On November 22, 2019, the Consul General, Ambassador Mika Koskinen, and Deputy Counsel General Maria Halava-Napoles, hosted a sit down luncheon in New York City. Robert Alan Saasto, Esq., President and founder of the Finnish American Lawyers Association, presented the history of the Finns who came to the United States, with an emphasize on those settling in New York City. This was the same presentation he had given two weeks earlier to nine delegates of the political parties of Finland at the same location. At the presentation to represent the New York City Finnish American groups were Eero Kilpi, President Finlandia Foundation, New York Chapter; and Jaana Rehnstrom, President Finland Center and Kota Alliance.
Robert Alan Saasto gave an overview of what happened to the approximate 360,000 Finns who left Finland to the USA between 1860 and the late 1920s, primarily because of lack of work and food. Many went to work in the cooper coal and iron ore mines, in logging camps, or on fishing boats. Many women worked as domestic helpers and men worked as carpenters in major cities including New York, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. Life was very difficult, there was no gold on the streets of America. Approximately one third returned, and were generally looked down upon in Finland as the losers who left and could not make it.
In the early 1900’s and particularly the 1920s, many Finns settled in Harlem and Sunset park in Brooklyn because of the building boom and construction jobs available. In Harlem there was the Fifth Avenue Hall at 5th Avenue and 127th Street and the Labor Temple – Tyon Temppeli, at the corner of 126th Street and Lexington Avenue. In 1941 the 126th Street Hall became a section of the International Workers Order; however, in 1944 the Club was forced to give up the Labor Temple although the activities continued until 1964. Changes taking place in Harlem affected attendance at the functions of the Hall. Most of the large population of Finns in Harlem moved to Brooklyn Sunset Park Finntown, Bronx, or upstate New York. In 1955 the Fifth Avenue Hall was sold to the Gospel Temple Church of God in Christ.
In the early 1900s until the 1960s, Sunset Park Brooklyn had up to 20,000 Finns in the neighborhood surrounding the Park. Finnish could be heard on the street. Finnish businesses served the community The Finns built and lived in the coops which were the first coop buildings in the United States. By the 1970s into the 1980s the Finnish youth were not remaining in the neighborhood. The New Yorkin Uutiset was sold to the Amerikan Uutiset in Florida in the early 1990s. Imatra Hall was sold in the early 1990s after celebrating it’s 100th year of existence in 1992. Finntown became Chinatown.
The event was a perfect opportunity for the Finnish Parliament Members of the Foreign Policy Committee to get an overview of the Finns who came to the USA, and particularly to Harlem and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.
Robert Alan Saasto, Esq.