Cultural pride in the Upper Peninsula and Finnish America.


U.P. Decorative license plate.

Daily examples of symbolic ethnicity in Upper Michigan: left, RV featuring “Finnebago II” logo and numerous Finnish symbols, right: hunting camp bunk with Finnish flag.
Side-by-side autos bearing “Suomalainen” and “Hei-hei” decorative plates. “Suomalainen” means “Finnish person” and “Hei-hei” is a greeting in American Finnish (and a farewell in Standard Finnish!)

Just as Upper Michigan residents and Finnish-Americans have faced prejudice and stereotype, so, too, have they developed their own fierce sense of pride. They enjoy their rural lifestyles, and the rugged country in which their ancestors settled. They enjoy the sound of the regional dialect. They love their ancestors’ words.

Much of Finnish and Upper Michigan cultural pride is displayed through material culture, in what social scientists call symbolic ethnicity. Displaying ethnic and cultural pride through objects such as flags, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and numerous other such things is quite common in the region.

By using such products, one marks oneself as a member of the culture group, and elicits response from others who may share this affinity. As one young Finnish American living in North Carolina says, “Having a Finnish bumper sticker on my car works… Other Finns leave notes in the windshield wiper.”

By taking an attitude of pride, Upper Michigan residents and Finnish-Americans counteract the stereotypes and the prejudice coming from outside of the community. They create contradictions to the incorrect assumptions of outsiders, and they provide a place for Heikki Lunta to exist- he reflects negative imagery common among tourists and non-locals at the same time that he reflects positive imagery perpetuated by Finnish-Americans and Upper Michigan residents.
Popular bumper sticker highlights Upper Michigan dialect
Bumper stickers proclaim Finnish pride. “Sisu” is aFinnish word meaning determination, tenacity and “guts.”

COPYRIGHT:© Hilary Virtanen 2006
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