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Book Review: Suuren lännen suomalaiset

Auvo Kostiainen

Reino Kero. Suuren lännen suomalaiset (The Finns in the Great West). Keuruu: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava, 1976. Pp. 200, illustrated. FM 38.00.

Reino Kero has been the dominant figure in the study of migration from Finland for the past decade. In addition to his dissertation on Finnish emigration to the United States (1974), he has written widely on the Finnish immigrants in America. Suuren lännen suomalaiset is the first comprehensive survey for the non-scholarly reader of Finnish migration to America to be written in the Finnish language. Kero's book is based mainly on sources collected at Turku University in Finland. He has used a wide range of documents including newspapers, periodicals, novels, personal memoirs, minute books from different organizations and recent scholarly studies.

When writing Suuren Lännen suomalaiset, Kero set as a goal to do a semi-scholarly history which would reach persons other than academicians interested in migration history. Accordingly, Kero presents the history of Finnish migration in colorful descriptions, making use of materials from Finnish-Americans themselves as much as possible and with frequent quotations. An impressive array of original photographs make the work even more interesting. The author, however, has not totally neglected the scholarly aspect. He uses footnotes where necessary to support essential statements which can lead those interested to the proper sources for further study.

Kero presents an overview of the Finnish migration to America. He begins in the middle of the nineteenth century and concludes one hundred years later. The book starts with a description of the American image in Finland and goes on to the growing wave of migration with analyses of government reactions which ranged from opposition to neutrality. Basic features of migration history are included such as the reasons for departure and the vicissitudes of the trip overseas.

After arrival in America, Kero deals with the immigrants' places of settlement, their work and life. Finnish-American cultural activities find their place in Suuren lännen suomalaiset with discussions of the church, the temperance and labor movements, and the Knights and Ladies of Kaleva. Publishing, the immigrant theater, choral societies and sports are also briefly discussed.

The book includes an interesting chapter dealing with the exodus of Finns to Soviet Karelia during the early years of the Great Depression.

One of the major questions in the volume is the fate of the Finns in America and the future of their immigrant culture there. When discussing "assimiliation", Kero takes a quite pessimistic view. He does not believe evidence that Finns in America will survive because of their small number (about 350,000 souls in all). Only the future will really determine whether the Finns in America will totally disappear in "the great melting pot". It has happened already for some, but will the final phase ever occur? Or is America ultimately a land of "unmeltable ethnics", as a growing number of scholars have suggested?

Kero has included a great number of facts and observations about the Finns in America. Because of the multitude of ideas presented in this volume, one can question in how much detail certain issues should have been discussed. I believe the author has made the right decisions when presenting a broader and less thorough account of interesting events. When compared with some histories about Finnish-Americans done in Finland, or with some narrow, one-sided travel descriptions, this book stands on a different level. It presents both sides of Finnish immigrant life, the pros and cons, the successes and failures, and a little on nearly every aspect of the immigrant experience in a new land. In this manner, then, Suuren lännen suomalaiset fits in the hand of every person interested in Finnish migration to America.

Published in Finnish Americana, 1(1978), p. 109-110.

© Auvo Kostiainen

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