The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? led by the Prime Minister’s Office. Today we have the huge privilege of having Enrique Tessieri as our second interviewee.
Enrique Tessieri is a journalist and sociologist who writes and researches immigration topics like Finnish immigration to Argentina. Tessieri has lectured on South American history at Turku University as well as written books and articles on immigration. He was a researcher at the Migration Institute of Turku and had worked as a foreign correspondent in Finland, Spain, Italy, Argentina and Colombia for the Financial Times, Buenos Aires Herald, BBC, Bridge News and others. Presently employed at Otava Folk High School, he is also the editor at Migrant Tales – one of the foremost blogs in Finland on immigration related issues.
Enjoy the interview!
WW: Hi Enrique! Can you tell us more about yourself?
Enrique: I am a sociologist who worked as a journalist for about 20 years as a foreign correspondent for newspapers like BridgeNews and the Financial Times in countries like Finland, Spain, Italy, Argentina and Colombia.
One of my favourite topics is cultural diversity and immigration, which I have researched as well.
WW: Why did you initially choose to live in Finland?
Enrique: I chose to live in Finland because of my Finnish roots. Even if I moved to Finland permanently in 1978, every ten years I move abroad to work. I do this because it is a good way to gain experience and new ideas.
WW: What do you see as your “place” in Finland when you were staying here?
Enrique: My “place” in Finland is to work for a successful culturally and ethnically diverse society that abides by Nordic values like social equality.
Finland is a very racialized country. We have to change this. Immigration and cultural diversity are positive, not negative, matters.
Too many Finns, I suspect, see cultural diversity as a threat. This is unfortunate and costly. We lose out on opportunities.
WW: What was the most important and meaningful event or experience that happened in Finland?
Enrique: The most important and meaningful event was when I discovered that Finland didn’t consider me to be a Finn despite the fact that my mother is Finnish.
Even if we have Finnish citizenship, we are not considered “real” Finns by some institutions like the police service, which label us as “persons with foreign background.”
What is “a person with foreign background” anyway? Is that a place, a country, or what?
WW: What was the happiest moment in your life in Finland?
Enrique: The happiest moments of my life in Finland were when I visited my grandparents in the country every year.
Rural Mikkeli was very different from hot and smoggy Los Angeles. It was those unforgettable summers that brought me back to live in Finland.
WW: Can you tell us what are the top 3 challenges you or foreigners you know have faced in Finland?
Enrique: The top-three challenges that foreigners face in Finland is to challenge discrimination and prejudice.
We should strive to build a society where difference is seen as a good matter. We need to teach future generations of Finns that cultural diversity is a good matter and that there is no such thing as a “prototype Finn.”
Finns come in many ethnic and cultural backgrounds these days. The three challenges here are therefore:
(1) Building a society that it true to our Nordic ideals;
(2) Challenging racism; and
WW: Do you think there are solutions or better alternatives to how we think about these three challenges?
Enrique: Finland is a modern society that has built a successful welfare state that is on the defensive these days.
We have the tools and the knowledge as a society to build a successful culturally diverse society where people are treated equally irrespective of their background.
WW: We know that you started a website for migrants, “Migrant Tales”. What was the story and motivation behind this website?
Enrique: The first story published in Migrant Tales was in May 2007.
The blog has been important in dialoging and meeting people who are also involved in promoting cultural diversity.
Migrant Tales’ reason for being is simple: We are a blog community that debates some of the salient issues facing immigrants and minorities in Finland and elsewhere.
It aims to be a voice for those whose views and situation are understood poorly and heard faintly by the media, politicians, and public.
WW: Some people criticised the idea of “racism in Finland” as mere sensationalism. Do you agree? Why and why not?
Enrique: There are many forms of racism and discrimination in Finland.
Denial is one argument used by those who play down racism in Finland and elsewhere. The question we should ask is why do some of us deny racism.
Why is it denied at our schools by the police service and other institutions?
WW: You have been rather vocal with some of your criticisms of Finland. Were there any negative repercussions to this?
Enrique: I have received death threats and other forms of threats against me.
The first death threat I got was in 1991 after writing a story for Apu magazine on asylum seekers in Mikkeli, the city where I now live.
WW: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland, Finns and foreigners in Finland? Can you share some of them with us?
Enrique: There are many urban tales but maybe one attitude is the biggest culprit: the perception that migration and cultural diversity are negative matters and therefore should be challenged.
How can anyone build bridges in this country if you are constantly under suspicion and near-constantly reminded that you are an eternal outsider?
Foreigners as well should be more vocal and aim to become active citizens of our society. Those people who don’t want you heard will be more than happy to see you collect welfare and live on the outer fringes of society.
WW: What are your dreams and visions for the future?
Enrique: My vision of Finland is a simple one: I want to live in a society where everyone, irrespective of their background, are treated with dignity and given opportunities to build a good future.
WW: Finland would be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams and visions for Finland’s next 100 years?
Enrique: The Finland we’ll see in the next 100 years will be very different from today.
Let’s hope that we can build a prosperous society based on noble Nordic values like social equality and empathy.
WW: What is one advice you might have for aspiring foreigners who want to come to Finland?
Enrique: Just do it! Don’t let anyone sway you from your goal and dreams.
We hope you have enjoyed this interview. The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? led by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photograph courtesy of Enrique.