12.4.11

Immigrants and elections

The last few weeks have led up to the final frenzy of campaigning in the Finnish parliamentary elections. How campaigning is conducted in Helsinki has been fascinating to watch – the banners, fliers and on-street campaigners while I wonder how I as a newcomer to the country, though not yet a voter,  fit into the melee.  

To begin with there are forty-five candidates of immigrant background – citizens who immigrated here or children of immigrant parents. Some faces are recurring on the enormous posters that are impossible to miss, however I look at them and wonder if my interests are served by voting or a “new Finn.” My ideal candidate would of course be me - 35 year old black African, irreligious and educated, working to find appropriate employment and to fit into her new country. As such, I do not feel that any of the immigrant candidates at first sight fit my needs – Asian male, Somali Muslim female and so on. Due to the language barrier I do not have the information I need, which is something immigrant candidates have not picked up on.

I’d consider my needs may be better served by a 35+ Finnish female candidate, who has experienced unemployment and the other pressures that befall women of our age. My sex and age are critical factors in my identity as well as my immigrant status.

Additionally, the on-street campaigners have unfortunately put me off several candidates. Yesterday a young gentleman captured my attention when after proffering me a flier in Finnish and realising I didn’t speak the language “Have you voted yet” he asked “Please go and vote.”  He handed me a flyer of a white female candidate and waved as I left. He probably has no idea that he treated me as I feel I should be treated – like everyone else. I dislike campaigners who see me and make assumptions based on my appearance – the targeting by campaigners for non-white candidates and ignoring me completely by everyone else.

I have yet to see what happens with the actual elections, there has already been “election violence” and right wingers are still in contention. I think, however, that the personal interaction with immigrant voters needs to be investigated. Finally, if candidates were to examine our varying identities closer they may find more potential supporters.
Photographs: Ruby Nguyen photography (Flickr), Mwila Agatha Zaza

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