A Social Experiment

By: 
Mark J. Ukkonen

A social experiment

To the Editor:

My parents immigrated to the United States from Finland, legally, when I was a young boy in 1955. We settled in Waukegan, Ill., where we had family and found an established Finnish community within the city’s south side. Some of those Finns came from the old country and some came from the upper peninsula of Michigan, mostly in search of work. There were good jobs in Waukegan which drew many to the area. 

I was familiar with a family from the U.P. who preceded us to the area by a few years. The father, Heino, and my dad had the same employer, and were occasional drinking buddies. While living in the U.P., sometime in the late 1920s or 1930s, Heino’s father decided to resettle the family to Russia. He had heard there was plenty of work in the “worker’s paradise.” They found employment all right, but also found hunger. I have read that there were socialists among the Finnish immigrants in the U.P., some hard core, as in communists. I don’t know the father’s political inclinations however.

It didn’t take long for the family to realize this was not what they had signed up for. Risking their lives, literally, they fled west, toward Finland. At that time life was cheap and you could be summarily shot for being anti-revolutionary. The country was essentially run by councils (Soviets) and they often had power of life and death over you. They were challenged at the Finnish frontier, but speaking Finnish, they explained they were Finns, trying to flee Russia. They were allowed in and sometime later the family emigrated back to the upper peninsula of Michigan. The son, Heino, eventually moved to Waukegan with his family. I graduated high school with Heino’s daughter in 1965. 

Had Heino’s father moved the family to Waukegan in the first place, even in tough times, I suspect he could have saved the family a lot of grief. Heino had learned a lesson in socialism first hand. 

 

— Mark J. Ukkonen

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