September 11, 1973 was the day of the Chilean coup d'état. President Salvador Allende, whose political project was to move the country towards socialism, was overthrown. During the coup many leftists, and people who were suspected of being leftists, were killed.
It has been 50 years since the Chilean refugees arrived in Finland, and were met with solidarity. They were generally able to find places to work and study, and they adapted to their new community quite well. They left their own unique mark on Finnish society and culture. Many of them had also experienced immensely traumatic things before leaving their home country: torture, family members going missing, and a constant fear for the safety of their loved ones.
My exhibition Between Cultures tells the story of the second generation, i.e. the children of the Chileans who came to Finland. Some of us arrived in Finland as children, while others were born here. As a photographer, I wanted to give this second generation a chance to be seen and heard.
In this project, 18 volunteers of different ages were photographed and interviewed. During the interviews participants were encouraged to discuss multiculturalism, and the various similarities and differences between cultures. Everyone was given an opportunity to talk about their lives, from childhood to the present day.
I brought up questions that went largely unaddressed back when we were children. I feel that we never really had a chance to tell our stories, or to express what it was like to be a child of Chilean parents in Finland. I think it’s important to give children of refugees and immigrants a chance to be heard, especially since we live in a society where multiculturalism is increasingly commonplace.
I am a part of this generation, too; I am a child of Chilean refugees. I am extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to create a photography exhibition about this topic. This project has opened my eyes to how strongly the people featured in this exhibition felt the need to be heard.
My parents came to Finland in 1975. My sister and I were both born here. I have fond memories of my childhood, but as I’ve grown older I’ve discovered things about my parents’ background that I previously had no idea about. Our parents wanted to protect us, and they never talked about the past. This is understandable, given the fact that they have experienced the kinds of traumatic things that are unthinkable in a welfare society. My sister and I have been lucky to have been born and raised in a country where our parents had a chance to build a new life, and to provide a safe environment for their children.
Because I was born and raised in Finland, I have been influenced by the Finnish language and Finnish culture. But at home, my parents also cultivated a connection between me and my Chilean roots through the Spanish language and other forms of cultural upbringing. Since my entire extended family lives in Chile, I feel like part of me is there as well. Occasionally I feel a deep longing for Chile - the language and music there always make me feel a sense of home and warmth.
When I was young, I didn’t really consider that my background would make me an outsider. In my friend group, I was often the only one who had a non-Finnish background, but I barely thought about it. Only now, as an adult, I’ve started to feel a kind of longing for having other people around me who have different cultural backgrounds - but I can’t explain where this longing comes from. Then again I’ve always been uncomfortable with the concept of compartmentalising people into separate groups, because categorisation enables stereotyping.
As an adult I started to really think about what it is to be a refugee, and I wanted to explore my own multicultural background and identity. I’ve often been asked which one I am; Finnish or Chilean? But I don’t feel like I am either. In both countries I feel that I am from somewhere else, and I feel like I have traits from both cultures. This is probably influenced by the fact that neither of my parents is Finnish. If anything, I feel like a citizen of the world.
During this project I was faced with all sorts of identity-related questions. I noticed, for instance, that many of the people we interviewed said that they felt a melancholy yearning whenever something reminded them of Chile, even if they didn’t necessarily express any sort of strong connection to Chilean culture. I also started wondering why society has such a strong need to put people in neat compartments - why do we so often end up defined and categorised by someone other than ourselves, based on something like nationality or physical appearance?
I also noticed that even if all of the subjects in this project, myself included, have lived unique lives and are all different from each other, there were also plenty of similar experiences and feelings that came up; a sort of common thread that unites us.
I feel that multiculturalism is a source of richness and strength. Language in and of itself is a valuable tool. A multicultural person usually has the ability to be empathetic and compassionate; they are more open towards other people, and can see beyond the surface. They may also find it easier to adapt to different settings, to think about things from multiple perspectives, and to apply their diverse communication skills.
Tools like these, I think, can help us a lot - as individuals, and as a global society.
I would like to thank the following people:
I am grateful to my parents, who have supported me throughout my life and have provided me with a safe home to grow up in. My sister Camila has been by my side from the very beginning of this project, and she is the one who conducted the interviews. Nora Lyne has helped me with the texts and translations. A huge thank you to all of the people who we photographed and interviewed for this project. Thank you to Sebastián Coloma for all of the help I had with making this project happen.
And thank you to the organisers of the Chile50-project, for arranging this event and making this exhibition possible.