Image source: "Meillä on unelma" Facebook page

Multiculturalism a.k.a. the eagerness to learn


I had another topic ready for today’s post, but I felt the need to share a few thoughts about multiculturalism, considering the recent events in Finland related to the issue. It has taken a while to write this post, not because of the writing time – there I am pretty fast – but because of the thinking behind what I am writing and the time contemplating whether I should publish this or not. I also tried to read some sources about the topic and that took a little while. In the meantime I was observing how fast social media reacted to the words by Finnish politician Immonen, who basically declared war on multiculturalism in Finland. But I am a reflective person, and that means sacrificing part of the sparkle sometimes…

Before I start writing down my own thoughts about multiculturalism and its meaning within an artist’s life, I want to express my concern. At the moment, Immonen’s political statement may be used to hide any other political decisions being carried out by the Finnish government. It might sound over-elaborate thought, but at least in my home country Spain, we recognize political smokescreens even before they are created, Well, not everybody, but at least those who follow more than one source of information, as yours truly. Having said this, and regardles whatever other crucial political decisions might be carried out in the shadows of Immonen’s impacting words, the issue is complex and, as a foreign artist and researcher living permanently in Finland, I would like to raise my voice about the topic.

Let’s start with the definition of multiculturalism. In my own thinking, there are tangible things and intangible ones. Multiculturalism is part of the second group: something truly difficult to measure and something extremely difficult to fully understand by us humans. Like love, like religion, like art. However, any human being can feel all of those intangible things, and thus comes trouble: our emotional side has far more impact in other human beings than our rational side, except of course some of the greatest inventions after a lot of rationale work – as a consequence of a lot of passion anyway. “Think twice” they say, but we never do… And that is what divides the followers of Immonen (and so many others before, and unfortunately after) and the ones who are against him. We tend to “feel twice” and not think at all, because after all, what did Immonen mean with his words? When saying “multiculturalism”, did he refer to culture in general? To religion? To Islam or some of its most fundamental manifestations, perhaps? And what about the ones who are now against him, what are they referring to? Do all individuals speak the same language when talking about “multiculturalism” in this context? I am afraid not.

Forgive me, I know Wikipedia is not the best source, but it helps to start, and I would not like to trust completely the sources I have been reading because I am not an expert in this topic. Having said so… According to the first paragraph in Wikipedia, multiculturalism describes the existence, acceptance, or promotion of multiple cultural traditions within a single jurisdiction, usually considered in terms of the culture associated with an ethnic. This can happen when a jurisdiction is created or expanded by amalgamating areas with two or more different cultures (e.g. French Canada and English Canada) or through immigration from different jurisdictions around the world (e.g. Australia, Brazil, Mexico, the united States, and many other countries)”. Please, someone update this definition now!

If you remember the intangible things I mentioned a few lines ago, any of them could add the combining form “multi”. After all, is not love represented in and coexisting with many forms? And what about religion or art? In a way, Immonen’s words in the art field would be equivalent to saying “We, musicians, have to fight so that visual arts and dance and any other cultural manifestation than ours are removed from the globe, we want our musicians, fellows and listeners to cooperate in the eradication of all those enemies”. Here, the master of argumentation, Mr. Anthony Weston would be very angry with me, since I broke all the possible rules to build a reasonable argument that would connect arts and multiculturalism from the perspective of somebody who tries to divide people, but since I was just joking... And jokes aside, let’s get to the matter in arts, and specifically to my own experience as a musician and researcher who left her home country years ago to live in Finland. As have many others.

My mother tongue is Spanish, I come from a Valencian speaking area (we do have already micro-multi-culturalism issues there with language or geographical distribution/assignation), and I have been learning from and playing with musicians from all over the world since I started playing the cello at age 12.  On a weekly basis I communicate virtually with people from at least 4 different countries because of my research and artistic projects and I am exposed to three languages daily (sometimes more, in those I can at least read – or destroy via Google translator). I like all food I have tried and I am eager to try some more. I have travelled to more than 25 countries, and I do find it extremely hard to define myself through the criteria of any single culture. In that regard, I listen to all kinds of music, I play a wide range of repertoire and different styles with different cellos, I write and read about different topics inspired by multicultural thinkers and researchers. Basically, I get inspiration from all possible cultural manifestations, especially from the world of visual arts. And a very long etcetera.

I have friends, colleagues and family members living in different countries who represent many different spiritual beliefs, political thinking, or sexual orientations, and whose cultural backgrounds, behavioural patterns or hierarchical positions in society are really varied and have helped me be a bit less narrow-minded. However, since I am a human, I will always make mistakes. I personally have adapted environmentally friendly actions to my daily routine as one of the main priorities in my life (disregarding barriers of any kind), I believe in trade (not necessarily through money) as a right for humans and as a mechanism for balanced relationships among peers, and I am a Christian (Catholic with restrictions, because there are things in Catholicism that I completely disagree with given the times we live in). Therefore, I live simultaneously in multiple cultures and so do all people I know, as far as I know.

Since I am aware Spanish people are known as being always late, I try my best to be the first in rehearsals and meetings (though sometimes I fail totally and irremediably, especially in my home country, of course!). I have always followed the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. In doing so I have learnt to live in Finland almost like a Finn and I have done so everywhere else I have travelled or stayed, therefore becoming myself an amalgam of cultures and being imbued with experiences that no longer make me a mono-cultural being. Yesterday’s me no longer exists and gets more and more multicultural. Apart from sauna and all the great things in Finland, I do also pay my taxes, and I will dedicate the forthcoming year (finally!) to learning Finnish. Not speaking the language (well I do speak a little at the supermarket...) is the only thing one can hold against me as not being “Finnish enough”. That, and my resistance to follow the fashion trend “valkoiset tennissukat puvun kanssa”. Speaking of fashion, I consider it more appropriate to have a multi-outfit in which I use Italian shoes made in Spain, English fabrics with a French style, and, if possible, all made by small local producers with German precision and designed by talented and young Scandinavians. (I tried the white socks, but it just didn’t work for me, although I am open-minded in terms of someone else using them ;-)

For example, at Sibelius Academy, we have a wonderful and really active GLOMAS master’s program that involves all types of music and engages students from all over the world as well. It is very difficult for me – when thinking about the current situation of music learning, at least in the Western countries – to find someone who can be placed into the mono-cultural box, because we are connected to so many different cultures daily. We all are multicultural, and if there is anything that divides people, it is the extent to which people are eager to learn about others and about everything. People who find multiculturalism a rich part of humanity are those who are tolerant, empathetic, have wide knowledge on many topics and above all, the eagerness to learn, the curiosity to discover, and the passion for understanding variety found in humanity. But we all are multicultural in such a globalized world, we cannot stop this at this point, and we definitely shouldn’t, despite a few crazy people who are fundamentalists in some areas.

So dear Immonen – and whoever thinks in a similar way – to paraphrase a man of many talents, Wade Davis, I would like to send you this message: “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit”. And for the rest of us: let’s give Immonen a hand, let’s help him understand his mistake, let’s introduce the concept of learning from others as something great, let’s hope he sees the richness of multiculturalism – especially since he sees anything but. Somebody said loving your enemies is much more difficult than loving your friends, but in the learning process of accepting each other with our differences, we should strive to achieve that, therefore making a better us, a better them, and definitely a better world. Let's not create more hate. So long…