On my way to Helsinki to take part in a festival about digital narratives, my thoughts go back to my roots. Finland is part of where I come from. But Finland is not part of my self-lived narrative which makes it a bit complicated.
Finland is the silence, that was part of my childhood, like a fourth sibling. A shadow, never challenged or exposed to light.
This silence, that somehow grew bigger with time and with loved ones, who passed away with their secrets tightly held within.
What is the effect on the generations to come, if we don’t talk about our roots. If we don’t pass on our ancestors’ history?
I grew up knowing our finnish-swedish history was not a subject. It simply wasn’t. Best forgotten, never discussed.
My grandmother had nine siblings. I never met them. They were “over there.” In the small village in the Finnish countryside. Some, already buried, others left behind. They were poor, probably farmers or handymen.
Like my granny, who left them to find work as a maid in Sweden. My grandmother spoke Swedish, but some words and expressions she used were in dialect.
As a grown-up, I have learned that there are many such dialects among the Finnish-Swedish minority in Finland. They are fascinating languages, if I may say so. I just didn’t know that as a child.
My mother never spoke dialect. The silence, the shadow of shame, prevented the language to be passed on to her, and to us – the third generation.
Thus a language was lost, a culture forgotten and a hole was created in our family history.
A hole, hard to mend when time has passed and those with knowledge as well.
The small bits that I have found, trying to lay our family puzzle, show me many broken family ties and a lost culture. And my own children will be even further away from this.
They are not even bearing the memory of a great grandmother fidgeting with her thumbs, repeating Finnish-Swedish words over and over. A great grandmother who firmly believed both in God, but also in gnomes and trolls.
Reclaiming without being able to talk to living persons – being referred only to archives – is almost futile. And this is the great sorrow for us, and our children – that the loss is permanent and that part of our identity will always be that big, silent shadow of shame, created during a time when a human was to an even higher extent than today, defined by class, origin and language.
We see the tendencies to shame groups of people today as well, but there has certainly been a movement forward in this part of the world.
Reclaiming does take place – but it is never easy.
And the individual is often left feeling like an outsider – looking in. Not fully belonging in their own history.
I know that is how I feel.