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Amerikan Uutiset News Archive

Oct 29, 2015

Jenni Haukio, the First Lady of Finland, tours Liberty Island and Ellis Island in New York

Deputy Consul General of Finland to New York, Anna Yletyinen, the First Lady of Finland, Jenni Haukio, president of Finnish-American Lawyers Association, Robert Saasto and Dr. Erika Sauer visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

More than 150 world leaders attended the United Nations 70th General Assembly gathering and events which extended over 9 days in New York City at the end of September 2015. New York City experienced extensive traffic gridlock and crowds, particularly when Pope Francis visited and made his way about to various events in the “Popemobile”. Presidents Obama and Putin gave speeches critical of each other’s policies in Syria and came to no mutual understandings in their private meetings.

President Obama met with Cuban President Raul Castro and shook hands with the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, a first. The Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first U.N. visit. Palestinian President Abbas raised the Palestinian flag at the U.N. for the first time. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced countries for being silent to the threats of Iran against Israel.

The Secretary-General of the U.N. met with President Sauli Niinisto and thanked Finland for its role as co-chair of the Group of Friends of Mediation for its contribution to mediation and preventive diplomacy. President Niinisto addressed the General Assembly on Tuesday September 29, 2015. He participated in and delivered several statements in several other high level events. Informal photos of him with President Putin on the floor of the General Assembly, as well as formal photos of him and the First Lady of Finland, Jenni Haukio, with President Obama and Michelle Obama, are on the internet.

Jenni Haukio became the First Lady of Finland on March 1, 2012. She was born in Pori and graduated from the University of Turku with a Master of Political Sciences degree in 2001. She has published three collections of poetry and has taught creative writing. She was the Executive Director of the Satakunta National Coalition Party in Pori from 2005 to 2007. From 2007 to 2012 she was the Communications Manager of the National Coalition Party in Helsinki. She married Sauli Niinisto, the current President of Finland, in 2009. Sauli Niinisto was the presidential candidate from the National Coalition Party who won in 2012 and is serving a six year term. Their family includes a Boston Terrier.

On Sunday, September 27, 2015, I had the honor and privilege of participating in the tour that Jenni Haukio took of Liberty Island and Ellis Island, which was planned and organized by the Consulate General of Finland, New York. Deputy Consul General of Finland to New York, Anna Yletyinen, was present attending to all the details. Accompanying the First Lady was Dr. Erika Sauer, the wife of Ambassador Kai Sauer, who commenced his service as Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations in New York in August 2014. It was my function to present an overview of the Finnish American communities in New York. I was requested to do so by the Consulate because I had first-hand familiarity with the Finns in Harlem New York and “Finntown” Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York, where I was born.

My grandparents came from Finland to America in the 1920s, the height of the Finnish immigration wave between 1870 and 1929 when approximately360,000 Finns came. My grandmother ran a restaurant in Harlem. My father lived in one of the Finnish boarding homes in Harlem and went to both the 5th Avenue Hall and the Communist Hall to play pool and swim after sauna. My mother’s parents settled in one of the 24 Finn coops built by the Finnish immigrants surrounding Sunset Park. Mummo worked as the cook and Pop as the bartender at the Imatra Hall, which was on the same block as the Communist Hall. In the 1990s I would become a board member of the New Yorkin Uutiset and Imatra Hall, and act as their attorney when they were sold because there were no longer enough Finns to support their existence. I represented many of the Finns when they sold their coop apartments to non-Finns as they began to disperse and assimilate into the American mainstream.

I needed no preparation to describe the Finnish communities in both Harlem and Brooklyn, at both its peak and demise. I did though, beforehand, peruse through my considerable collection of Finnish books on the subject of the Finns who came to America, so as to be able to interspace throughout my family stories, accounts of the Finns after their arrival: initial jobs for the women in the families of the rich as maids, the men in mining, logging, and farming; Finn Halls; wild cat strikes and Socialist movements generated by the horrible mining conditions; coop buildings and cooperatives to buy food or borrow money; Winter War packages to Finland; newspapers; the retirees and Finnish snowbirds in Lantana Florida; Finlandia University; etc.

Upon initial introduction at the pier, I spoke in Finnish, but soon changed to English after explaining that my lack of fluency was due to my parents only speaking Finnish when they did not want the children to know what they were saying. Parks Department official guides gave us private tours at each location. While on the ferry to Liberty Island, from Liberty Island to Ellis Island, and from Ellis Island back to Battery Park, we remained within the crowds of people, undistinguished from the rest of the tourists. It was primarily during those periods of time on the ferries, and at lunch on a picnic table by the water on Ellis Island, that I was able to present an overview of the Finnish immigrants that came to America, interspaced with the experiences of my grandparents and parents as Finnish immigrants in New York.

At the conclusion of each of the tours, the tour guides (including myself) were presented with a “Presidential Tie” from the Office of the President, as a thank you gift. On the tie were details from the State Hall Presidential Palace in Helsinki. I presented as gifts two booklets: The Finns in Harlem and Imatra Hall Memories.

After shaking hands and saying good-byes, just before entering her car, the First Lady asked me when I would be returning to visit Finland. I replied that perhaps within a few years. She suggested that a good year to visit would be in 2017 when there are numerous events being planned to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the independence of Finland. She added that I should be sure to “look her up and make contact and have coffee with me and my husband”. Now that is an offer that cannot be refused!

Robert Alan Saasto, Esq.,

President of FALA,

New York, NY