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The Old World in the New

Eugene van Cleef

Ohio State University

The production of food in New England is not adequate to the needs of the people. Nearly 80 per cent. of the food consumed is brought from points outside the region. This means a constant high living cost. If one urges the New Englanders to consider the possibility of producing more food they respond rather complacently to the effect that all of the desirable lands are now under cultivation, and hence no material increase in the local production is possible. Yet, while they say "it can't be done", a new Pilgrim arrives and points the way. It is the Finn, as resolute and zealous an immigrant as has ever come to America, who has solved the problem of the better cultivation of New England soils and consequent increase in food production. The native people of this northeastern corner of the United States, as well as those in many other parts of the country, have an opportunity not only to increase their food resources, but to increase the value of their lands and return profits to themselves, if they will but heed the Finn, who has demonstrated his efficiency and stands ready to serve further.

Although the Finn came to Boston as early as 1860, his presence has not attracted much attention, for his coming has never been in consignments, by boatloads, or in terms of "immigrant movables". Industrial agencies have had no hand in bringing Finns to America. The earliest Finns were sailors, impressed by the possibility of earning a living more easily in America than in the home land, where they suffered from the oppression of a Russian autocracy. To-day they determine their own destinies, for in 1917 Finland declared herself a republic and was first recognized as such by the United States.

These sailor pioneers met with success at once and wrote their friends or in some instances ventured back to Finland to tell their friends and relatives of the economic opportunity awaiting them across the seas. As the years rolled by the Finns came in greater numbers, although at no one time in large numbers. The migratory process has always gone on quietly. Not all the Finns landed at the port of Boston, some having reached New England by way of New York City, and scattered throughout New England. The earliest immigrants found their way out of Boston first to Cape Ann, where they were given steady employment in the granite quarries. Later, the quarries of Quincy and Fitchburg attracted many, while the lumber industry in other parts of New England lured some. After a while the Finns turned to the textile mills, chair factories and other industries which offered immediate work and quick cash returns. The Finn pays his way from the outset and avoids the stigma of becoming a public charge; hence his readiness to adapt himself quickly, even though temporarily, to any sort of work which will enable him to support himself until such time as he can better his condition.

The Finn is thrifty and independent. Both of these qualities are the consequence of his life upon the farm in his native country where isolation and the struggle against the odds of nature challenge the strongest and bravest of men. He has consequently developed a penchant for work, a tenacity of purpose and a skill in farm management which may well be the envy of the peer of America's best farmers. His objective in America is not residence in the industrial center, where the permanence of home is not all too certain, but rather upon the land, where his future is entirely a factor of his own direction and where he may commune with nature. Furthermore, the New England environment reminds him of Finland. Its glacial lakes, its boulder-strewn surf ace, its numerous elongate hills, its woods of graceful white-barked birches or stately spired evergreens and the deep winter snows "are just like home". The urge, in this environment, to do what he did at home, but under a political régime offering him freedom of thought and action, is too strong to resist and at the first opportunity he turns to the land.

Managers of industrial plants loathe to see the Finns move landward. They commend them as among their best workers and not infrequently make part-time arrangements which permit them during the early development of their farms to spend a portion of their time in the factory. Such an arrangement is mutually advantageous, for while giving the employer the benefit of Finnish labor it enables the Finns to secure some ready cash so essential while waiting for the first crop to mature. The Finn's mechanical skill has evolved for much the same reason as did that of the Yankee farmer of fifty years ago. The isolated farmer can not call in a plumber, a carpenter, a blacksmith or other specialist, but must be Jack-of-all-trades. So it is, that when the Finn enters a factory without previous experience in the particular industry, "he learns quickly". He soon becomes expert. He thereby develops a double value to the community, on the one hand as an efficient factory employee, oftentimes excelling all other nationalities, and on the other hand as a superior tiller of the soil.

The Finns of New England have centered principally in Gardner, Fitchburg, Worcester, Maynard, the suburbs of Boston, in Quincy and in the Cape Ann district. Smaller numbers live in Peabody, Norwood and the vicinity of Cape Cod. Altogether there are approximately 35,000, including native and foreign born, in the State of Massachusetts, with a scattering in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Throughout this area there are many "run-down" farms. Some of them have not been under cultivation for the last five to fifteen years. Outside of New England such farms have been known as "abandoned", but the New Englander says there is no such farm in his part of the world. It perhaps is not worth while to split hairs with him on the difference between a run-down and an abandoned farm. The fact remains that these farms have been in a state of abandoned cultivation because the struggle has been too severe for the Yankee farmer or he has not been able to solve the problem of how to farm these particular pieces of land. Now enters the Finn, who boldly, slowly, methodically and laboriously begins to rehabilitate these farms and to succeed where his predecessors have failed. He purchases a cow, some chickens and a horse, if funds permit. The first two items give him a substantial food supply in the form of milk, butter, eggs and even chicken-meat occasionally, while the third offers power and transportation. He clears a few of the almost innumerable boulders, cuts off a portion of the dense second growth vegetation to make room for hay and enough of truck garden products for his own use, and drains a portion of the land. Tree stumps give him no particular concern at first, for he just cultivates around the stumps. In the course of time, and for the Finn time accomplishes much, all the land will be cleared, drained and under the plow.

The first year of farming passes, the second year rolls by, a third year eventually terminates and yet much remains to be done. Is the Finn discouraged? Not at all, for he has vision and patience; he is encouraged by what has already been accomplished and knows that constant labor for a few more years will bring the realization of his dreams. The end of the fifth year, the seventh year and even the tenth year mark his successive goals.

In the vicinity of Gardner and Fitchburg, where ten or fifteen years ago Finnish farmers were a rarity, to-day they supply a very considerable portion of the citizenry of Worcester county with vegetables, small fruits and milk. In the spring of 1922 nearly 100 Finnish farmers marketed not quite 100,000 quarts of strawberries. This is a record commanding the careful consideration of every native New Englander. It is a record established upon those run-down farms and also, in part, upon new lands which the farm bureaus of the state tell us are profitable only for the growth of pine. The Finn is applying the experiences of his home land plus certain remarkable qualities evolved through many generations of ancestors. He knows how to solve just such problems as the lands of Massachusetts present and is demonstrating without the peradventure of a doubt that what the New Englander says can not be done, agriculturally, can be done. The Finn is a new Pilgrim come to New England to play a new role. He is increasing land values, increasing the food supply, and establishing permanent homes where the best of citizenship develops. He is doing all this with essentially no encouragement from the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in the face of much discouragement.

A few people say the Finn is a radical and hence not desirable in America. They justify their attitude toward him upon these grounds. A sweeping indictment of this sort deserves investigation. Our lack of a scientific attitude of mind toward the immigrant problem is fraught with much danger. New England's unwholesome caste-system atmosphere serves but to stay the wheels of progress. Here is an opportunity for gain to New England and America, yet because of the absence of scientific methods which would lead us to a correct understanding of a people otherwise strange to us, we automatically encourage discontent and social unrest. What are the facts relative to the Finns?

About 40 per cent. of the Finns are Socialists and a fractional portion of one per cent. of this group is actually radical. Neither the Socialists nor radicals dominate Finnish life, although the latter cause all the trouble which has brought the whole people in some instances into unfair ill-repute. Clearly it is not right to judge the majority action by the behavior of an insignificant radical minority. It would be just as unfair to say that all Americans whose ancestors came over in the Mayflower are thieves just because a few now and then are caught stealing.

The Finn's radicalism is not all of his own making. Seemingly, only the I. W. W. organization has concerned itself seriously with the Finn and to the credit of the Finn, be it said, very few have joined its ranks. If we Americans would put forth an equal effort to interest the immigrant Finns in our institutions there is no question but that radicalism would be an unknown factor among them. The social worker needs to study the historical, political, geographical and anthropological background of the newcomer and approach him accordingly instead of trying to teach all immigrants by the same formula.

The Finns have an oriental ancestry modified by a few hundred years' residence in Europe. Good evidence shows that they migrated from central Asia, the region of the Altai Mountains. One group upon reaching the Volga River moved up that greatest of Russian arteries and thence into northern Finland. Another group crossed the lower Volga, proceeded across southern Russia, skirted the north slopes of the Carpathians, thence northward to Esthonia and across the Gulf of Finland into the land of the present republic. The modern Finns have lost much of their orientalism, yet retain enough to enable even the casual observer to appreciate it. Those of northern Finland, especially, show the broad head of the Mongolian with slant eyes, high cheek-bones and square-set jaws. The language is unrelated to any other European tongue excepting that of the Magyars, and then only to the extent of perhaps a dozen words. The Finnish mind moves slowly, cautiously and deliberately. The Finn listens to argument but reaches conclusions at his own leisure. He is not to be hurried; he is phlegmatic; he is thorough. During long residence in Europe the Finns have come successively under Swedish and Russian rule, and in their trade with the world they have felt German, English and some French influence. With this sort of background how could any one believe that the Finn can be approached in the same manner as the German, Italian, Russian Jew or Greek and be met with any degree of success.

The Finn is suspicious, self-reliant and independent - characteristics resulting from isolation upon the farm where he knew not whether the approaching party was friend or foe. He seeks no help and he takes his reverses philosophically. Charity is repulsive to him and patronage meets with resentment.

Employers in the large industrial plants say that the Finn is uncomplaining. They wish he were not so, for occasionally they do him an injustice. He accepts their verdicts without argument and seeks other fields to conquer. This characteristic certainly operates to the Finn's disadvantage, for when he is dissatisfied with working conditions he simply quits the job, whereas a complaint registered or suggestion offered might readily result in improved conditions. A neat case in point is that of the experience of an employment manager in a factory where upwards of 5,000 men are employed, some 400 or 500 of whom are Finns. In certain of the manufacturing processes the workman is exposed to continuous high temperatures. The foreman was impressed by the fact that when the Finns were put on this job they remained only a few weeks. They quit because of the heat. On the other hand Italians doing the same work were permanent. But the latter were not as efficient as the Finns because of their lack of sufficient muscular power. By arranging the work of the Finn so that he might have relief from the heat several times during the day he could be retained for months and in some instances a few years. The Finns might have told their foreman in the first place why they would not remain at this work and profited accordingly; on the other hand the employment manager demonstrated what could be accomplished with the immigrant by scientific observation.

Some New Englanders protest that the Finn is unappreciative of the efforts made in his behalf and to prove the correctness of their assertions they point to the fact that when brought together in class groups to receive instruction in Americanism they refuse to sing "America" or the "Star-Spangled Banner".

Analysis reveals the absurdity of the methods of some of the so-called Americanizers in their Americanization work. A direct appeal from a clear sky will not reach the Finn, even though it gets response from other nationalities. Yet this is exactly what has often been tried and found wanting. As previously stated, the Finn is suspicious; he must be convinced of your sincerity and purpose. He is best approached throuch one of his own people. Hence by gaining the confidence of one of his number, and then through him or with him presenting the appeal, results come forth in rapid succession. Then the Finn sings "America", the "Star-Spangled Banner" and even "My Old Kentucky Home" with all the gusto of the most ardent American citizen. He will do even better than that as witnessed by the writer. He not only will sing "America" in English but will follow at once with the Finnish translation, thus assuring a doubly good job of it.

New Englanders should congratulate themselves that among the numerous nationalities living upon American soil, one at least represents the regeneration of the Pilgrim spirit. The few radicals can be readily eliminated by encouraging them to farm the land, or by carefully and intelligently working with them in other directions, but not by antagonizing them. Many a "Red" has become true blue after acquiring some land and a permanent home. The great mass of Finns give no trouble, but on the contrary are notable for their quiet and modest ways.

What they have accomplished has come about in spite of discouragements. The opportunity to capitalize a new people, if capitalize we must, was never greater than is afforded the people of New England to-day. The responsibility for the right development of the Finns into a splendid citizenry rests not with them but with the native stock, for they have already shown their metal. Will those who pride themselves in their American ancestry live up to the traditions of their forefathers and lend not a helping hand but a cooperating hand to a worthy people from whom they may actually gain, or will they permit the battleground for American liberty to serve as the site for the development of a social unrest?

Published in The Scientific Monthly, Vol. XVI, No. 5, May 1923, p. 498-504.

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