Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Ethnic Identity among Second-Generation Finnish Immigrant Youth in Canada: Some Voices and Perspectives

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Ethnic Identity among Second-Generation Finnish Immigrant Youth in Canada: Some Voices and Perspectives

Article excerpt


This study examines the ethnic identity experiences of second-generation Finnish immigrant youth in Canada. The study draws from interviews conducted among second-generation Finnish immigrant youth in Ottawa. How these individuals identify with the Finnish ethnic group and engage in ethnic culture may play a pivotal role in the continuance of Finnish culture in Canada. Therefore, it is necessary to understand not only whether second-generation Finnish immigrants identify with their ethnic group, but also how they do so. We found that the youth identified with their Finnish ethnicity on a symbolic level, participating occasionally in the local ethnic community, but not living within ethnic culture on a day-to-day basis. They identify strongly with being Canadian and have an appreciation of multiculturalism and contrast it with Finnish society when they visit Finland.


Cette etude vise a explorer les experiences d'identite ethnique telles que vecues par les immigrants finlandais de deuxieme generation au Canada. La maniere selon laquelle ils s'identifient au groupe ethnique finnois et participent a sa culture peut jouer un role central dans la perpetuation de la culture finnoise au Canada. II est donc essentiel de comprendre non seulement si les immigrants finnois de deuxieme generation s'identifient a leur groupe ethnique, mais aussi comment ils le font. Selon nos resultats, I'identite ethnique finnoise chez les jeunes est d'ordre symbolique, dans la mesure ou ils participent occasionnellement aux activites de leur communaute locale, mais n'integrent pas leur culture ethnique a leur quotidien. Par ailleurs, ils s'identifient fortement comme Canadiens, apprecient le multiculturalisme et I'opposent a la societe finlandaise Iorsqu'ils vont en Finlande.


Finnish immigration to Canada began in the late nineteenth century and continued until the 1970s (Lindstrom-Best 1985). The largest number of Finns came between 1900 and 1914, when Finland underwent major economic and political transformation, which affected socialist supporters greatly. As Laine (1989) notes, the first cultural societies, such as the Finnish Society of Toronto, were concerned with socialist political activities. These Finns formed newspapers and sports organizations (Eldund 1987), but were in conflict politically with mainstream Canada. While few in number, religiously-minded, right-wing Finns also formed cultural groups. In those times, men often found employment as industrial workers in mining, lumber, the railway, and other areas (ibid.). Women commonly worked as domestics, supporting Finnish lumber work camps or running restaurants and boarding houses (Lindstrom-Best 1988).

The second period of large-scale immigration occurred in the 1920s and 1930s, which brought many more right-wing Finns to Canada, forming the basis for the Lutheran church-going community with which the third wave of immigrants joined post-World War II (Laine 1979). Laine (1989) suggests that left-wing organizations became less popular, largely because of negative perceptions by the Canadian mainstream, but also because the younger generations of Finnish Canadians were better integrated and increasingly socially mobile. In the same way, as decades passed, immigrants from Finland were more educated and no longer concentrated in labour-intensive professions or ethnic settlements. As a result, they participated in ethnic organizations in much fewer numbers.

Scholars suggest that transnational individuals are connected to both their countries of origin or heritage as well as the country they live in (Hornberger 2007), through increased interconnectedness as a result of technological developments (Satzewitch 2007). Saarinen (2002) asserts that as a result of the fading Finnish ethnic institutions over the last decades and the increased social mobility in contemporary times of the descendants of the immigrant generation, new ways to engage in Finnish ethnic identity have emerged, largely due to their transnational ties. …

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