Tuesday, November 08, 2005

why do I turn my back on my own people?

I was born in Poland. Who doesn’t know that already? Come on, read the heading of the blog: Ocean, Poland, Polish, Polish, of Poland from Poland, Poland Poland Poland.

But do I have any American-style Polish pride? I’m afraid not.

Oh, I understand Polishness with all my being. I have little droplets of Polish martyrdom and suffering pulsating through my veins. I walk the streets of Warsaw, badger the salespeople there and chat up the cabbies like the rest of my country men and women.

So why do I not seek out the Poles who have, like me, moved to the States?

In 1979, the year I came to Madison, the Polish Heritage Club of Wisconsin formed its Madison chapter. Me, I stayed out of it.

Today, I find myself walking along State Street, enjoying a long route home on this yet again gorgeous day and just off to the side, on Henry Street I see a large Polish flag. Huh? Off of State Street? In Madison? Please, not another (lackluster) Polish deli (because, you know, the others were so in demand)!

No. A Polish couple (first and n-th generation) have opened a gallery (only three years ago, not that I noticed) with principally Polish art and jewelry. Tons of amber stuff.

I go in and chat them up. Man, are they talkative. (It’s the genes, it’s the genes.)

They seem forward-looking, they seem modern. They seem religious (I try not to stare at the big amber cross hanging down from his neck). They seem friendly (ah, the kiss of the hand). They seem warm and eager to bring me into the fold of the Polish community here in town.

I promise to participate in a pierogi cook-off. I promise to come to some party or other. I promise to hereafter do all my amber shopping at their place (and really, the jewelry is gorgeous. Stunning. Nicer than much of what you see in the average store shelves in Warsaw or Krakow).

However, chances of me being involved in the Polish Heritage Club of Wisconsin – Madison chapter? Same as before: zero.

[Are you missing the reason? Let me just say that a Palm Sunday Spring Festival with a demonstration of egg-decorating and the sale of Easter items, workshops on embroidery, making Polish cutouts, putting together Christmas packages for Polish troops in Iraq, volunteering as a guest speaker for the Kiwanis and the Oregon Senior Center, and volunteering at the Boston Store Community Days – these all seem proper and decent activities, I’m sure. Yay Polish Heritage Club. And the day you find me at any of them will be the day I have turned completely senile and some well-meaning volunteer wheels me over, thinking (erroneously) that I might enjoy a slice of the old country on this side of the ocean.]


  1. Maybe this summer we could go to Polishfest in Milwaukee. It's a huge deal, y'know...

  2. I wish I could be there for the results of your pierogi cook-off.

  3. i generally dont go to the polish deli cause i dont know what to order. i had a boyfriend who was half polish. man, was he sexy.

  4. Okay, so you don't do these hokey, so-called Polish cultural activities. But do the Poles that actually live in Poland do that stuff anymore anyway? One of the challenges for any group of people who emigrate to another country is to adapt and fit into their new environment while also staying connected to their ethnic and cultural heritage. Far too often, US immigrants cling to traditions and practices from their home country without realizing that back home their people are changing, evolving and modernizing. So don't feel bad because you aren't interested in participating in one of those forced and fakey Polish cultural events. Your strong Polish identity and frequent trips back to Poland are what help you to stay connected to your Polishness. Serving sauerkraut at every meal helps too.

  5. Being Polish is deep within one's soul. We don't need to be a part of preserving "the old", we can be part of creating "the new".

    Last night my mind was on the peirogis... but your question about turning your back stayed in my mind. It isn't so much turning your back, as it is following your own interests. Not seeking out fellow Poles, doesn't mean that you do not care or deny your heritage. You have your own personal communtity and activities to feed your soul. Polish Heritage is much more than Polkas, Pisanki, pierogis, colorful costumes, playing the accordian or other folk craft. Could you see Pope John Paul II, Copernicus, Curie, or Chopin joining? I think not.

    How many people recycle items to help the earth, but do not belong to an environmental group? Does not getting involved in polictics, make someone less patriotic?

    Just like in all cultures, people have different interests and we naturally seek out and spend our time on what interests us most.

  6. Asia: maybe he was sexy because of his other half (Italian, right?)?

    Nancy & Tonya: I admire much of the folkcraft, I just don't know that I need a group of people to show me how to do inferior versions of it on my own. I find that having a common ethnic heritage is not enough reason to hang with people. There has to be more. But I will do the pierogi thing, where it is about the cooking as much as the Polishness of the event.

    Ang: So long as there's food, I'll go to any ethnic event anywhere.

  7. It is probably part of the Groucho Marx saying that you don't want to be a member of a club that would have you as a member...

    Plus, it sounds like a full-time job to be Polish in America.

  8. I thought the gulf between you and the Polish American Club types is that their Polishness is conservative, quaint and rose colored, frozen in time from when they or their ancestors left the country.

    I imagine an American expatriate club in some other part of the world, composed of people who left the U.S. in the 1950s, and they celebrate the America of "Leave it to Beaver."

    By the way, my "word verification" word to post this comment is "tzebzo." Does that mean anything in Polish?

  9. You are so right, Oscar (about those who choose to club over their heritage, not about the word -- which has Polish overtones but no real meaning).

    Saul -- I didn't even mention the fundraising, the bake sales, etc etc. Uffff!


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