IT ALL started in the most common way: with a drink at the bar. “Julie and I started to talk about the I, too, am Oxford initiative and contemplated the idea of bringing it to Finland” says Meg Sakilayan-Latvala. “We really liked the strong message it was bringing forward and how efficiently it was exposing everyday vexations done to people considered as ‘outsiders’,” adds Julie Breton.

Coincidentally, as Sakilayan-Latvala and Breton were about to launch the I, too, am Finland blog, they were interviewed by a radio show that was discussing the topic of racism during the Week Against Racism (15-23 March). What could have been a great opportunity to share their idea with others, however, ended up being something different.

“Even though we have expertise on the issue from our studies and work experience, we were only asked to talked about our own experience with racism,” recalls Julie. “But since we are not as affected as other people with different backgrounds, we ended up discounting the experience of those who really face racism on a regular basis.”

After overcoming the disappointment and the initial series of “what if” questions that came to their minds, Julie and Meg set up the blog. “We decided that we just had to start the campaign and see where that would lead us,” says Meg. “So we started the blog by posting our own pictures with a message.”

Julie and Meg were a little concerned that their initiative would generate criticism and they would receive a lot of negative comments…but they were in for a nice surprise. In fact, the blog turned out to be well-liked by the dozens of people that started participating and uploaded their own pictures and messages.

“What was supposed to be a place where ethnic minorities’ daily issues could be brought into the spotlight turned into a love letter to Finland!” Julie adds.

Even though the focus was on the topic of immigrants and racism, Julie and Meg wanted the initiative to be open to all, rather than being an “immigrants-only” website.

“I, too, am Finland is all about people expressing the sense of belonging to society,” says Sakilayan-Latvala. “People don’t have to be Finnish citizens, or speak fluent Finnish for them to be able to claim that they too have a place in Finland.”

Only time will tell where I, too, am Finland will go, but what is certain, is that the number of people that are sharing their messages is growing day after day. “We want this conversation to continue,” concludes Meg. “It’s not a one-week wonder, rather a very crucial question that might be key to the future of Finland.”

Julie concludes with a special message for all foreigners living in Finland. “Moving to a new country is a challenge and a process that continues for years. Sometimes, it can happen to feel alone or powerless, but it gets better! With I, too, am Finland you can be part of the change. Add your voice to the conversation!”

Yannick Ilunga