Growing up in Finland

Updated: Nov 18


Photo by Juha Roisko

1. What were your first thoughts in moving to Finland?

I was very excited to see my mother because I have not seen my mother for many years. I was also excited to see the snow. I was eight then. I remember coming here in spring, and we had massive thick jackets, but it was spring in Finland, and people were using thinner jackets. 


2. What was the difference in your upbringing in the Philippines and Finland?

It has been 31 years since I have lived in Finland. I am more a Finn because I like how you get to be yourself, get genuine, and be honest and straightforward. I do what I think is right. I also follow Filipino culture by respecting older people. Also, Filipino rice is life for me. I will never give up Filipino food. 


I do what I think is right. I also follow Filipino culture by respecting older people.

I remember the Philippines as a rigorous country. My fathers' relatives raised us in a strict and conservative environment while our mother was working abroad. I remember that we were not allowed to go out anywhere, because we lived in the city. I didn't have friends there. In Finland, we were freer to play outside with friends, and we were more independent. 


My mother was a single working mother, and she raised us, four kids, all alone. That is why my siblings and I do not know how to cook Filipino food. Most Filipinos are shocked that we, as Filipino women, do not know how to cook. 


3. How did you learn Finnish, and how other languages have affected your life while living in Finland for a long time?

My strongest language is Finnish because I read better in Finnish. I learned Finnish in school, and I spoke with Finnish friends who did not speak English. I still think my Finnish is not fluent even though I communicate with it daily. Some people say that I talk Finnish fluently, but it's difficult for me to speak the language when it's a particular topic that I am not familiar with. 


However, when I was young, I struggled with learning Finnish because I was a shy girl, and my stuttering did not improve my confidence. Whenever I tried to speak the language, other kids would laugh.


Now, I'd rather read in Finnish than in English. I understand it better than my two mother-tongues, which are Bisaya and Tagalog. 


In Finland, like over ten years ago, it is vital to learn to speak Finnish to get a job or if you live here as long as me. It makes life more comfortable even though there are jobs nowadays that do not require Finnish at all.


4. Did you felt racism when you were a kid, and how has it changed?

I remember the question as if it was yesterday. Did you hit the wall because you have a flat nose? It hurt me, and I used to rub my nose to get a taller and longer nose as the Finns do. I wanted to be a Finn when I was under 13 because all I saw was white people everywhere.


When I saw more foreigners like me, I became proud of my identity as a Filipina. I joined a group called Color Blind, a musical project about racism. In that group, I practiced dancing, singing, and acting because the musical was about racism. There were a lot of international youths my age together with the Finns. 


There is still racism, but it's not as bad as I had experienced when I was young. Nowadays, Finland is more international. 


5. You have lived here for a long time, almost 30 years. Do you think you are a Filipina or becoming a Finn?

It has been 31 years since I have lived in Finland. I am more a Finn because I like how you get to be yourself, be genuine, be honest, and straightforward. I do what I think is right. I also follow Filipino culture by respecting older people. Also, Filipino rice is life for me. I will never give up Filipino food. 


Yes. I like some favorite Finnish dishes such as sister sausage soup (siskonmakkarakeitto), sausage with brown sauce (nakkikastike), fish stick tartar sauce with mashed potatoes (kalapuikko tartarkastike ja perunamuusi), and chicken fricassee (kanaviilokkia). They are also straightforward to make, especially for a person like me who does not cook.


I follow the things in each culture, which is right in it, and choose what makes Me. I sometimes think that some part of me is Vietnamese even though I was not raised in the culture, but I am very fond of Vietnamese culture. I like to think that people learn many things from each person and people living in different countries. There is always something to learn from.


6.The dating game and relationships in Finland. What is your experience?


I once asked for a date by a Finnish man. We met on the R-kiosk, and he begged me to go for coffee with him even though I told him I have a son. He said it didn't matter. My sisters have a Finnish husband, so I thought that why not trying to date a Finnish man for once.


I told the guy clearly that I'm not particularly eager to go for coffee, but I'd instead go to eat, so I turned him down. However, he was still insisting on going for a date. He even visited my workplace and took a haircut, so I finally agreed.


When I met him for the date, he told me again to go to a cafe. I told him also that I'm not particularly eager to go to a cafeteria, and I was hungry its lunchtime. He only paid for himself, so I told him directly that it's rude to pay for yourself if you ask a girl for a date. I was not raised like that. I think dating a foreign man was simpler because they usually understood the dating courtesy. It was embarrassing for me to explain how women should be treated on a date.


I do not believe that everyone pays for themselves in restaurants. That you split the bill, and everyone will pay for their food. Sometimes you will pay, and sometimes your friends will pay. For me, men should pay for dinner, but we take care of the finances together. It should be our money, not yours and mine, and the couples should support each other. Mothers usually stay home with the kids and clean the house while the man makes his career come true.


7.Now that you are a mother. What is your experience of raising a child?

Being a single mother is hard, mainly because I was forced to be an entrepreneur. When I went to school as a hairstyler, I did not know that a hairstylist would need to become an entrepreneur. It is not a job where you can get a monthly salary. The salary depends on how many customers you have in a specific month. As an entrepreneur, I have to sacrifice my motherhood to work and leave my sick kid alone. I had to work hard to support my child because it was hard to budget the next months' income. Around this time, it is even more challenging due to the corona pandemic.


However, I'm lucky to have my family. My mom and sisters help me take care of my son whenever he is sick to go to work and not lose customers on those days.


8.How do you think society accepts your choice of being a single mother?

No mother wants to be a single mother. If the father does not want to take care of his child, I have to take both parents' roles and take care of my son. Finland society accepts me as a single parent and is understanding and helpful, but in my culture, Filipino. I feel like I am judged because it's not normal to be a single parent.


9.Now that father's day is coming. How are you going to celebrate it?

My son and I didn't celebrate father's day as his biological father wasn't his life since he was 1.5 years old. But now he has a father figure, and we celebrate a simple father's day by giving him a card, a kiss, and a hug.


10.How are you raising your child? Is he more of a Finn, a Filipino, or a Vietnamese?

I am trying to raise my child to be a good person and just to be himself. It is more important than which culture he has to follow.


11.What are the best aspects of raising a child in Finland?

The best part of Finland is that you get a lot of help, and the people understand. They take care of the children here, and there are ample opportunities to learn different things.


Most people do not know, but Finland helps families. For example, if you need a babysitter for a couple of hours, you can get a cheaper babysitting service, which costs less than the average market price, or someone to help you clean the house. All you need to do is ask for help.


The best part of Finland is that you get a lot of help, and the people understand.

12.What are your hopes and dreams?

I have struggled in my life, but I get to be who I want to be and do what I want to do in Finland. Here, we get to choose our own life. I am now doing the work that I love to do and live the life I want to live. Even though Finland is a cold country to live in and you might never get used to the cold, all you need to do is get a better quality jacket. 


Overall, I am happy that I am in Finland. There are no worries about corona here because everyone stays away from each other with or without corona. They take care of the people here. 

Who: Chere Navarro

Profession: Hairdresser

Moved from: Philippines

Language: Finnish, English, Visaya, Tagalog

Lived in Finland: Since eight years old, 1990

Active in the Filipino community in Finland by performing through singing and dancing. Known for performances in Color Blind-musical and backup dancer from various artists.




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