Saturday, February 22, 2014

Diversity in Finland part 2 of 3, By the Numbers

When Americans hear that Finns have a better education system (if you believe the PISA rankings...), they often dismiss it because "Finland is just so homogeneous."  While this to me sounds racist (it seems based on the notion that "diversity" is negative, and "diversity" often means non-white people), I was curious in taking a deeper look at what exactly is the "diversity" in both the USA and Finland.  Here is an extremely brief look at some of the minority groups here in Finland.

Sorry if it kind of rambles and is disconnected - I spent a lot of time looking things up and ended up just writing what seemed interesting.  The next post will put some of this in context.

Finland's minority populations = ~10%
Population percentages are based on a total Finland population of 5,426,674 (Statistics Finland).  Also, I'm not as knowledgeable to minority issues as I should be (though I'm trying!), so if I say something stupid or offensive or my tone comes off that way, call me out on it.

Finlandssvensk - 5.4% [based on # Swedish speakers; data from Statistics Finland]
As I mentioned in the previous post, the Swedish-speaking Finns (who call themselves Finlandssvensk) are 100% Finnish, but are in many ways distinct from the rest of the Finnish population.  I include them in my count of diversity here because they speak a different language at home.  However, it is important to note that they are definitely part of the "mainstream" culture and are not nearly as marginalized as minority groups often are in most countries.

Unofficial Finlandssvensk flag, according to Wikipedia
Sami - <0.1% [based on linguistic data from Statistics Finland]
NOTE: I have zero experience with Sami (also written Saami or Sámi) people, as they tend to live in the north, so this is just based on what I have learned/read.  As far as I know, they look and sound more or less like other Finns, so perhaps I just have not recognized them.

Sami (Saami in Finnish, Sámi in their language) are the officially-recognized indigenous people of Finland.  They generally live in the north and are traditionally nomadic reindeer (caribou, for any Canadian friends out there!) herders.  Politically, they are official Finnish citizens and members of an indigenous minority, but they do not have any special legal treatment as far as I know (unlike Native Americans in the USA who live on reservations that are for some purposes considered foreign nations).  Because the Sami have been around since long before the Nordic nation states they currently live in, their distribution spans across those national borders, which leads to all sorts of difficulties as they are treated differently in each country.

Though the Sami are recognized officially in Finland, they do not have the same political status as the Finlandssvensk, and it is still difficult for them to receive education in their native language.  However, at least part of the reason for this is the difficult associated with providing such instruction due to the low number of speakers.  Furthermore, there are several modern Sami languages (all belong to the same Finno-Ugric language family as Finnish and Hungarian, but my Finnish friends say that they can not natively understand any of these other languages), reducing the number of speakers of each even more.  Further complicating matters is the fact that among the 9 most common Sami languages, 6 have different written languages and the remaining 3 have none.  Crazy/awesome!

Flag for the indigenous Sami people (source: Wikipedia). They are a people that spans other political borders
Romani - 0.2% [source: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health]
SIDE NOTE: Americans would know the Romani as Gypsies, though I have been told that term is rude and "Traveling People" is more politically correct in English.  It is interesting how when your country does not have a certain culture, that culture becomes a socially-acceptable character - just as we do not have a large Romani population and therefore feel okay dressing up as a stereotypical Gypsy, Finns are totally okay dressing up as stereotypical Native Americans, complete with headdresses and "war paint".  That is totally NOT OKAY in the USA, just as I'm sure it would be really offensive to dress up as a Roma person here.  I still am shocked when I see people here in full-on "Indian brave" costumes.

The Romani have a history of oppression in Finland (and I guess the rest of Europe) and could legally be killed on sight when their people arrived to Finland from Sweden in the 1600s.  Their situation improved with time and they were given full Finnish citizenship when Finland gained independence in 1917.  However, they were forcibly assimilated by "adoption" of children in the first half of the 1900s (I think this is a sugar-coated way of saying government-sanctioned kidnapping).  Finally, in the 1970s they began to be accepted more and more, and became a fully-protected "traditional minority" of Finland in the 1990s and early 2000s.  One of the modern difficulties faced by the Romani is that many of them, especially women, wear distinct traditional clothing and are therefore immediately recognizable, and discrimination can occur immediately.

I know very little beyond this about the Romani people, so if you are curious to learn more I would recommend checking out information from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Flag of the Romani people, again no matter which country they live in (source Wikipedia)
Immigrants - 4.9% [based on # speakers of languages listed above; data from Statistics Finland]
Finland accepts many fewer immigrants and refugees than its friend/neighbor/rival/enemy Sweden.  However, Finland really tries hard to make sure that its immigrants are able to integrate into Finnish society and seems to view this as more important than taking huge numbers of people.  There are lots of support services available to immigrants, and all languages that have at least three pupils at a school get to have class in that language for at least a few hours per week.

As a native-speaker of English, and especially a white American with a very understandable accent (so I'm told), I am a very welcome foreigner here.  American culture is very prevalent, and many Finns are trying to speak English as well as they can, so people are very happy to talk to me to learn about my culture and language (again, this is what I have been told).  However, some of my friends have had different experiences, and even 100% Finnish friends who do not appear as purely Finnish as others experience discrimination.
Native languages in Finland, and their respective share of both the Finnish population and the immigrant population.  Data from Statistics Finland.  Sorry it looks so ugly...

Planning for immigrants is a relatively new task for Finland.  Statistics Finland has more cool data.

Comparison to the USA
NOTE: It is always difficult to compare the entire USA to any other country because all the parts are so different.  Also, its population is 59 times higher than Finland's.

The most striking thing to me is that in Finland, the largest minority group is in fact a group of native Finns, the Finlandssvensk (though if things continue as they have been, as seen in the graph above, then this will not be true for long!).  This is interesting because though they have a different mother tongue, they are very much part of the mainstream culture and able to work the political machinery that keeps them there.  The closest the USA comes to a group like the Finlandssvensk is, I think, the Jewish population, which makes up around 1-2% of the US population.  Like the Finlandssvensk, American Jews generally speak an additional language (Hebrew in this case, though usually not as fluently as Finlandssvensk speak Swedish), are more educated on average, are generally white (important because it makes them less identifiable and therefore less easy targets), and know how to work the political system (while not all American Jews are pro-Israel, I doubt that America would be as strongly tied to Israel without the political pressure of those that are, but then again I do not know huge amounts about politics).

One of the big differences seems to be that, based on that graph showing a sharp upturn in immigrants to Finland in the 1990s, most people with foreign background either came to Finland themselves or were born to people who did.  Contrast this to the USA where most people have a foreign background, but for many of them it is way back in their family history (a note to my foreign friends - many Americans LOVE talking about their family ancestry, so it is a great conversation starter when you meet one of us).

Overall, Finland definitely seems a more welcoming place than the USA for new immigrants, but in some ways it might be harder for them to become truly integrated into the country beyond just becoming a citizen.  There are many programs to help out with language, and of course there is the huge social welfare "safety net" with many important services available, even to those with little or no income.  However, it seems very difficult for even highly skilled foreigners to get jobs in Finland, as fluent Finnish is generally one of the minimum requirements.  My foreign friends who are doing their masters here can only find jobs cleaning cruise ships for pocket change (or if they are fortunate to be a native English speaker, tutoring English).  A further example of the difference in job access to highly skilled foreigners - none of my professors here are foreigners (though there have been some visiting professors from abroad), but in many large US universities Americans might even be in the minority.

I'm having trouble finding numbers to compare to the graphs above for Finland, so I will just go with bullet points of what I can find:
  • 21% of people living in the USA speak a language other than English at home
    • Of these, 60% speak English "very well".  This means that 8% of people living in the USA speak English less than "very well"
  • 15% of people living in the USA were born outside the USA
    • Of these, 46% have become citizens.  This means that 8% of people living in the USA are not citizens
Most common heritages for people living in the USA.  While Finland has modern immigrants, US immigration has been part of its history, and so many people born there today identify as American, but have a cultural history as well.  Data source: US Census data (EDITED to include nonwhite ancestries that somehow were not in the original data I found.  I still cannot find a more detailed listing of Black ancestry...).
Major heritage groups in the USA that we call "races" because I guess that is what happens when the immigration was far in the past. Source: US Census data

No comments:

Post a Comment