Finnish-Americans have strong feelings and attitudes towards Finland. The first and second generation immigrant community is either very old or already gone. Third- and fourth-generation Finnish-Americans rarely speak Finnish. Many Finnish-Americans have never visited modern Finland. Remarkably enough, most still have strong feelings towards Finland. They indentify with the country. The attitudes towards Finland have largely been developed from the memories of those who immigrated to the United States, modified by world events. The majority of the immigrant ancestors of today’s Finnish-Americans arrived prior to the 1920s, a time when Finland was newly independent, very nationalistic in its outlook, only partially industrialized and still quite poor by western standards. The two wars fought with Russia/Soviet Union were important events shaping the Finnish-American attitude towards Finland.
During the past fifty years the general standard of living in the West has increased dramatically, allowing for more first-hand contact between Finnish-Americans and Finland. As the decades have passed and Finland has moved to the status of a fully industrialized, modern, politically neutral nation, Finnish-Americans have been surprised by their experiences with Finns and Finland. Coming to terms with today’s Finland, a highly prosperous member of the European Union, is not always a comfortable experience.
A rather idealistic view of Finland has continued through the generations. A litmus test of the these attitudes could be seen with the reaction of Finnish-Americans to a 60 Minutes news story entitled “Tango Finlandia,” first broadcast in 1993. The account describes Finns as a rather depressed, non-communicative people, who rarely tell each other “I love you.” This was offensive to many Finnish-Americans, who thought that it was untrue. But Finns, and Finnish-Americans who had lived in Finland, knew that the story was accurate and were generally not offended.
This paper will follow the changes in the way that Finnish-Americans have viewed Finland and Finns over the past century.
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