by Ava Anttila – Los Angeles
On December 6, 1917, the fiercely independent Finns became self-governing. Independents became Independence. Much with Finns and about Finland happens quietly. At 6:00 p.m. [properly 18:00], 2 lights appear in windows all over Finland and in Finnish homes here in Los Angeles. If you are looking – and if you know what you are looking at, you will know that Finns are celebrating their freedom and independence.
Finland has celebrated Independence Day for 94 years. The United States has celebrated for 235 years — since July 4, 1776.
Finland is such a young country that we who are the 1st , 2nd , 3rd , and 4th generations of free Finns can feel the recentness of our Independence, revel in the security of freedom, and feel the joy it has brought to the great people of Finland who live, create, and thrive wherever they are living.
There is a connection to Finland’s history and how/why she has delivered to the world such amazing world class leaders in so many demanding fields. Finland’s ‘story’ is the reason, I believe. Part of that ‘story’ runs like this:
In 1155, the first missionaries arrived in Finland from Sweden. Finland became part of the Swedish realm (those street signs in the two languages have a legitimate history!) In 1809 Sweden surrendered Finland to Russia, with the Czar declaring himself as a constitutional monarch over an autonomous Duchy. In 1917, Finland declared its independence and was recognized as a new state by the Soviet Union, France, Germany, and Sweden –with Finland soon becoming a Republic, with a President as its head of state.
In 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland and the Winter War was fought.
In 1941-44 (in what was called the Continuation War) fighting between Russia and Finland resumed, with some territory ceded to the Soviet Union at the war’s end.
Finland was never occupied by the Russians and, thanks to the warriors we honor on Independence Day, Finland preserved its independence and sovereignty.
Our history is part of how we think and live as Finns. Yet, the ‘story’ is so recent it is ever fresh in our minds. How many people in the world can say they personally know some of the people who are responsible for the freedom of their country? Very few, indeed.
Even here in Southern California, we have local Finnish war heroes and heroines who preserved Finnish independence in the two wars with Russia still living among us. On December 6th each year we get to personally thank them for fighting for the independence and the freedoms Finns everywhere enjoy. My beloved father is a war Veteran and my dear mother is a Lotta—both are in their late 80s. The Veterans who are still mobile meet bi-monthly under the Veteraani Tuki Ry (a support group) banner with Suomi Kerho as their quiet hosts.
Whenever I take my father to meet with his contemporaries at those Veteran meetings, at the Finnish Lutheran Church services, or at the too frequent Memorial Services, I am reminded of how truly fortunate we are to have grown up under such strong, though often silent, heroes. In my decades of Finnish activism, I can think of no event that was more satisfying than helping organize the various disparate Finnish groups in a cooperative salute to our Finnish War Veterans and Lottas on the occasion of Finland’s 80th Anniversary of Independence. We had a grand, formal Gala! And, the Finnish community turned out in record numbers to salute our national heroes as they marched down a grand stair case into a cheering ball room with their medals shining and their chests puffed out in pride as their accomplishments were remembered—not so quietly on that evening in 1997! Even then, many were using walkers and canes. Now, there are far fewer of them and they are a bit frailer, but their Sisu remains as always. When we celebrate Independence Day each year, I hope all local Finns will take the opportunity to seek out and thank those Veterans and Lottas who are still with us for their legacy all Finns enjoy. But, please speak up—the hearing ain’t what it used to be!
On Independence Day, here and in Finland, we thank and honor those surviving heroes and heroines, the Veterans and Lottas. We gratefully remember the many others who served: our fathers, uncles, brothers, and grandfathers, as well as our mothers, aunts, sisters, and grandmothers. We remember with reverence those who paid the ultimate price and those now at rest in the cemeteries of Finland and elsewhere.
Whether fighting to preserve Finland’s independence against all odds, leading the high tech world into a new millennium, guiding the planet into responsible green living, creating the world’s premier educational system, conquering the arts or athletics, finding solutions to the riddles of science, or conquering cuisine, there are certain Finnish qualities her history has created in its people that stand out: values, hard work, quiet dignity, integrity, Sisu, and a dedication to quality. These are the qualities we see in the Finns in Finland. These are the values Finns are brought up with to respect and to live by. These are the attributes of the great Finns that have made Los Angeles their home, for whatever period, that have made Los Angeles claim them as theirs.
I am a long time resident of this great City of Angels –Los Angeles. At this time of year I ponder how fortunate we have been and continue to be the Mecca for such Finnish greatness. Los Angeles has drawn the leading people in modern history in the fields of music, medical research, academics, diplomacy, education, technology, entertainment, business, industry, athletics, and other exotic endeavors. Yet, at the core of contributions lies the strong core of skilled trades people, merchants, entrepreneurs, and adventurous Finns who have come here, thrived in this environment, and given this world so much with so little fan fare.
Independence Day is a great time to hail Finland and the character of her people. So, as you drive around Los Angeles–by Disney Hall at the Music Center, by the Olympic Stadium at USC, by the UCLA Genetics Building, by the UCLA Anderson School of Business, by the Nokia Theatre, by the hockey rinks, and by the many other venues that celebrate Finnish contributions, remember the Finnish character (and characters!) that brought greatness and creativity to Los Angeles. Then, when you get home, light a blue candle and a white candle in your window. Be thankful for the gifts that freedom and independence create in the human existence. Reflect on your heritage. And, look outside and wave to that person walking by quietly with their eyes down—most likely a Finn with a smile of recognition!