Three half Asian – half Finnish women use social media to highlight how it feels to be seen as an outsider in your own home country with the Instagram account ‘Mixed Finns’. Alice Jäske, Janina Ojala, and Priska Niemi-Sampan have created the Instagram account to provide support and information about being a mixed-race Finn.
Finnish daily YLE has spoken to the three mixed Finnish women about their experiences and how they wish their stories can change this behavior.
Alice Jäske’s father is Finnish and her mother is from Taiwan. She has lived in Finland all her life but she has frequently had to prove that she is Finnish, because she doesn’t look like the traditional image of a Nordic person. She is often asked where she comes from and she finds herself having to tell strangers about her entire family background over and over again. Alice Jäske has been complimented on her surprisingly good Finnish language skills and is sometimes addressed to in English.
Half Thai half Finnish Janina Ojala has also lived in Finland her entire life but says to YLE that as a girl, she felt a sense of shame and fear when her Thai father would tease her in Thai while they waited in line at the shop. Janina Ojala did her best to keep her Thai roots from attracting attention and for example, never told her friends that at home they ate with a fork and a spoon and not a knife and a fork. Janina Ojala explains that it is typically comments about her lovely thick hair or how quickly her skin tans and that one comment is not the problem but hearing things like this daily have a big impact on how you see yourself. “Although now I’m older I consider multiculturalism to be enriching, in certain situations I still feel the need to present myself a certain way to others,” she says.
Priska Niemi-Sampan’s mother is Finnish and her father is Filipino. Growing up she felt like everyone else and her family always spoke Finnish at home even when they lived abroad due to her parent’s job as an aid worker. But Priska was an unusual name, the looks she inherited from her Filipino father drew attention and soon she found herself constantly answering questions about her “homeland”, her language skills, and her appearance. As far as society was concerned, the young girl was a foreigner and for the longest time she felt that university wasn’t a place for someone that looks like her. “I wasn’t encouraged to go by my school or my hobbies and the attitudes of the world around us have a huge impact on how a person sees their potential,” Priska Niemi-Sampan says.
The three women acknowledge that their efforts with the account ‘Mixed Finns’ may not change the world, but they represent a step towards a dream the three women share. This dream is of a world where someone’s Finnish identity isn’t defined by the way they look, and where a person can belong to multiple cultures without being seen as an outsider to all of them. With the platform, the women also challenge Finns to think more carefully about what they say because what seems like a compliment to one person might not always feel that way to another.