Yet another installment in my series designed to assist the immigrant to Finland in their quest to assimilate themselves into the host culture.

Listen to the radio for an hour in Finland and you'll hear Rautalanka or music with its roots in Rautalanka at least a few times.

Rautalanka (iron wire) has its origins in the music of The Shadows from Britain and The Ventures from the U.S. Rautalanka is distinguishable by its clear melodies, upbeat tempo, and heavy use of tape echo effects with minimal overdrive and virtually no fuzz.

The melodies of rautalanka tend to be in minor keys and being based on Finnish and Slavic folk tunes, can be a bit heavy on the melancholy.

The golden age of Rautalanka in its purest form - two electric guitars, one electric bass, drums, no vocals - was from 1960 to 1963. Rautalanka forms the basis for much of popular music in Finland. Iskelmä (also know as schlager), a type of Finnish popular music often features Rautalanka guitar. The melodic Finnish heavy metal that the world has come to know has its roots in the rautalanka style.

Some Rautalanka videos for your enjoyment.

The Sounds - Emma

Emma as played by The Sounds was the first true Finnish Rautalanka hit.

The Strangers - Kolme Kitaraa (Three Guitars)

The Strangers were the first rautalanka group in Finland. This clip is from the clip from the 1963 film Launtai Leikit which was directed by Mauno Kurkvaara.

An example of Rautalanka guitar style in iskelmä-type popular music:

Topi Sorsakoski & Agents - Olet Rakkain (cover of And I Love her by Lennon/McCartney)

This song features the guitar of Esa Pulliainen, most likely Finland's greatest guitarist.

An example of Rautalanka metal:

Viikate - Leikatun Konjakin Salaisuus (The Secret of Cut Cognac) (cut cognac refers to Jaloviina, a much-consumed Finnish alcohol product)