Dissent and Integration: A New Book on Finnish Migration to the United States

KostiainenFront.inddThe University of Turku has a long and esteemed tradition in the study of Finnish migration to North America. The latest addition to this tradition is the recently published book, Finns in the United States: A History of Settlement, Dissent, and Integration (Michigan State University Press, 2014), edited by Auvo Kostiainen, Professor of General History at the University of Turku. The book includes twenty chapters from twelve scholars on both sides of the Atlantic.

Drawing from social–historical approaches to migration studies, the authors meticulously examine the cultural, political, and social life that the migrants built for themselves in their new homeland. Rich cultural pursuits such as drama clubs and choirs, frequently passionate political disagreement between the “Church Finns” and the “Red Finns,” and the socialist-cum-entrepreneurial ventures of the co-operative movement are recorded in enlightening detail.

The Finnish migrants were not passive pawns of structural forces; stress the authors, but agents who sought to actively shape their conditions, often finding themselves at odds with societal pressures for cultural and political conformity. Auvo Kostiainen’s chapter on the deportations of Finnish migrant radicals is especially illustrative of this dissent and its occasionally serious repercussions.

While being attentive to the experiences of the Finns as a distinct ethnic group, the authors do not lose sight of the broader historical context. Migrants were not isolated  but had continuous interaction with the society that surrounded them. Gary Kaunonen, for example, discusses how the establishment of Finnish religious institutions was intimately intertwined with American capitalists’ attempts to assert control over their immigrant workers. As Kaunonen’s account illuminates, the examination of interlinkages between the migrants’ ethnic institutions and other societal actors can provide us with fresh perspectives on migrants’ complex experiences of integration.

Finns in the United States is a story of both dissent and integration, as the subtitle of the book suggests. It intriguingly incorporates different approaches from the field of migration studies to unravel the distinctive experiences of Finns in the United States. In the process, it provides a comprehensive, yet nuanced, overview of Finnish–American history that will be of interest to any student of migration and ethnic studies.

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