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16 October 2014

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Convincing Finns

By Esko Reinikainen
December 2005, Cwmbran
A digital story from Capture Wales

Esko and his cultural mix

Culturally, Esko had been bought up as a Finn, but convincing people of this is sometimes embarrassing when you don't speak the language.

"I've never liked tricky questions. Where do you come from if your Mother is German, your Father is Finnish, and you were born in France?

I never learned Finnish at home, my dad was always away, my mother had ideas of her own.

Culturally I had been brought up as a Finn, but convincing people of this was never straightforward, sometimes embarrassing. After all, I couldn't speak my own language.

My Finnish grandparents are my heroes; I was enthralled by their stories of when the Russians had come to Finland in 1939. The sacrifices made by their generation had guaranteed our independence.

I was at college in Wales when my grandmother sent me an article explaining how all Finnish boys, even expatriates, had to do their military service. A few days after that my conscription papers arrived, I wondered how the army had found me.

I moved to Finland to discover my country and my language. For the first time in my life I felt comfortable, with the environment, with people, with the way life was lived. Going to the forest with the shaman, summer festivals with no night, communing with our beautiful environment, vodka, sauna, Finnish lessons in Rocklubi Kerubi, and long, cold, dark winters.

Then came the army. Always tired, hungry, and cold, life was hard, but the officers always reminded us that our grandparents hadn't had the luxury of moaning during the war, they just got on with it, we just got on with it too.

These days I don't have a problem telling people I am Finnish, there is no need to justify what is earned. In any case, the only confirmation I ever needed was from my heroes.

Nowadays my Finnish works in bars and while assaulting machine gun positions, but philosophical discourse comes harder. Then again, real Finns don't always feel the need to talk so much."

Please tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a theatre director and a local authority arts development officer. The convoluted story of my origins is in the film.

What's your story about?
Figuring out what my identity is and paying homage to my heroes. I chose to tell this story as this is the answer to a quesion I often get asked. Now I can refer people to the website.

What did you find most rewarding about the workshop?
Learning new skills, absorbing some of the 'BBC' culture and spending the week with some very beautiful people.

Your comments

"Cool - I went to the Finnish Army myself despite having been raised in the U.S. It really was kind of like a form of paying homage to the WWII generation. They paid for my trip there and back and one vacation as well." Andrew Hakso, Longview, WA (USA).

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