I am but one cipher in an army of millions.

Some things I have learned since yesterday (Stella Adler alumni may remember Ron Burrus’ daily question, “What have you been learning?”):
1. Labels can be effective.
I hate the idea of labeling yourself. As an actor, a mixed-race child, a citizen of two countries, among other things… I felt that “labels” were far too limiting and complicated for me. I want to be free from a catalogue of humanity. But labels united as a voice do matter. It’s not about me and my individualistic ideals. It’s about showing numbers. I am but one cipher in an army of millions.
2. Try talking to the opposition instead of ignoring them.
I have a trigger finger when it comes to unfollowing/blocking. Since watching “Arrival” (and reading Zack Stentz + William Stamey‘s posts) I have decided to listen. I will converse instead of mute. As an actor and a member of this society, it’s in my best interest to attempt to understand why someone behaves the way they do.
3. A movement can only be successful when the people have a common vision.

What I believe Occupy lacked, #UniteAgainstHate has gained. Whether it be a common leader like Gandhi or MLK, or a common enemy like T****- you must stand together in order to be effective.


may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.

HENRY V, Prologue


Reading the above text (O for a Muse of Fire) that we had studied in drama school relentlessly, I take away from this speech the word “cipher. This word is meant to mean, in this context, that one actor on the stage shall represent 1 million soldiers that fought at Agincourt. The Chorus asks the audience to imagine that 1 actor is actually 1 million.
I am but one cipher. There are millions who are unseen that need to be heard. We performers, public speakers, activists shall be visible for you to be heard.

What have you been learning?




Stay Connected.

I feel paralyzed from the evil things people do. The young men of this country are growing up thinking that they are entitled to a woman’s life. What made them believe that the world owe’s them anything? It stuns me that I don’t have an answer, other than “please raise your children better.”

It started with Columbine. I was in high school in North Carolina at the time. Our teachers made us recite the pledge of allegiance. They started flying flags in each classroom. I refused to say the pledge because I am an atheist, and I had the support of my classmates who supplied me with sections from the constitution saying that I did not have to recite it because “under God” was added later, much later, as we know, in the 1950’s. My teacher was disgusted with me, but I’m not a sheep. I was sent to the principal’s office, but I just went home. No kid with an automatic rifle was going to challenge my human rights, and certainly not my 12th grade German teacher. Patriotism. You’re either with us or against us. United we stand by our guns.

Here’s what happens today after a school shooting: drills for 1st graders hiding under desks. Assemblies with touchy-feely sentiments about “community”. It’s all part of the cycle. How do we treat and identify boys and men who have these issues? Why are things like Gamer Gate happening? What is causing these people to flip out?

Girls, Women: No one owns you. No one is entitled to you, your life, or your body.

Is it the larger cultural patriarchal landscape that is to blame? As creators, we have a responsibility to tell the truth and create great art. Are video games just entertainment? What percentage of the population has the ability to separate reality from virtual reality? What is effecting these young men so strongly that is different from everyone before Columbine? Is it the imperfect stew that is America? Are video games more violent today than they were back then? No, they are just more realistic.

The persona you put on the Internet is not who you are in reality. The distance we are creating from each other grows. If Twitter deleted itself today, we would recover. All of those connections would be lost, if you had not reached out to meet in person. Gone. And it would not effect us at all, because it’s virtual. It’s a presentation of the self.

Time to get out of your house and start connecting with people, lest you retreat farther into the shell of your protective plastic persona.

Stay connected.

The Art of Assimilation: From the Voice of a Canadian-American

The twitter-sphere is reeling after Coke aired an ad during the Super Bowl that reflects America’s beautiful diversity and multi-culturalism.  We all have our own unique storyline of what makes us who we are: hometown, our parent’s culture, your sub-culture, the culture you are met with when you move somewhere else, and the culture you wish to incorporate by choice in your adult life.  Identity is a precious concept that no one should take away -or force- onto you.  I hold onto mine for dear life.

The world is smaller than most people dare to know.  Assimilation may be a bad thing (how one must give up their own culture in order to adopt the culture of the country that they immigrate too), though I now see it in a different light.  It is a mere addition to the person you already are.  It’s a method of survival in a strange land (i.e., when I moved to the South, I stopped using the word “damn,” [which was never a big deal in Alberta] as every time I said it, people froze).  How much of America is lost when immigrants do not assimilate?  How much of a person is lost when they do assimilate?

Satu Runa
…this was the toned-down version of my metal self (me circa 2005)

Moving from Canada to the American South, you would think assimilation was easy.  However; it was the most difficult transition of my life (second only to the culture shock of moving to Los Angeles from New York!).  For a time, I silenced my political beliefs (as this was the most foreign quality I had) and I didn’t speak about religion too much (I was raised without religion – this was the most “offensive” thing about me).   I couldn’t give up my skin color.  Coming from Canada, I couldn’t hide my slight accent.  All in all, it was my acceptance of the new world around me that was difficult- not their acceptance of me.  The acceptance of my circumstance is what kept me up at night.  What was more of an identity crusher: later on in life, in order to find acting work, I had to visibly give up the strong sub-culture that found me (metal), sustained me, and allowed me to assimilate and build a strong identity (or ego) to protect myself from the horrors of an ultra-conservative society.

Satu Runa

Walking in a winter wonderland in Central Park

What people have to remember is that while being multi-cultural is okay, a lot of us are still guests of this country, and what we offer is to add flavor to the recipe that already exists.  The USA is a rich broth full of ingredients from around the world.  We are merely adding spices to the pot as time goes on.  But that pot has been here longer than you.

If you move to a country with one national language, you should learn it.  It’s a survival thing.  I also believe that it’s arrogant to expect people to learn any other language in this country.  I admire multi-linguists (I myself know French), but Americans shouldn’t be expected to learn Spanish (even though it’s a sexier language, and people are always better off knowing more than one).  Until this country officially becomes bilingual, forget it.  Even in Canada (which is officially bilingual) hardly anyone knows or speaks French out west because they don’t have to.

Holding onto one’s culture and identity is a ferocious sport in a changing world.  It’s why Quebec wants a separation.  It’s why I love hockey, Tim Hortons, and winter SO much.  It’s the part of this country that embraces tidbits of my Canadian heritage that keeps me going.  It’s all that I have to hold onto.  It’s why I feel compelled to cheer for Team Canada but not Team USA (though I do root for specific US athletes if I’ve been following their story, and of course, if they are cute).  I would never let anyone take my heritage away from me.  Though I did not move the to United States by choice, it’s my choice to stay, and I am doing my best to respect the country that I have grudgingly adapted to.  I focus on the good things (rock n’ roll, art, poetry, barbecue/beer/bonfires, San Francisco, New York, my friends) and surround myself with like-minded individuals who want to make this country more exciting.  I don’t have to be anything but who I want to be.  Isn’t that part of the American dream of freedom?

While the message in the Superbowl Coke ad (and most liberal blogs) is “tolerance,” both sides of the debate are worth hearing.  What makes America beautiful is the acceptance of different people and the amazingly unique American culture that has been born from a history of immigration.  The world is changing and it cannot wait for you to change with it.  Be yourself.  It’s what freedom is all about.  But be prepared for the battle field that is the acceptance of society, because they will come barking.


Tales of a Secret “Biracial” Immigrant

I’ve been feeling an overwhelming burst of isolation.  With so many sensitive topics flooding our screens from corporate news sources, it’s hard to find hope and light amidst the chaos and darkness.  Like a stranger in a strange land, I am still searching.

I came from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then Edmonton, Alberta, both pleasant and lively places to grow up in the 80s and early 90s.  I learned about racism, but never encountered it myself.  I generally felt an overwhelming sense of peace and happiness in a childhood filled with ballet and drama classes, skiing, piano, art, theater, and short but spectacular summers.  When my family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the mid-90s, I had great friends starting out, and people generally were curious about me, and friendly too.  People had no idea what I was.

I put “biracial” in quotations in the title because the archaic idea of “race” was created to make a certain person feel more comfortable about the rest of the world.  Is it a skin colour, country, religion, or genetics?  For some people, is it a choice?  In North Carolina, I was asked a few times whether I was Black or White, and I honestly didn’t know how to answer that question, as if those were the only racial options.  I was new to them, so they didn’t have a box for me.  Others would ask where I worship, and my mother would tell me to say “We worship at home,” even though I was raised without religion (atheist).  Over time I found clever ways to answer questions about myself.  I eventually enjoyed the extra attention I received for being different, even the teasing and jokes about being Canadian.  All of that was in good fun.

I am the only product of a second marriage, for both of my parents.  I have half-siblings on both sides, and I grew up with my half-sister and half-brother from my mother’s previous marriage.  They are fully Indo-Trinidadian (of Indian and Afghan decent).  My three half-sisters from my father’s previous marriage are fully Finnish.   As for me: I am half Finnish (Scandinavian) and half Trinidadian (of Indian and Afghan decent).

Me in Bethesda, MD with my father. Circa 1987

I have never met my Finnish half sisters, nor have they ever reached out to me.  I will admit that I am curious about them, but also a little hurt that they were never curious about me.  My mother told me that just after I was born, she ran into a friend of my father’s ex-wife.  This friend said that my half-sisters were all curious about what “colour” I turned out to be (which is odd, since my mother has light-olive skin).  And my mother said to her, fiercely, “She is just fine. And you should see her, she is beautiful.”

In North Carolina, when I was in my teens, I started to dye my hair wild colours.  I began listening to metal and industrial music, and found my place in a group of metal-heads and punk-rockers in the Winston-Salem local music scene.  It was a wonderful place to be, and it felt really good to belong to something I could call my own.  Everyone was welcome, regardless of race, gender, or colour.  Music is what united us.  Sub-culture took huge precedence over what you were genetically, or what religion or class you were born into.  It was powerful, and we felt completely above all of the social mores and categories everyone loved shoving us in.  I knew I was always different from everyone else in my family because of the sub-culture I chose, though they completely accepted me for who I am.  Looking back, it totally makes sense that I am a metal-head, as Finland is the Promised Land of Heavy Metal.

I came home with turquoise hair and an extra piercing in my ear one day.  I was probably wearing fishnets, a Marilyn Manson t-shirt and a silver vinyl skirt with combat boots, my standard uniform when I was going out to the mall with friends.  My brother was home from college.  He asked me a simple question: “Why would you want to stand out any more than you already do?”  I thought about it for a long time.  Dying my hair was not about standing out (as most counter-culturalists agree that in the end, we all looked the same by making similar fashion statements).  It’s hard to pinpoint, but it was about belonging to something extraordinary, fun, and exciting.  Expressing your art on your own body.  Showing the world that we are the truly free ones.  And yes, a big “Fuck You” to The System.   But I think what he meant was, “Don’t you want to be accepted?”  My brother and sister are darker skinned than me, and have had a lot of racism hurtled towards them growing up.  People didn’t understand them (as with most hatred, it stems from fear and a lack of knowledge).  They would tell me stories that made me so angry that I wish I could go back in time and slap the shit out of the people who made them hurt.  But in the end, that wouldn’t do anything, it would just make things worse.  After all, hatred is cyclical.  I had my fair share of bullying in North Carolina growing up, mainly because I was a nerd, and a female.  One mentally deranged kid called me a “JAP.”  I had no idea if he meant Japanese, or Jewish.  I am neither, but he was ignorant.  I ended up being a tonal blend between my parents.  Some people think that I look “white.”  Others think that I appear “exotic.”

After a fashion show in Greenwich Village, New York City

After a fashion show in Greenwich Village, New York City

After North Carolina, I moved to New York City to be a TV host, actress, model, and singer.  I accomplished everything within a year and got some really great gigs all around.  I found that it was easier to break into music, hosting, and modeling with a “different” and unique look than acting.  New York agreed with me in every sense of the way.  That city captured my heart, and the 7 years that I spent there educating myself, working, and growing my soul and career are priceless.  Never have I felt so welcome and accepted.  It was as if there were so many people there that racism has no place, because there is no room for it.  People cared for other people.  I take o’ you, you take care o’ me.  I like that.  Coolest city on Earth, allowing anyone to be anything they truly want to be.  Perfect place for something seen as “different,” no matter where they go.

I either fit in everywhere, or no where.  It’s never been more apparent than when I moved to Hollywood and (I am still) trying to break into the industry that initially only sees people that fit into specific racial boxes.  Ah, marketing.  Everyone else gets thrown into the “ethnically ambiguous” box, as though our identities haven’t been defined, or have been erased because they don’t have “time” to understand “us.”
I moved to LA based on a hasty decision made because I listened to the wrong “career coaching” people that just wanted my money, with a severely distorted vision of what was to come.  People will tell you anything you want to hear, as long as you give them something in return.  I grew up thinking that California was the “Left Coast” and everything was free, feminist, and beautiful.  I definitely did not do my research, and shortly after I moved here I discovered that Los Angeles is inconspicuously right-wing.  I felt an ominous dark cloud cover my smile.  Periodically I do meet some good people, though all to often do I encounter people who, politically, are the opposite of me in a fierce way.  Needless to say, it’s okay to have different political views, but when your political views impede on my health, safety, and sanity… ugh.  So I joined a band (Modern Time Machines) and found solace in music once again, in Silverlake, a more progressive minded artistic part of town.

Playing with Modern Time Machines, Silverlake, CA Circa 2012

Playing with Modern Time Machines, Silverlake, CA Circa 2012

Lately I have been feeling so alone.  I feel more alone here in LA than I have anywhere else in the world.  I have lived in many cities, Halifax, Edmonton, Bethesda, Winston-Salem, Wilmington, NYC, and now here.  I know I should have never left New York- that city holds my heart it her hands until my dying day, the only place that truly feels like home.
256045_10150282197782664_3471852_oI’m secretly hoping that thought will change someday.  Last night I had a long discussion with some old classmates from Stella Adler (New York) at their new sister school, here in LA.  One of them is from Montreal.  The more I talked to her, the more I felt a rush of relief.  I am not alone.  I am not crazy.  I am Canadian.  I gave her a huge hug and thanked her for the intellectual debate.  Because I never lived in Canada during my adult years, I don’t feel like I should go back.  No one would ever guess that I am Canadian (or Finnish, or Indian etc).  Why escape now…I have been struggling so hard to make my mark here.  I have been an American citizen for 11 years, I have lived here for almost 20.  I had to earn my citizenship.  I don’t feel like giving it back.  But god damn sometimes it’s hard fighting here.  Fighting to be free in the Land of the Free (Some Restrictions May Apply).”
Everyone is always fighting.  It’s a good thing to stand up for your rights.  What’s even better is to find a way to let people flourish and be healthy and happy.  Taking care of students, the sick, the old, children, and the wounded veterans.  It just makes sense.  Everyone knows this country (The US) is in a dark place.  We need cure this virus.  We need to move forward.  We need to not be alone in this fight.  It’s all about compromise, but even more so, its all about doing what is right.  We have to make choices that allow more people to live in a violence-free, safe environment.
I’m enjoying my success here in Los Angeles.  Success meaning that I am happy doing what I love because I make other people happy.  After careful consideration,  I have chosen to stay and fight for what I believe is right:  Equality, finding affective Socialized Medicine, enforcing better Gun Control, Ending Discrimination, and Empowering Women and Girls so nothing can stand in the way of their dreams.

My advice to anyone with dark feelings for other races, genders, sexual orientations, and religions:  Let go of your hate.  Let the hatred end with you.  Love is contagious.  Help out who you are able to.  Be a hero.  But in the end, please let the hatred stop with you, so we can all fulfill our American Dream.

-Satu Rautaharju