Stephanie Koskinen

Stephanie Koskinen

Stephanie Koskinen and other members of Tucson's Finnish-American Club will finally see their hard work planning FinnFest USA 2012 pay off. For more than 30 years, the annual festival has been held in different states, although mostly in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, where there are large Finnish-American populations. This year's festival runs from Thursday, Nov. 8, through Sunday, Nov. 11, at the DoubleTree Hotel-Reid Park, 445 S. Alvernon Way. The festival includes lectures on a variety of topics, including health and education, as well as free activities for kids, and—of course— food. Some activities require registration. For more info, go to www.2012finnfestusa.org.

How old is the festival?

They've been going on since 1982, and they tend to be in the northern United States, like Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Canada and Alaska, where a lot of Finnish Americans live, areas that are part of the traditional immigration patterns in the United States. Last year, it was in San Diego, so we're getting warmer.

How many people do you expect?

It's hard to say ... but it does attract large numbers of people. We have hundreds of guests coming from all over the United States—hard-core attendees. We expect lots of local people to drop in just for the different programs, the vendors and free performances and kids activities, and, of course, the food. In places like Minneapolis, it attracts up to 10,000 people. We may not get that, but we still expect a good crowd.

Why is the festival held in different states?

Just to have different Finnish-American communities be able to host it and not have to travel so far, and also because it is very much a part of the United States' immigration experience. ...It's not just a Finnish festival, but a way to show those connections to the fabric of America as a country of immigrants. ... It's interesting that when my husband and I visited Bisbee, at a museum there, we saw a copy of a Finnish newspaper and realized some of the miners had been Finnish. They worked alongside many people from many different countries.

Where will the activities be held?

There's a Bisbee history trip you can register for on Sunday, but the rest of the activities will be at the hotel. There will be lectures on the Northern Lights, on journalism, on contemporary issues (for) women, and health issues facing Finnish men and also Native American men. A professor will be speaking on both those issues. One of the things the FinnFest likes to do is engage with the host community and host cultures.

How else is that happening during the festival?

It's just one of several types of programs that attempts to make links with local cultures. One of the bands from the northern United States, Finn Hall, will be playing alongside Gertie and the T.O. (Tohono O'odham) Boyz because they have some similarities—that's another connection. Then we have the Bisbee connection, and there will also be a lecture on architecture in the Southwest and connections to Finland.

It sounds like it was fun planning the festival.

It was kind of a novelty, to start off, for those involved. But now it's becoming real as we get close, so it's exciting. In the process, we discovered a lot of hidden Finns or Finnophiles who have come out of the woodwork. When we were out at Tucson Meet Yourself, tons of people came up to us to tell us that they studied Finnish, studied in Finland, had Finnish friends or a Finnish pen pal. That also goes to show you how international Tucson is, and that's something I want to show people who come here for the festival from other states or come here from Finland. I love Tucson. I've only been here for three years, but I think it's my role to help people make that connection as part of the festival.

Will there be many people here from Finland?

About 20, but the ambassador will be here briefly. She's going to open a session on Saturday for a workshop on the success of the Finnish education system by Pasi Sahlberg. He's been written about in The New York Times and other international press. The workshop is in conjunction with the UA, so teachers can get professional credit, but you don't have to be a teacher. You just have to sign up for it on our website. This is going to be a unique opportunity for all of Tucson.

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