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Laura Hirvi

Born July 16, 1980, Mannheim, Germany

Bachelor of Arts (ethnology) 2004, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Master of Arts (ethnology) 2007, University of Jyväskylä
PhD (ethnology) 2013, University of Jyväskylä

Director of the Finnish Institute in Germany, 2015–
Part-time German teacher 2006–08, University of Jyväskylä and City of Jyväskylä
Project worker 2005, Theatre Info Finland
English teacher 2003-04, Carmel English School & Aukland House School, India
Project worker 2002, national poetry archive of the Finnish Literature Society
Assistant 2001–03, Gleis Lutz, Berlin

Numerous literary and general translations over a period of 10 years, including German translations of Terhi Rannela’s novel Taivaan tuuliin and Leea Klemola’s play Kokkola

Vice-chairwoman 2014, ASLA-Fulbright Alumni Association Board
Website and email administrator of ‘Sikhs in Europe’ 2012–
Book review editor 2009–11, Finnish Journal of Ethnicity and Migration
Board member (responsible for international affairs) 2009–10, Helan tutjijat ry (an association of doctoral students and research doctors at the Department of History and Ethnology, University of Jyväskylä)

Written by Laura Hirvi (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Research on Sikhs in Finland

In my dissertation I compared the Sikh experience in Finland and California. While working on my dissertation I was often asked why I chose this particular subject. It's a long story, but it all began when I spent nine months in India as part of my studies in ethnology. I was working as a volunteer teacher and wanted to improve my Hindi. A couple of years later I was casting about for a dissertation topic and all I knew was I was interested in both India and migration issues. After talking it over with my advisor, professor Laura Stark from the University of Jyväskylä, I settled on a comparative study of Sikhs living in Finland and California.

Laura Hirvi interviewing Sikhs in California. Photo: collection of Laura Hirvi.

My primary goal was to discover how Sikhs negotiate their place and position their identities in two different cultural contexts. What kind of roles do Sikh immigrants seek and what do they receive? How do their families fit in to the societies to which they have moved? In my research I found that Sikhs in California more easily feel part of their new homeland than Sikhs in Finland. The grand narrative of the United States as a nation of immigrants makes it easier for them to claim their own place in society.

My dissertation was the first study on Sikhs in Finland, and it uncovered some interesting facts: the first Sikhs moved to Finland around the year 1980. Today there are about 700 Sikhs in Finland, with their own temple or gurdwara in Helsinki. As I note in another of my articles, the gurdwara is not only important as a centre of worship, but also as an important space for parents to transmit the Sikh cultural heritage to their Finnish-born children. The homes of Sikh families are another such space. In an article due out in 2016, I argue that the home is a vital “cosmos of senses” that is crucial in the socialisation process of young Sikhs growing up in Finland.

Entrance of a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in California. Photo: collection Laura Hirvi.

Many male Sikhs work in restaurants or bars. The future will show how the careers of their children will turn out. Since most of them are fluent in Finnish, Punjabi, and English alike, it could be assumed that the world is wide open for them. For a more extensive introduction to the subject of Sikh immigrants in Finland and California, please feel free to see my publications listed below.

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