While a few of the interviewees did say to have suffered some minor racist acts, most of them said they have found racism rifer elsewhere in Finland than in Rovaniemi.
Although Finland discourages all forms of discrimination against any individual or community irrespective of faith, ethnicity, nationality, colour or any other feature, the immigrants living in Rovaniemi believe the society here is yet to get rid of racism to the fullest extent.
The capital of Finnish Lapland which houses people of 96 different nationalities has always been a champion of multilingualism and multiculturalism. In line with that tradition, Rovaniemi is taking part in the ongoing Anti-racism Week in coordination with the Finnish Red Cross. The week coincides with the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21.
On the eve of the week, the Daily Finland interviewed a number of immigrants living in Rovaniemi to assess the state of racism in the city and came up with the following mixed reactions in return. While a few of the interviewees did say to have suffered some minor racist acts, most of them said they have found racism rifer elsewhere in Finland than in Rovaniemi.
The majority of the interviewees were of the opinion that the most effective way of addressing racism is through promoting cultural awareness and patience and tolerance to co-existent.
Gabriel Chavez, an American language teacher at the University of Lapland, has been living in Finland with his family for 33 years now. He said racism is something he has rarely experienced. “I have always felt very welcome, and maybe it’s because I’m in the university community where there is a lot of racial interactions”, said Chavez.
He, however, mentioned of encountering “resentment to foreign participation” in some social settings such as a sauna, where the local people may behave in an inconsiderate way. In his view, one of the ways to address such phenomena is cultural assimilation.
Alice Tran, 24, a Vietnamese postgraduate student at the University of Lapland, said, of all the places she has lived in Finland, Rovaniemi is “the most welcoming one” in terms of people’s attitude towards the immigrants. However, Tran shared an event in which she had suffered derogatory remarks made by a local about her ethnicity.
Tran thinks, although racism is bad, it occurs naturally when people are confronted with the fear of the unknown. “I think we should not force people to co-exist, but accept each other as equal human beings.”
Kemo Bojang from Gambia, who owns the Asian Säästö Market in Rovaniemi, feels, sometimes racism is instigated by “our own behaviour, which can cause retaliation in the form of racism”. Bojang recommends “respecting the locals and their culture”, because “then you know how to deal with people and racism, when confronted with it”.
The Gambian immigrant entrepreneur said he did experience racism based on his colour in the southern Finland, but not in Rovaniemi. In fact, he said, many of his Finnish friends and the locals have assisted him in his business and are his loyal customers, too.
Another interviewee, Esther Edem from Nigeria, a professional football player who now plays for the RoPS Naiset team, said, sports is a good way of addressing racism. “Sport brings people together in a social setting and exposes them to each other’s culture and ways of life.”
Edem said she gets along well with her teammates, saying, “We are like a family”, although it took time to know each other.
The worst form of racism Edem experienced in Rovaniemi was when someone “spat in her face and shouted, go back to your country”. She just ignored the incident and walked away.
Edem said, except that incident, most people in Rovaniemi have been very kind and assisting to her. Speaking about any other difficulty she might have faced as an immigrant, she said, “As long as you obey the laws of the country, you will not face any other difficulties.” Edem does look forward to living in Rovaniemi.
Francis Wu, an Indian restaurant owner, and his partner Mot Panes, an English teacher from the Philippines, said they have not experienced racism in Rovaniemi directly, but they did suffer “unfair treatment and inadequate response from the police authorities” in the past, resulting in their restaurant Rang-Mahal being robbed. The couple feel this might have happened due to their being foreign nationals.
Finally, in a somewhat philosophic tone, Wu advised: “If someone acts in a racist way towards you, show that you are a better person.”
In observance of the week, the Finnish Red Cross will formally recognise the communities, businesses, and individuals who have helped to reduce racist prejudice and promote racial equality. The recognition will come in the form of a prize to be handed over in a ceremony at 4.00 in the afternoon on March 23 at the Revontuli shopping centre. The award will be handed over by Janette Grönfors, coordinator of the anti-racism programme.
City of Rovaniemi- Daily Finland Report