AROUND LA WITH AVA®: MANY HAPPY RETURNS

 

Ava Anttila by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb

Many Happy Returns??  Americans have never quite bought into Boxing Day when the rest of the world blatantly returns gifts that “… do not fit” without guilt.  And, to be perfectly honest, I am not anxious for some marketing guru to find the “hook” to get us back into the stores.  I know, the drones are coming –but I really can wait!

The happiest returns of the holiday season—or of any season, always seem to involve a renewed acquaintance, the return of a favor long forgotten, the return to a location with fond memories, or just a chance recollection of times gone by through a serendipity of circumstances for an unknown purpose.  The momentary smile on my face may be the only physical manifestation of a profound experience.  I like that.  It feels good.  Yes, I am Finnish.

As another frantic year draws to a close, our souls recall the beautiful Peace of Finnish Christmas.

024  But

As the distal boom of the old year melds into the crescendo of the year ahead on the ever spinning, ever so busy cycle of life here, recent events have been so fun to look back on with fondness.

A Personal Favorite: Former Finnish President Tarja Halonen’s return to Los Angeles for a major speaking engagement at the World Affairs Council luncheon at Spago was the culmination of this Finn’s ‘season’.  I had been present at her first World Affairs Council speech as Foreign Minister and, now again, as a former Finnish President at the pinnacle of her status as an influential world leader sharing her perspective of times past and present.  I was fortunate to be able to raise a question referencing her answer to one issue raised on her last visit regarding defense of Finland’s border with Russia.  It was fun to recollect on years past from old and new perspectives.

(more…)

KATÉA’S BIG HOLLYWOOD DÉBUT

STORY & PHOTOS: TOMI HINKKANEN

Katéa in Hollywood.

Katéa in Hollywood.

Finnish singer Katéa was introduced to the Hollywood music professionals at the annual Musexpo music convention held at the Roosevelt Hotel across TCL Chinese Theatre. She made a splash at a showcase, in which she performed five of her songs to music moguls. Finntimes met with the singer at Musexpo for an exclusive interview.

The singer and the manager - Katéa and Sami Peura on Hollywood Boulevard.

The singer and the manager – Katéa and Sami Peura in Hollywood.

Katéa is escorted to the Rosevelt lobby by her manager Sami Peura. The experienced manager has been working toward this event for the past year and a half. There’s a badge that says ”artist” hanging on the singer’s chest.

Katéa’s real name is Katja Pihlainen. She was born in Vaasa, Finland 21 years ago. Since then she has lived in many places – Joensuu, Häneenlinna, Turku and nowadays she resides in Helsinki.

“I’ve always made music and sung since I was a child. I started writing music at nine. Since then, I have written and sung even more. This has been an interesting journey”, Katéa describes.

katea-8

She studied jazz under Taina Lehto in Hämeenlinna and classical music in Montana, where she spent a year as an exchange student at 15 some six years ago. Other than that, she is self-taught.

How did you end up in Montana?

“I looked at brochures with people running with surfboards on the beach, but I found myself in Polson, Montana, living on an Indian reservation (Her host family however, were not indigenous people). It was a really interesting experience. American culture opened to me there in a new way. It was also interesting to go to the Polson High School with my peers. It helped my career and I learned English there.”

Her host family were the Mattsons. The wife as working in a bank and the husband owned a mechanic shop. Their children had already flown the coop but there was another exchange student, a Norwegian boy also staying with the family.

“My ‘host-brother’ was a year older than myself. It was nice to have another Scandinavian in the family. Together we were able to discuss the things that were strange to us. It helped the culture shock.”

Speaking of which:

“People are quite different in Finland and America. Here, people are really social. I had to practice small talk at the beginning, so that it would come naturally. That year taught me to be a lot more independent. I learned to appreciate many things from Finland, and started to see the country with different eyes.”

katea-12

Polson High School was accommodating to her music.

“They had a serious work ethic. They allowed me to take singing lessons. I got a room at my disposal for an hour a day in which I was able to write and rehearse”, the singer reminisces.

A local school teacher taught her classical singing.

“He advised you should hang out with more talented people than yourself. If you play with musicians, make sure they are better than yourself. It has been a good piece of advice, which could be recommended for everyone.”

Although not a classical musician, she admires the genre.

“I admire the discipline and perfection. It cannot be done half-baked. I also like the work ethic. I like classical music, even though I would not do it myself for a living. I could practice it more. Classical training has taught me about voice and vocalization in many different ways.”

katea-10

After returning to Finland, Katéa enrolled in Juhana Herttua’s Performing Arts School in Turku.

“I composed a lot of music there. I got acquainted with musician and mixer Timo Haanpää, who owns a studio in Turku. We started collaborating, performing cover songs to gain experience in performing.”

Together they played at local clubs and rehearsed in a studio built in a bomb shelter.

“I started to bring my own songs to the studio. We discussed them and began to produce them together. Timo taught me about producing and technology. I spent a lot of time in there. I learned how to use a microphone, and what happens in the mixing process. I am a perfectionist and want to understand the whole palette. It was a fruitful time for me as a musician.”

At 18 Katéa moved to The Netherlands for six months.

“I worked, composed and got to know some rappers in Rotterdam.”

katea-6

She plays the piano and the guitar ‘sufficiently’, as she puts it in her own words. Her work method in the beginning was quite unusual.

“The text is terribly important to me. So, I wrote the lyrics first and then started to think about what kind of world it is musically. I didn’t realize that it’s a strange way to make music, but it suited me back then.”

Her process has since changed as producers and other professionals have entered the picture. Katéa has purposefully kept a low profile, finessing her art, fine tuning her songs. In fact the world had not heard of her until a song called ‘That Ain’t Love’ came about.

“It was born last December in Stockholm. I was in the studio with three Swedish producers and a New Zealand lyricist. The song was created in collaboration with this young production team called Money Bridge.”

katea-3

After presenting their demo for the song ‘That Ain’t Love’, the production team got a music publishing contract with BMG Chrysalis. BMG is a big international music company focused on the management of music publishing, recording rights and music distribution. The single came out in April and can be heard here: http://www.clashmusic.com/news/premiere-kat%C3%A9a-that-aint-love

katea-16

Katéa returned to America for the first time since her exchange student year. This time around she is accompanied by two Finnish musicians, pianist Joni Saukkoriipi and guitarist Antti Merisalo, as well as manager Sami Peura. ‘That Ain’t Love’ could be heard everywhere at Musexpo – at the café, by the swimming pool and in between panel discussions on the hallways. Katéa also performed it for a local LA station Radio Summit.

Katéa and Sami Peura

Katéa and Sami Peura

As the interview took place, manager Peura was preparing for Katéa’s big night – a 20 minute showcase at a studio instruments rental company S.I.R. stage on Sunset Boulevard.

“There will be representatives from record companies, representatives of the American and the international program office, TV, film and game industry people. Some of them have come specifically to watch the Katéa”, Peura, who has been in music business for 20 years, tells.

“I hope to pique people’s interest and to be able to continue to work with these people”, Katéa says before the big night.

Performing at S.I.R. Studios on Sunset.

Performing at S.I.R. Studios on Sunset.

And what a night it was. S.I.R. Studios was teaming with young and hip music people. Katéa’s showcase started promptly at 8.30 pm. First pianist Joni Saukkoriipi and guitarist Antti Merisalo appeared. The strong Southern California sun had taken Antti by surprise – he had painful looking sunburn. Then, dressed in a black top and a yellow skirt, her raven black hair tied in a bun, songstress Katéa took the stage. She performed five original songs – ballads and pop tunes, culminating with ‘That Ain’t Love’. It was a fantastic performance full of emotion, incredible range and interpretation. The material she was working with was also very high class. If one had to compare her with other artists, Björk and Amy Winehouse would come to mind. We will be sure to hear from this singer in the near future. Right now Katéa is back in Europe and making rounds in Scandinavia, but California has left an indelible mark in her heart.

katea-18

“Los Angeles is an interesting town with interesting people who have lots of stories. It has been interesting to hear them. I’m interested in human psychology and how people  think. It is a big source of inspiration for me and I will use it in my writing”, Katéa sums up.

katea-21

HAPPY CAMPERS TIINA & KIMMO

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – JOSHUA TREE, CA

PICTURES: TIINA PURTONEN, JONNY KAHLEYN & TOMI HINKKANEN

Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström know how to survive in the wilderness.

Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström know how to survive in the wilderness.

Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström are a Finnish couple who live in Los Angeles. Both have their professional lives – Tiina works for the Los Angeles Unified School District and Kimmo is an entrepreneur, who manufactures custom-made furniture. But on weekends they shed their city selves and head out to the great outdoors. And you can come along, for they offer camping trips for people interested in exploring California nature.

Tiina and Kimmo's Jeep

Tiina and Kimmo’s Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Early in the morning Jonny Kahleyn and I arrive at Tiina and Kimmo’s house in West L.A. The place is already full of activity. Kimmo is in the kitchen, busily preparing some shrimp for our trip and Tiina is doing the last minute checking of the gear spread out on the living room floor. We start our three-hour journey on two cars to the Joshua Tree National Park located in the south-eastern part of the state.

Chulla cacti in Joshua Tree National Park

Chulla cacti in Joshua Tree National Park

It is a huge park – almost 800,000 acres. The eastern half of it lies within the Colorado Desert. This area’s elevation is below 3,000 feet. The western half is part of the Mojave Desert and here the elevation is 3,000 feet above the sea level. A park ranger charges us a $15 parking fee at the gate and in we go. A winding road takes us through some spectacular desert scenery.

The desert is totally captivating, thinks Tomi.

The desert is totally captivating, thinks Tomi.

Bright red ocotillos are already starting to bloom and everywhere we see the namesake plants of the park – the Joshua trees. We pull over to examine them. When the Mormon pioneers traveled this land, they thought the limbs of the Joshua trees resembled the upstretched arms of the biblical figure Joshua leading them to the promised land, and that’s how the tree got its name. They support a whole host of birds, such as the Red-tailed hawk, Loggerhead shrike and Ladder-backed woodpecker.

Joshua trees dominate the landscape.

Joshua trees dominate the landscape.

We stop at the Chulla cactus forest. They shed nasty little balls full of needles. If you are not careful, they get stuck on your shoes, ankles and car tires and will never let go. However, they do look spectacular in the afternoon sun. Several people stop to take pictures and pose alongside these cacti.

A panoramic view of the Joshua Tree National Park

A panoramic view of the Joshua Tree National Park

The desert landscape may look dead and barren in the middle of winter. Looks can be deceptive. Desert plants are opportunistic – all is needed is a good rain shower and the desert will be full of bright flowers and blooms regardless of season.

Tomi Hinkkanen, Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström

Tomi Hinkkanen, Tiina Purtonen and Kimmo Heinström

The next stop – Skull Rock – an area full of volcanic rock formations, one of them resembling a human skull. There’s another one that looks like a gigantic elephant’s head complete with the eyes and trunk. We get our exercise climbing up and down the rocks and marveling at this natural wonder.

 

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree’s Skull Rock

We enjoy a picnic at one of the campsites. On the menu: tuna fish and chicken salad sandwiches. People have set up camps – some stay in tents, some in RV’s decorated with American flags. The trip continues to the Cottonwood Spring camping area. We luck out and are able to book the very last vacant camping spot. As Kimmo prepares the fire in a fire pit (He has brought along Estonian firewood!), Tiina gets busy preparing supper. In between these activities, there’s time for a game of mölkky. Having never played this Finnish game before, it seems like a silly game at first, but once you get the hang of it, turns out to be totally addictive. Kimmo emerges victorious. The night starts to fall.

Sunset at  Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park

 

As the last rays of sun disappear behind the mountains, we sit down on camping chairs around the fire to enjoy ricotta cheese salad and Jambalaya made with rice, shrimp and sausage – delicious! Tiina and Kimmo explain their philosophy:

Tiina Purtonen & Kimmo Heinström - paella

-We enjoy bringing people along our camping trips, seeing things with their eyes. It is rewarding to see people’s expression of wonder, as they see these spectacular nature spots for the very first time, Kimmo says.

Tomi & Jonny at our campsite in Cottonwood. It gets cold in the desert fast after the sun goes down.

Tomi & Jonny at our campsite in Cottonwood. It gets cold in the desert fast after the sun goes down.

The night gets darker. Here and there fires illuminate the different campsites. Many people have brought along powerful telescopes – the starry desert sky is spectacular when you look at it even with naked eyes. Tiina and Kimmo have handy miners’ flashlights on their foreheads.

007 JOSHUA TREE

While Tiina and Kimmo will spend the night in a tent, Jonny and I start heading back to L.A. It has been a wonderful day in the Joshua Tree National Park, thanks to our jovial expert hosts.

005 JOSHUA TREE

To look at Tiina’s wonderful nature photos and for more information about Tiina and Kimmo’s camping trips, check out their website: www.reissulla.com

006 JOSHUA TREE

THE DAYS OF YRJÖ AND LEONORA PALOHEIMO

 

Fenyes Mansion has gone through a complete renovation and is now open to public.

The fabled Fenyes Mansion in Pasadena recently reopened to the public after a three-year, 1.7 million dollar renovation. It is a fine house indeed, but it is the people who used to occupy it – Yrjö and Leonora Paloheimo – that makes the mansion so special to the Finnish community. This is their story.

On a spectacular Sunday afternoon a group of people gathered in the Pasadena Museum of History got a special treat. Paul O. Halme, Chairman of the Board of the Paloheimo Foundation, gave a special presentation, a look into the lives of Yrjö Paloheimo and his wife, Leonora Curtin Paloheimo and a tour of their home. This power couple built a bridge between Finland and the United States that still stands today.

Leonora and Yrjö Paloheimo in front of their home, Fenyes Mansion

Yrjö Paloheimo was born in Finland in 1899. The youngest of five sons of Kerttu and K.A. Paloheimo, he was born to luxury and privilege. K.A. was a wealthy industrialist, who owned saw mills around Finland. But he was not just another businessman. K.A. was also interested in establishing a cultural identity for Finland, struggling under the Tsar’s Russia. This would be brought about by establishing an artists’ colony on the eastern shore of Lake Tuusula. It would combine literature, visual arts and music under one special place. Lucky for K.A., he had friends in the very fields. Together with novelist Juhani Aho, painters Pekka Halonen and Eero Järnefelt and composer Jean Sibelius, the colony was realized.

“The sons of K.A. Paloheimo were called “the lazy sons”, since they married their neighbors’ daughters – one son married Sibelius’ daughter, the other one Halonen’s daughter and the third one Järnefelt’s daughter,” Paul Halme bemuses.

Attorney Paul Halme giving a tour of Fenyes Mansion in Pasadena

The sons also went into business with their father. One exception to the rule was the youngest son, Yrjö. He studied agriculture at the Helsinki University. After receiving his Master’s degree, the young man set out to west. He first arrived in the United States in the 1920’s. He lived and worked in Los Angeles and Ojai, a mountain community 83 miles north of L.A. In much the same way that a college student in these days would, he experimented with different philosophies, trying to find his own voice. There were other Finns living in Ojai as well at the time. Yrjö held discussions with them about topics such as religion, of which he was said to have liberal views. After this sojourn, Yrjö returned to Finland. But not for long. In 1933 he returned to the new continent, this time for good. Paloheimo was employed by the consulate general of Finland in New York. He was promoted to be in charge of travel promotion. In this capacity he had a chance to shake hands with presidents Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt and became good friends with Roosevelt’s mother, Sara. In 1939, New York hosted the World Fair. Paloheimo was in charge of the construction of the Finnish pavilion as a commissioner. That same fall the Soviet Union attacked Finland. Yrjö mobilized the American Finnish community, working as a Field Secretary for Help Finland, a relief organization. The enthusiasm in which the U.S. Finns embarked on their mission, never left Paloheimo.

A Finnish machine gun brigade near Lemetti, Karelia during Winter War

After the war Yrjö, now an American citizen, found himself in his mid-forties and unmarried. Things were about to chance – big time. In Washington D.C.,  socialite Leonora “Babsie” Curtin, daughter of the late newspaper tycoon Thomas Curtin, was working at the Smithsonian Institute, studying dialects of the Pueblo Indians. One evening in 1946, a family friend called Babsie and invited her to a dinner party in New York. Yrjö was at the same party. They met, fell in love and married later that same year. Their honeymoon took them to his homeland, Finland. Leonora brought an armada of luggage along wherever she traveled. And as to make up for all those years both had been single, in rabid succession, between 1946 and 1949, they adopted four orphans – Nina, George, Eric and Eva – from Finland. They were promptly dispatched to the best boarding schools America had to offer.

Leonora “Babsie” Curtin Paloheimo dedicated her life to her passions – culture, arts and Indigenous peoples.

Leonora and her family had many cultural interests. Her grandmother, Eva Fenyes, was a businesswoman, painter and pot maker, who traveled extensively. Wherever she went –Egypt, Venice, India – instead of buying a postcard, she painted a picture of the local scenery instead. American Indian cultures were especially close to Eva’s heart. She built houses in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Pasadena, California. After she passed away, it was Eva’s house in Pasadena, called after her Fenyes Mansion, that the Paloheimos settled in. It is a beau arts style house that has three floors and 16 rooms in over ten thousand square feet.

Fenyes Mansion has been a setting for several movies, including the satire Being There starring Peter Sellers,1979.

Yrjö was named Honorary Consul of Finland to the Western United States. So Fenyes Mansion also became the Consulate of Finland. With his excellent connections and people skills, Yrjö Paloheimo set out to put Finland on the map in America.

“If Yrjö Paloheimo was in this room, he would make you feel like you were the most important person. He could come up to you and say, I feel safe because you are here. And you would believe it,” says the family attorney Paul Halme.

Yrjö Paloheimo ran his consular affairs from this desk, displayed in Fenyes Mansion.

“He was a diplomat. And he always went and sought out people and shook their hands. He lifted the Finnish presence here. The consular core from Sweden, Norway, etc. – they really enjoyed him. And all of a sudden, the Finnish presence in Los Angeles was something different than it was before,” Halme adds. Before Paloheimo, Finland in Los Angeles was known mainly for its maids who at the time were working in the better households around town.

In the meantime, Leonora was no shrinking violet either. Throughout her life, she remained focused on her projects and studies.

“She continued to promote art and folk art. She was writing. Leonora and her mother and grandmother owned lots of properties. They had gas stations, etc. But they had hard time doing business, because they were women. Men had a hard time dealing with these women,” Halme points out.

Yrjö Paloheimo served as Honorary Consul from 1948 until 1964. Amazingly enough, at that same time, the Paloheimos were also able to find time to do business, engage in cultural affairs, take care of their children and travel around the globe. And there was still one thing Yrjö wanted to achieve. He yearned for the days when all Finns despite of their political views pulled together to help Finland in need during the war. In that same spirit, in January of 1953 he gathered nine of his most trusted men in the sauna building next to Fenyes Mansion. There Finlandia Foundation was born, in a Finnish sauna. Family friend Jean Sibelius agreed to be its first patron.

Composer Jean Sibelius agreed to be the first patron of the newly formed Finlandia Foundation in 1953.

As you know by now, the Paloheimos were involved in a myriad of businesses, foundations, property, cultural affairs and what not. As they got on in years, it became necessary to put their affairs in order. Fenyes Mansion was the first to go. The Paloheimos donated it to the city of Pasadena as a museum in 1972.

The Paloheimos moved out of Fenyes Mansion and into their other home in Carpinteria, California in 1972.

But there was still a lot of work to be done. Enter Paul Halme, attorney at law. His father- a Lutheran minister in a missionary – had been good friends with Yrjö Paloheimo.

“Yrjö used to talk to my daddy. He said you are my brother. They were very close doing Finnish cultural things together. My father was born in a Finnish family in Massachusetts but as a child he went back to Finland and was raised in Viipuri,” Halme, now 72, explains. He himself was born in Los Angeles.

“Yrjö was bringing me in to handle their affairs because he was concerned. I used to say, well, I don’t know which one of you is going to die first and he said, I’m going to die first. He was worried about Leonora and wanted her protected, because there would be lots of relatives showing up and so forth. Yrjö was the insulation, handling all the business affairs. He was trying to find someone to be in a position to protect her.”

A salon in Fenyes Mansion

Very soon the vast scope of the task dawned on Halme.

“I had to get my head around this whole estate and to try to see what the issues were, because they had many different documents. They had five trusts set up and they had a lot of different moving parts.”

At that point the Paloheimos had three residences in Carpinteria, CA, Santa Fe, NM and Järvenpää, Finland.

“I had many meetings with Yrjö. We would sit down for a couple of hours. We would meet in Carpinteria and sometimes he brought me to Santa Fe. He said, let’s bring Leonora and talk to her, let’s have fun! So, we’d go to the country club and have lunch. He was always very precise about everything. He was not a casual person, nor was Leonora. So, we’d go to lunch. He’d say, OK, where are the women going to sit and where are we going to sit,” Paul Halme reminisces.

Attorney Paul O. Halme runs the Paloheimo Foundation as the Chairman of the Board.

In 1985, the year before his death, Leonora and Yrjö traveled to Finland for the very last time. They had often spent their summers there, staying in their Kallio-Kuninkala house in Järvenpää, near Helsinki. The main building was in disrepair. It had recently served as a restaurant. There Yrjö met Ellen Urho, rector of the Sibelius Academy. Perhaps because of the old Sibelius-connection, Yrjö told her that he would like the place to be associated with music. It was agreed that the academy would take over the buildings and convert them into a learning center. Yrjö Paloheimo never saw the completed work. He died in the spring of 1986. The following year the Kallio-Kuninkala Course Center opened.

Yrjö Paloheimo was a distinguished, formal man with exceptional people skills.

By now Paul Halme had become the lead attorney handling all the Paloheimo affairs. For the last 20 years of her life, Leonora was deaf, so it took an extra effort for Paul to communicate with her.

“She was a very bright woman, very intelligent. She loved humor. I used to put a joke in the letters I sent her. Because she was deaf, I would send a letter in advance. Then she would read it and be prepared to give me answers,” Paul recounts.

A painting of a young woman adorns one of the rooms at Fenyes Mansion.

Leonora passed away in 1999 – 13 years after her husband. Today Paul Halme is the Chairman of the Board of the Paloheimo Foundation. Making his home in Carpinteria, he is busier than ever, dividing his time between Carpinteria and Santa Fe. He tells me he is trying to renovate the New Mexico style Paloheimo house there. Paul’s wife is in a bakery business. Their four children are all grown up now and the Halmes have ten grandchildren. In the meantime, Finlandia Foundation is stronger than ever, giving out grants totaling a hundred thousand dollars a year. They are also a major force behind Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan. 2013 marks their 60th anniversary, so in March the storied Fanyes Mansion will once again come alive with music, clinging glasses and laughter, as Yrjö Paloheimo’s life work is befittingly celebrated in the place where it all begun so many years ago.

Fenyes Mansion will be the venue for Finlandia Foundation National 60th anniversary, March 22-23, 2013.

For more info about Finlandia Foundation and the upcoming celebration, go to: www.finlandiafoundation.org

OBAMA WINS SECOND TERM

Obama gives a rousing victory speech in Chicago, after having won the election for the second term.

The long battle for the White House is over and Democratic Barack Obama, 51, defeated Republican Mitt Romney, 65, and was re-elected for the second term. Obama got 332 electoral votes and Romney 206. Out of more than 119 million votes cast, Obama got about 3 million more votes than Romney. It was sometimes frustrating to follow the campaign here in California when all the hullabaloo seemed to concentrate on the handful of battleground states, like Ohio and Florida. Once again, the Golden State had the role of a supporting actor, when all the attention was focused on the farmers of  Hamilton County, OH. California also served as a sponsor. Especially Obama collected a fortune to his war chest from Hollywood stars and Silicon Valley IT-millionaires. And yet California is the most populous state of the union with 37 million people and 55 electoral votes. It seems wrong that we have to be in the sidelines. A move from electoral college to popular vote would remedy this problem.

Maarit Fenwick cast her vote for Mitt Romney in Chatsworth, California

I had an exciting election day. At noon I met with Maarit Fenwick, née Halme, at her lovely house in Chatsworth, suburban Los Angeles. I was greeted by Maarit, her two dogs and a very fluffy black cat, all of whom seemed happy to see me. Maarit has lived in the U.S. for 26 years. She is a dual citizen, which means the lucky lady can vote both in Finnish and American elections. We drove the short distance to the Methodist church that served as the local polling place. Voters’ cars filled the parking lot and a steady stream of voters were checking with the officials and were seen casting their vote in the little booths. It was all white, middle-classed, calm, peaceful and subdued. Californians were asked to vote for 20 different political offices and measures, including senator, state representative and various measures, that dealt with death penalty, financing for schools and mass transit and here in LA, whether porn actors should be required to wear condoms or not. Maarit cast her vote for Mitt Romney, basing her decision solely on economics. Social issues, such as gay marriage, access to contraception and abortion did not factor in her decision. She admitted to me being liberal on those issues. After voting, Maarit proudly wore her “I voted” sticker, having fulfilled her civic duty.

Maarit proudly wore her “I voted” sticker after having fulfilled her civic duty.

It was quite a different scene at UCLA in Westwood. The students had organized a big election night viewing party at the tennis center on campus. About a thousand students gathered around gigantic TV monitors that were tuned to CNN, Fox and MSNBC’s election coverage. It seemed most students preferred to get their news from other sources, though. The young heads were hunched down to laptops and cell phones – all clicked onto various political sites, blogs and tweets. I was hard-pressed to find any Romney supporters here. This generation went for Obama in full force. They wore Obama t-shirts and buttons. Many voted for the very first time.

Young Obama voters watch the election night results at a viewing party on UCLA campus.

The ethnic diversity in the room was also noticeable. I saw many blacks, Latinos and Muslim women wearing their headdress. The most important issues to students were jobs, economy, funding for education, marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights. Many also felt that the rich should pay their fair and higher share of taxes than the poor and the middle class. In other words, the very same themes and issues resonated with this young crowd that Barack Obama has been talking about all these long months on the stump. If I were a Republican, I would take notice. This is your future electorate. Whether you like it or not, times are moving on. There’s no turning back to 1950’s style morals and practices.

African American women watch the results come in at UCLA viewing party.

Finally, it was a short election night. Soon after the polls had closed in California at 8 pm, Obama was declared winner. The big picture was that the older rural people went for Mitt Romney, the young and urban folk for Barack Obama. Indeed the president deserved a second term. Although the economy has not fully recuperated from the recession, we are on the right path of doing so. The business world is now creating close to a 200.000 jobs a month, when it lost about 800.000 a month when Obama first took office. He saved the U.S.auto industry, gave millions of Americans access to health care, gave young undocumented immigrants, the so-called dreamers their chance, put an end to the discriminative “don’t ask and don’t tell” policy in the military (with no problems with the much talked about unit cohesion), and decimated Osama Bin Laden and many of his Al Qaida followers. A lot remains to be done. A divided congress must learn to work together for the common good for all of us in this great country. I think most people would agree that the most pressing issue now is to get the economy running again. That would also go a long way of solving the debt crisis. There is no question in my mind that this should be accomplished both by careful cuts in unnecessary programs, as well as taxing the wealthiest Americans their fair share. In addition to the economic issues, it is important to have a country where everybody, whether white, black, Latino, immigrant, gay or straight feels welcome and a full-fledged member of the society. It is time to deal with the immigration issue once and for all and get a comprehensive immigration reform done. It is time to deal with the marriage equality issue as well. This is up to the Supreme Court, but the president and his message of support is essential. The election is over and the real work begins. Now we should all unite behind President Barack Obama and start working for the common good of this wonderful country.