My Spanish-Catalan-Finnish-Colombian combo has now been living in Finland for about half a year. We moved from a town near Barcelona to a town in southern Finland, close to my parents. We’re enjoying the snow and the reasonably mild winter weather. We have had our ups and downs, but mostly it has been smooth sailing. Our children seem to be adapting to their new environment with relative ease. They miss Spain but life in Finland doesn’t seem so bad either - not for now, anyway. Our lives are somewhat uneventful but right now we’re happy that way.
Perhaps the biggest event for us in the past few months was Christmas. Our son got a set of collectable football cards for Christmas. Each card has a picture of a player, their skillset, team and home country. The other day, as we talked about where each football player was from, I asked our 6- and 7-year-old children where they themselves were from. My question in Finnish was “Minkä maalainen sinä olet?” which literally refers to nationality and country rather than origin. Still, their answer was clear as day: both said they were Spanish.
Now, here’s the thing: our children don’t have a Spanish passport. They were born and, until half a year ago, raised in Catalonia, Spain, but officially they are not Spanish. Even in Spain, they were foreigners, born to a Colombian father and a Finnish mother. Did that matter to them? No. Home as they know it is in Spain, so that’s where they’re from.
In saying they were Spanish, my children made me both delighted and a little bit sad. Delighted because clearly they have an idea of self, home and roots. Sad because I feel that our transition and integration to Finland has gone well, that the children’s Finnish is improving in leaps and bounds, and that they have made friends. This winter they have even started to learn all the seasonal quirks Finnish children have to deal with - how to slip almost effortlessly into a snowsuit (“Äiti, I look like an astronaut!”), how to stay up on skates and skis, how to sing more than one or two Finnish Christmas carols. Surely these experiences are proof that they are starting to feel at home in Finland? I held onto these small victories as justifications that we had done the right thing in moving countries.
I was also a little bit sad about my children’s answer because I too have felt that home is somewhere other than where I live, and I know it’s not always easy to deal with such a complex feeling. I badly want them to feel at home where they are. But 6 months is a very short time in a new place - it can take years to start feeling at home in a place, even for children who we tend to think adapt to change quickly. I should know - I lived abroad as a child and I’m still unsure of where home is.
Your home is often defined by a document saying where you are from. These documents may give you certain freedoms, or restrict where you can travel. For many official purposes, these documents do matter. They also matter in politics, whether you want them to or not. A passport can also give you a sense of belonging - an idea of where home is. But right now, and perhaps for the rest of their lives, what defines home for my children is the place they first knew as home, even if they were born foreigners to that place. It’s not a new phenomenon and it’s not unique to my family. People have moved across borders throughout history. Diasporas, refugee camps and multilingual families like ours provide continuous proof of that.
How, then, can we support our children who have left their home behind? I wish I knew. In our case, we are trying to keep up their Spanish language skills, stay in touch with their friends and, when the time is right, we'll visit our former hometown. But will that be enough for them to feel like they are connected to their Spanish home? I don’t know. Fortunately, my daughter has a backup plan: she says we could transport our old home in Spain to Finland. So if push comes to shove, maybe we’ll just have to do that.
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