Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Another Review of Finns...

The following review appeared in the October 2014 issue of CHOICE:

North America 52-1020 E184 2013-12249 CIP

Finns in the United States: a history of settlement, dissent, and integration, ed. by Auvo Kostiainen. Michigan State, 2014. 342p ISBN 9781611861068 pbk, $34.95.

This collection of articles covering the Finnish ethnic experience in the US presents the historiography of the subject along with discussion of racial, linguistic, and socioeconomic identity and the difference between Finnish American and Finnish views. Most contributions are solid in quality. Finns were originally classed as being of the Mongolian race and denied naturalization. Assimilation eased when Finns were officially made "white Europeans" by US courts. Finns first arrived at New Sweden (1638-1655). Much of Finnish roots history was lost, mislaid, and destroyed in parish church fires. Most Finns lived in Sweden as burn beaters before immigrating to the US, so identifying ethnic Finnish immigrants from surviving Swedish records was an additional difficulty. By the late 19th century, Finns led in the development of rural cooperatives and extension education. To help themselves, they formed mutual fire insurance cooperatives, dairies and stores, and accident, savings and credit, and death benefit organizations. Unions provided education for the management of co-ops. Ethnic identity is the unifying core of these studies. By the 1940s, the Finnish community was a shadow of its former self. Post-1970s transnational new arrivals have not mixed with the descendants of early immigrants.

--D. J. Shepherd, Independent Scholar
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review of Finns in the United States from New World Finn Newspaper

A review of the newest book on the Finnish immigrant experience in the US. I did the chapter on religion and what follows is a review of the book, which was edited by Auvo Kostiainen.

Finns in the United States A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration Auvo Kostiainen, Editor
Michigan State University Press, 2014 
Reviewed by Ivy Nevala 

The subtitle of this absorbing book immediately gives the reader a hint  of its organization.  Editor Kostiainen informs us that it is only the second comprehensive volume on the history of Finns in North America.  A. William Hoglund produced the first in 1960, concentrating on the years 1880-1920.  
People whose names are familiar to readers of Finnish Americana contributed their insights and examine Finnish American history:  Auvo Kostiainen, Jon Saari, Reino Kero, Arnold Alanen, Peter Kivisto, Paul G. Hummasti, Gary Kaunonen, Hannu Heinilä, Keijo Virtanen, Mika Roinila, Erik Hieta, and Johanna Leinonen.  Some may wonder why Finnish Canadians are mentioned only briefly; Kostiainen says they deserve their own volume.
Finns, a relatively small group of immigrants to the U.S., made a considerable impact, because they congregated in certain areas, especially the northern Midwest.  Finnish influence began with the New Sweden colony in Delaware and immigration was cyclical, with peaks from the 1870's to the 1920's and then again after World War II.  Alanen reviews the past and current FinnTtowns and Nesting Places, and Kivisto and Leinonen examine forces that questioned Finnish racial identity and attempted to categorize Finns as "non -white".  This is a topic that has amazed many younger people in this reviewer's family.
As the immigration population grew, the need for organizations of various types became apparent.  Hummasti looks at temperance and religious activities and the tensions created by the desire of some to allow dancing in the halls.  Kaunonen shows how religion and economics became a powerful combination and united American capitalism with the church (Suomi Synod) to espouse the Protestant work ethic onto the immigrants.  He goes on to relate the growth of Laestadianism in Finnish enclaves and then of Congregational, Baptist,  Methodist, and Catholic congregations in the Finnish community.
Finns were an atypical immigrant group because of the level of literacy.  Typically, only 26 per cent of newly arrived immigrants were literate, but among the Finns only 2 per cent sixteen and older were illiterate!   Finns continued their education, establishing language schools, reading rooms, and libraries, all of which helped perserve Finnish culture.  Additionally, they formed two institutions of higher learning, Suomi Opisto and the Work People's College.  From early childhood on, Finnish Americans of earlier generations experienced theater groups, various musical groups (choral and instrumental), and gymnastic and other sports associations established by Finns.  Since they were a literate people, newspapers and publications played a big role in Finnish networking as a part of cultural identity.
It can be said that the wide range of political beliefs from right to left influenced every Finnish organization.  Finns have had a big impact in the labor movement, pressing for improvements in working conditions and in social reforms for working people.  Heinilä says no ethnic group had more influence on cooperatives than the Finns had.  Co-ops began first in insurance, mutual benefit groups, and boarding houses.  Consumer co-ops, culminating in the Central Cooperative Wholesale, provided a network of consumer products which sustained Finnish communities until the emergence of the supermarkets in the later 1950's.  Since then, only a few co-ops have survived.  Speaking from personal experience, I can say that the "co-op store" kept the community together.  
Roinila reviews the contributions of Finland Swedes (citizens of Finland whose mother tongue is a dialect of Swedish known as "Finland Swedish", compared to the "national Swedish" of Sweden.  Before World War I, one in five Finnish immigrants were Finland Swedes.  They too formed the kinds of organizations developed by Finnish Finns.
Hieta, Virtanen, and Kostiainen  examine the connections between Finland and North America, immigrants revisiting Finland, humanitarianism after and during World War II, and the return of Finnish Americans to Finland.
When Leinonen interviewed fairly recent immigrants from Finland, she learned some don't think of Finnish Americans as real Finns and are uncomfortable about some of the recent festivities,  such as St. Urho's Day.  Others bridge Finnish traditions and American traditions as situations arise, especially in cases where one spouse is Finnish.  Leinonen's observations ring true.  I doubt that  in Finnish America there are any aspects of Finnish culture that aren't influenced in some way by the broader American culture.
The discussions by the various authors reveal the point made by Saari, that historians seek patterns of meaning out of the activities of the past.  Finnish Americans have become hybridized as succeeding generations come into contact with non-Finns, communicating and working with them or marrying them. 
The authors are to be commended for their thoughtful contributions to the various themes of this book, published by the Michigan State University Press in 2014.  It is available as a paperback and an e-book.

Finnish Immigrant Coverage of the Italian Hall Tragedy, Calumet, Michigan, December 24, 1913

In honor of the Italian Hall victims, I'm posting an image of the December 26, 1913, edition of Tyomies that labeled their deaths as "Murders." This gut-wrenching headline and the article detail how Finnish immigrants associated with the labor movement saw the deaths of their fallen Fellow Workers. Additionally, I'm posting a translation of the article that was done by a pro-company Finnish-language speaker. This translation was used as evidence for the efforts to round up editors at Tyomies and charge them with crimes for reporting the labor perspective on the event. The newspaper and article about the horrific loss of life at Italian Hall are reminders of the price paid by those who fought for our labor rights today, and the importance of free speech and the 1st Amendment! Seems it is under fire as much today as it was on December 26, 1913.

The translation of the headline and article (from the C&H Collection, Michigan Technological University's Copper Country Historical Archives):

Monday, July 29, 2013

FinnFest Presentation

FinnFest was a bit of a mixed bag. There was a lot of rain, but also some literal and proverbial sunshine.

The tour went very well, and the ceremony for those who died at Italian Hall was wonderful. People from Finland spoke as well as local dignitaries and historians. Larry Lankton and Revered Bob Langseth gave very eloquent speeches, which highlighted the importance of Italian Hall to area history and memory.

My talk at FinnFest, "Wage Slaves and Radicals: Finns in the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike," went well. There was a packed room, and the talk ended with some great questions. But, perhaps the best feature of the talk was a guest picketing of the talk by local printer and historian Dan Schneider, who is working on a project to translate and print (using a historically accurate press) editions of Tyomies from the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike era.

Dan Schneider "picketing" the FinnFest lecture area hallway announcing his project to translate and reprint 1913-14 Strike era news as published in the Tyomies newspaper. 
I asked Dan to come up and give a description of his project, and it was a great addition to the talk--one that was planned only about half-an-hour before the presentation. Above is an image of Dan in full picket mode as he was walking up and down the FinnFest lecture area hallways. His labor action was a great addition to FinnFest, and his work in translating and reprinting the strike era news is an incredible piece to the strike's story.

Monday, June 17, 2013

FinnFest 2013

Wow...FinnFest is almost here, and with it come a whole host of working-class Finn activities. I'm involved in three events and would like to outline them here:

1) Thursday, June 20, 2013, Finnish Immigrant Working Class Places and Spaces Bus Tour.

I've posted a little on this tour, but would like to include the tour schedule below. I'm excited that the tour has passed its capacity requirement, and we're looking forward to a fun, educational, and reflective day.

The tour schedule:

9.00. Board bus MTU Student Development Complex
9.15. Arrive Dodgeville Temperance Society Hall
10.00. Arrive South Range Hall
10.45. Arrive Kansankoti Hall/Tyomies site
11.30. Arrive Osceola Mine fire site
12.00. Arrive Keweenaw National Historical Park Calumet Visitors Center
12.45-1.30. Lunch on own
1.30. Meet outside Michigan House walk to Italian Hall site for preliminary interpretation
2.00. Italian Hall site ceremony
3.00. End tour at Italian Hall site, stay at Calumet Days, or take bus back to SDC

And, in true working class fashion, instead of the plush tour buses being used by other tours, we'll be using a sturdy, yellow school bus to take us around to these sites.

2) Hanka Day at FinnFest, Friday, June 21, 2013

I volunteer at the Hanka Finnish Immigrant Homestead Museum in Askel, Michigan, and we have a hum-dinger of a time planned. I'll be taking tickets for entrance to the homestead at the old wooden gate, but other volunteers and board members will be dressed as historical interpreters providing the public a glimpse of what life was like on the farm circa 1920. The day will include demonstrations by a black smith, cooking demonstrations, farm animals, music and folk dancing. Big bill if fare for the day and we are expecting anywhere from 300-400 people to visit this great historic site.

3) Saturday, June 22, 2013, presentation, "Wage-slaves and Radicals: Finnish Immigrants in the 1913-14 Copper Strike"

This presentation will highlight the extraordinary part Finns played in the Michigan Copper Strike, and will also include relevant new research on Italian Hall.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Finns in Michigan Goes to Delta County

I just came back from giving a talk about the book Finns in Michigan to folks at the Delta County Historical Society. The members of the historical society were nice enough to invite me to their annual dinner meeting, and I presented to a group of about 70 or so on the unique history of the Finns in Michigan. The people asked great questions during the presentation, the dinner was amazing, and the location was incredible. The talk was held at Gladstone's famous Terrance Bay Inn right on Lake Michigan.

I'm always amazed at the "legs" Finns in Michigan has, it just keeps going--through no work of my own, admittedly.

Delta County is a great place to talk about the Finns in Michigan, primarily for one reason--Rock or Maple Ridge Township. The Rock Hall, owned at one time by Finns associated with the Industrial Workers of the World or "Wobblies," is one of the best examples of a rural social hall, and a physical link with the incredible history of organizational activity in the Finnish immigrant population. In its heyday Rock, and the Maple Ridge area, was alive with the sound of working-class activism and politics, and the Maple Ridge Workers Hall (as it was known) and the community's co-op were seats of great community pride and ideology in action.

I also had the chance to talk about oral history work I did with Escanaba resident Vienna Laine. Vienna is a treasure in the Finnish American community, and had donated a wealth of materials on Finnish American legend Viola Turpeinen to the Finnish American Historical Archive and Museum. Vienna has an incredible mind and shared great memories of growing up in area logging camps, recalled stories she had heard about Michigan and Florida Finns, and had a number of museum pieces that added to the cultural history of Finns and their deep connection to music, specifically polka or accordion music.

It was truly a pleasure to talk with the folks of the Delta County Historical Society.

New Chapter in Finnish in the United States Book

I've been given the chance to write a chapter in the book that is being calling the definitive history of Finns in North America. The title of the book, Finns in the United States: A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration, is being edited by Dr. Auvo Kostiainen, who lives and works in Turku, Finland.

I'm truly honored to be a part of this publication as I've been collaborating with some of the names I've grown up reading in the study of Finnish American history. In addition to Auvo, Dr. Arnold Alanen, Dr. Jon Saari, Dr. Peter Kivisto, and a host of others are contributing to the book.

My chapter in the book was a bit of a surprise for me to write, however. When initially approached I thought I was going to be writing something about labor history or perhaps leftist history, but I was asked to write the chapter on religion. This was a unique challenge for me, and although I wrote about religious groups in Finns in Michigan, it was not a topic that I was well-versed in from an academic or scholarly viewpoint.

So, in talking with Auvo, and in thinking about what I might contribute to the scholarship on the religion of the Finns in the United States, I decided that I wanted to bring a historical materialist perspective to the writing on Finnish religion in America. This is a new perspective, and the book is about bringing new perspectives to the study of Finns in the US.

It is also a perspective that will likely be disliked by some as I approach religion not through religious doctrine or by an ecclesiastical foundation; instead I look at religion through politics, economics, and power relations. In thinking about what I could contribute to the discussion of Finns' religious life in America, I noticed that there was not much critical thought regarding this history. With the exception of Douglas Ollila's work, much of the religious history of Finns was celebratory, a who's who of Finnish pastors, or essentially linked with religious scripture.

I chose to write a secular history.

And, it is a secular history that is perhaps what has been missing from the discussion of Finns and religion in the United States. This perspective is also perhaps one with the least preference to the great number of denominations that exist in Finnish North American religious life. Without a doubt, if someone affiliated with the Suomi Synod (now the ELCA) would have wrote this history, it would have likely been biased toward that organization. The same is true for other denominations such as those affiliated the Apostolic, Laestadian, or National (Missouri Synod) churches. Having someone who is essentially a third party, me, write the book shifts bias from institutional bodies to a general look at how religion functioned on the whole for immigrants and their institutions in America.

It is not a conventional history of religion to say the least, but it is one that might supplement the other quite good histories of other groups that have undertaken the very complex chronicling of Finnish American religious life.