Finns in the United States: A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration

Finns in the United States: A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration

by Auvo Kostiainen (Editor)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611861068
Publisher: Michigan State University Press
Publication date: 03/01/2014
Edition description: 1
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,283,869
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Auvo Kostiainen is Professor at the University of Turku in Finland.

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A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration

By Auvo Kostiainen

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2014 Michigan State University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61186-106-8


Updating and Rethinking the Finnish American Story

Jon Saari

As written history is a collaboration of the living and the dead, it behooves us to examine the essential elements—the actors, the sources, the narrative themes, and the context for the stories—with a sharp eye on the living historians, who after all shape the tale and give it significance. The story told thus far—almost entirely by Finnish North Americans and Finnish nationals—of Finnish–North American history is rich and distinctive, enough to whet the appetite of all kinds of readers; a wider appeal to non-Finns, transcending the smaller and narrower ethnic audience, may yet secure the relevance of this story for the future.

Actors: The Dead and the Living

The past is stored in archives as well as artifacts and living human memories. And at least for the immigrants of the Great Migration (1880–1924), it is now a story told by the living about the dead. Once most past actors are gone, there is no more back talk, no more in-your-face argument about the meaning of the past. At a Finnish American conference in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1974, young scholars in their thirties could still engage strong personalities, often second-generation Finnish Americans who knew the past directly through lived experience. I recall a conference at Northern Michigan University in the 1970s where Ernie Koski, the Työmies (Workers) editor and unrepentant Stalinist, faced offwith Raymond Wargelin, a former president of Suomi College and the Suomi Synod. I also befriended Carl Ross, a former Finnish American Communist who did repent and turn his attention to historical studies of labor and women. They are all gone now, leaving traces in writings for us survivors to decipher and reinterpret.

Finns in the United States: A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration is an updated history of Finnish North America. It culminates the stage of historical writing begun in the 1960s and 1970s, when large numbers of professional historians engaged seriously with the immigrant past. A virtue is that the editor, Auvo Kostiainen, enlisted work from both established scholars and emergent younger voices; a sadness is that the number of scholars is shrinking, both among the old and the new. In its beginnings, this new professional history had active centers in Finland among graduate students at the universities of Turku and Helsinki and among third-generation scholars in the United States. A troika represents the original core of Finnish scholars: Reino Kero, Keijo Virtanen, and Auvo Kostiainen, all from the University of Turku, specializing respectively in emigration demographics and settlement patterns, return migration, and leftist organizations. One other Finnish scholar was later a graduate student at the University of Turku: Hannu Heinilä (cooperative movement). Representing North American scholars are a group of senior researchers (Arnold Alanen, landscape historian; Peter Kivisto, sociologist; and the late Paul George Hummasti, cultural historian), as well as several younger researchers (Gary Kaunonen, labor historian; Erik Hieta, cultural historian). Several Finland-born researchers with extensive North American experience round out the contributors: Johanna Leinonen and Mika Roinila.

As evidenced by their surnames, all of these scholars have some direct personal tie to this Finnish– North American story; even among Finnish nationals, North American family connections are common. All are to a degree insiders via shared ethnicity. But this personal and shared ethnic identification with the story obscures the degree to which they are all outsiders as well. Access to primary materials, both linguistically and culturally, is problematic. Older Finnish scholars have excellent Finnish-language skills, and can learn Finglish and bureaucratic Finnish as well through their research; but they sometimes struggle to convey those skills in idiomatic written or spoken English, and are less conversant with the later nonimmigrant generations. North American scholars, unless they are immigrants or bilingual bicultural members of the second generation, have more aggravated problems researching in Finnish and communicating their results in Finnish. Old Country languages typically are lost in the third generation, and lacking Finnish-language skills, one can do only the most rudimentary research on any aspect of the story before 1940.

When one looks beyond language to cultural experience, the outsider predicament is even more acute. No contemporary scholar, Finnish or North American, can reconstitute the actual immigrant experience, even if they themselves are immigrants of a post–World War II vintage. Historians project their imaginations onto past actors and use present-day theories and ideologies to make sense of things. Let me illustrate the problems with the work of Gary Kaunonen, who wrote on religious activities of the Finnish immigrants for this volume. Kaunonen is a labor historian who wrote an honors thesis on Communist leader Gus Hall in 2002 and thereafter his M.A. thesis and Ph.D. dissertation on the mining conflicts in the Copper Country of Michigan that led to the big strike of 1913. In his Finns in Michigan, Kaunonen said he wanted to avoid a whitewashed ethnic history and tell the good, the bad, and the ugly. But when the conceptual framework used is a bottom-up approach appropriate for labor history (class, industrial setting, power relationships, resistance), the resulting perspective on religion can be distorting. In his article in this volume, the Suomi Synod fails at an attempted "power grab" in America, and its "soul saving" is basically a subterfuge. This outsider's perspective is an awkward fit for those who view this history through the eyes of religious faith. Kaunonen often cites Douglas Ollila Jr. in his account. Ollila, an ordained Lutheran pastor, wrote a history of the synod in 1963 in rich detail and nuance, from primary sources in Finnish, and he was often very critical of the Lutheran church from the inside. Kaunonen, as an outsider to this church history, understandably does not match Ollila in his nuance nor sources, but is he a fair-minded critic? When access to primary sources and actual experience is minimal, the storytelling easily tilts toward the ideological or theoretical leanings of the teller, even with a professionally trained historian.

The issue of a "whitewashed ethnic history" points to the historian's responsibility to tell the story whole, not only in a positive light. In the 1910s and 1920s, the felt need to bend the storyline toward positive contributions to the newly adopted countries in North America was born out of intense pressure to assimilate and be good citizens. In reaction to the Mongolian descent issue, to popular images of bar fighting and knife wielding, and to the prominent role of Finnish Americans in the radical labor movement from 1900 into the 1930s, some Finnish American writers produced works that emphasized the positive contributions of the ethnic group to American life. Assimilation was swift, they argued, and troublemakers few. By the 1950s this "fileo-pietistic view," as it was later derogatorily labeled, dominated, and the leftist tradition had been eclipsed from history. It returned with a vengeance in the 1970s, however, as the Red Finns were rediscovered by the third generation, led by Michael Karni, among others. In an ironic twist, the positive contributions of Finnish Americans to American labor history were touted. The story was rebalanced, but the contribution-to-American-life framework only slowly receded. The commemoration of past actors and actions—nurtured by a sense of belonging personally to this story—was still a strongly felt need by third-generation Finnish American historians, less by Finnish historians.

Sources: The Saved, the Lost, the Untapped

Without external sources there can be no history except what is dredged out of our own unreliable memories. These external sources are principally two types: documents and artifacts. The ravages of time and weather must be held at bay: paper ages, log buildings collapse, letters are tossed, monuments wear away, rag rugs are recycled to the sauna. Timely maintenance and selective preservation are in order. Professional and amateur historians have assumed this responsibility over the last sixty years; the essential record of documents and artifacts is there for the viewing, and is increasingly more accessible over the internet.

In his historiographical essay, Auvo Kostiainen has ably documented when preservation became a sustained effort, starting with the Minnesota Finnish American Historical Society and its twenty branches in 1945–50. History of the Finns in Minnesota, compiled by a Finnish journalist in Finnish, followed in 1957; Michiganin Suomalaisten Historia, also in Finnish, appeared a decade later, and was written by the archivist at Suomi College. The college created the first archive of Finnish American records and artifacts in 1932, but they were properly maintained only after the establishment of the Finnish American Heritage Center at what later became Finlandia University. By then the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) at the University of Minnesota had become an important repository for twentieth-century Finnish American materials, with the help of research assistants Michael Karni and Timo Riippa.

In Finland, research into migration history got its start in the Department of General History at the University of Turku. A strong materials acquisition program, focusing on letters sent home from North America as well as genealogical information from steamship records and official documents, provided the foundation for this research. Finnish ministries actively participated in funding these efforts. From these seeds emerged in 1974 the Institute of Migration in Turku, an independent institution designed to document and publish research on worldwide migration-related issues, but particularly on the Finnish diaspora.

Motivated individuals were important to all these early efforts. John I. Kolehmainen did pioneering bibliographical work in the 1940s at Suomi College, and donated his extensive Finnish book collection to Northern Michigan University in the 1970s. A. William Hoglund, whose 1960 narrative history set important themes for the Finnish American story (1880–1920), was a tireless collector of books, pamphlets, plays, and newspapers from the immigrant generation during the 1970s and 1980s. He promoted the microfilming of perishable print sources and stressed collaboration among the collection-builders in Turku, Minneapolis, and Hancock, Michigan. He donated his own massive collection to the IHRC several years before his death in 2008. Vilho Niitemaa, in Turku, corralled promising Ph.D. graduate students in the 1970s and enlisted them to research the largely untold story of the Finnish emigrants in a world diaspora, whose most significant destination outside Europe was North America. These graduate students, among them Reino Kero, Keijo Virtanen, and Auvo Kostiainen, in turn, as professors in their own right, have overseen seventy-two M.A. theses (sixty-four on the history of Finns in the United States) and nine doctoral dissertations. An extensive and ongoing collection of books and articles, many of them untranslated, continues to be generated in Finland on migration history.

The preserved primary historical record, including the interpretive books built upon it, is large enough to tell the Finnish American story well, with detail and nuance. In this volume, many types of sources are used, from fictional accounts to oral interviews, from newspapers to census data, from organizational records to photographs. But one must ask if this volume is the final hurrah for a generation that has created a new professional history for Finnish America. Will the successor scholars, future readers, and funding patrons be there for this story to continue to be told and retold in North America? While this volume is an important achievement, years in the making, the prospects for the future are worrisome. A personal note from a regional university in an old settlement area illustrates the problem. I taught history at Northern Michigan University (NMU) in Marquette for thirty-four years and developed a course called The Finnish Immigrant in America. The course was eliminated after my retirement in 2005, and replaced by a general immigration history course. The situation is similar with two NMU colleagues—the sociologist and filmmaker Michael Loukinen and the mathematician and music patron John Kiltinen: few if any successors with an interest in Finnish America. Together over the past forty years we three, among others in the community, have been catalysts for much Finnish American activity, including two large Marquette FinnFests in 1996 and 2005. If these trends are widespread, what do they portend for the future?

Narratives: The Separation of Finnish and Finnish–North American History

A history is not a chronology of events, not a scrapbook of activities, nor an encyclopedia of everything known about a subject. It is a mind creating patterns of meaning out of surviving sources from the past. These patterns of meaning over time tend to reflect deep and intractable predicaments that constrained all the past actors, and it is the historian's task to find those predicaments and to make them the heart of the storyline. In United States immigration history, the predicaments during the Great Migration focused on the uprooting of individual immigrants and their subsequent conflicted feelings about the old and new countries; on the creation of organizations that would serve their felt needs as well as meet the pressures and constraints of the new land and society; and upon the inevitable adaptations caused by children and grandchildren within the ethnic community through generational succession and the absence of new immigrants in large numbers after 1924.

Fundamental to this perspective is that there were no Finnish clones in North America. From the beginning there were two histories in the making: Finnish history on the margins of northern Europe, and Finnish American history in the settlement areas of North America. There were of course interconnections, comings and goings, and as Peter Kivisto demonstrates, even transnational communities in some aspects of Finnish American religious and industrial life where the two histories were joined temporarily together. I would argue that hybridization, however, was continuous because immigrants could not avoid strangers in an unfamiliar new world. They knew those of other tongues up close—suspicious officials, contemptuous mine bosses, other foreigners in their multiethnic communities—who made claims on their daily reality. They were inventive in creating their own institutions, finding and using spaces in an open society to serve their own ends and needs as workers, believers, consumers, readers. They created a new language of Finglish alongside the language of the Old Country. They watched their descendants quickly turn into partial strangers.


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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Part 1 Introduction

Updating and Rethinking the Finnish American Story Jon Saari 3

Interest in the History of Finnish Americans Auvo Kostiainen 13

Part 2 Colonial Settlement of the Swedes and Finns

The Delaware Colonists and Their Heritage Auvo Kostiainen 29

Part 3 Seamen, Masses, and Individual Migrants of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Migration from Finland to North America Reino Kero 41

Finnish Settlements in the United States: "Nesting Places" and Finntowns Arnold R. Alanen 55

Ambiguous Identity: Finnish Americans and the Race Question Peter Kivisto Johanna Leinonen 75

Part 4 Finnish Communities Organized

Fighting for Temperance Ideas Paul George Hummasti 91

Religious Activities of the Finns: An lamination of Finnish Religious Life in Industrialized North America Gary Kaunonen 107

Politics of the Left and the Right Auvo Kostiainen 131

"Sooner or Later You're a Cooperator": The Finnish American Cooperative Movement Hannu Heinilä 157

Part 5 The Multitude of Cultural Life

Finnish Identity in Immigrant Culture Keijo Virtanen 173

Papers and Publications Auvo Kostiainen 205

Part 6 Finland's Minority Emigrants

Finland-Swedes in North America Mika Roinila 221

Part 7 Connected to Finland

Distant Dreams, Different Realities: North American Immigrants Revisit Finland Erik Hieta 243

Help among Nations: The Humanitarian Impulse in American-Finnish Relations Erik Hieta 253

The Return Migration of Finns from North America Keijo Virtanen 263

Deported Finns Auvo Kostiainen 273

Part 8 Acculturation and Generations

One Culture, Two Cultures? Families of Finns in the United States in the Twentieth Century Johanna Leinonen 285

The Transnational Practices of Finnish Immigrants Peter Kivisto 297

Who Is a "Real" Finn? Negotiating Finnish and Finnish American Identity in the Contemporary United States Johanna Leinonen 309

Part 9 Turning to Americans

Adjustment and the Future Mika Roinila 319

For Further Reference 327

Contributors 333

Index 335

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