“Polish News” has received the following letter written by an American sociologist living in Poland. This letter does not reflect “Polish News” views. Our goal is to provide a platform for a meaningful discussion among Polish People living abroad in different countries and cultures. We publish this letter for YOU as OUR READERS and we want to create an platform for sharing your opinions and comments. Thank you for your time and comments.
“An Open Letter to Polonia”…by an American sociologist living in Poland
Faith is a wonderful human trait. It confirms a strong belief in something. We see its power in our religious inheritance. There is unlimited energy in the prospect that “Faith can move mountains”. Historically, Polish immigrants put their faith in the idea that “massively uniting in a foreign land would bring them additional benefits, and help them preserve their Polish culture outside of the homeland”. This basic purpose was the cornerstone of the emerging Polonia movement, and gave immigrants a feeling of security in a strange land.
This original intention is to be applauded, but 100 years later Polonia’s noble mission has likely lost its meaning. Yet, immigrants need to be assimilated into their new country’s culture. It’s divisive for a person to pledge allegiance to two nations, and one’s immediate loyalty has to be given to the place where we live and call home. It’s self-deceptive for Polish-Americans to profess loyalty to both America and a distant Poland at the same time. There is no longer justification in preserving the Polish culture abroad, simply because some forefather of ours chose America as a place to resettle. It appears that Polonia has become a self-imposed contradiction for many Americans with Polish roots. Patriotism demands unflinching love and devotion to one’s country, thus there is a dilemma for people who identify with both a Polish and American culture. Loyalty requires true devotion; a person cannot serve two masters.
The explanation and contradiction of Polonia’s continued existence is that Polish-Americans only embrace partial segments of the Polish culture, in their attempt to still identify with a mystified homeland. Ironically, organizers and followers continue to commit to a fairytale concept of a far-away country that never realized its potential. Poland’s 1,000 year history frequently reflected tragic periods of oppression imposed upon her by more powerful neighbors; along with the Polish historical quest to be free and independent. These two emotional stirrings have been romantically enriched by Polish literature, and kept alive as must-reading in Poland’s educational system. Understandably, Polish immigrants arriving in America carried these glamorized concepts of the “heroic” homeland they left behind. Indeed, such romantic convictions found patriotic expression in Polonia’s mission. However the sense of purpose that was originally embraced by earlier immigrants now requires a rethinking, if Polonia is to be a meaningful force.
It is time for Polonia to shed established myths that romanticized Poland’s tragic history, as we are now into a new era of European history that projects Poland in a different perspective. “Out with the old, and in with the new” is an accurate way of describing Poland’s ongoing transformation since 1990. One obvious result is that international Polonia has lost touch to what is happening in contemporary Poland. It is naive for Polonia to keep a dreamlike vision of an empire that never materialized. So people wanting a significant Polonia need to ask themselves whether “it is realistic to continue idolizing a mystical Polish nation built on legends and myths,” rather than on actual historical deeds.
This conjecture of current Polonia “having lost its way” is a controversial statement, and demands proof to support the inference that Polonia needs a new direction. A starting point might well be the simple fact that Polish-rooted people abroad have little knowledge of what is happening in today’s Poland. If this is correct a plausible alternative would be to somehow connect, judicially, Polonia to current events in the homeland. Only then could a realistic picture of today’s Poland emerge that would counteract previous fantasies.
Actual proof of an anachronous Polonia is seen in the lack of a collective direction and strategy. Despite thousands of professed societies or affiliations, there is no real commitment to significant priorities. Most groups continue to follow earlier thinking that created local Polish sub-cultures. It’s self-defeating that most Polonia organizations function as independent entities, rather than part of a more important whole. Allow me to share a few particulars:
This writer’s sociological and ethnic background came together perfectly when I moved to Poland in 1993. I finally saw all sides of the Polish cultural equation. It became a real chance to understand my Polish heritage, and what earlier attracted me to Polonia activities. Previously, there were times that I wasn’t sure if I was American or Polish. This search for my personal identity led me to explore the vast framework of Polonia. I believed that because I felt something deeply emotional, other Polish-rooted Americans felt the same way. My inherent enthusiasm encouraged me to reach out to any and all sources with a Polonia connection, e.g., Polish-American internet forums; Polish student clubs in the USA, UK, and Canada; cultural and business organizations; and related associations. I was convinced there was a compelling “Polish spirit” around the world that united Polonia and people like me.
But I was wrong and it was a shock to discover that Polonia is only some kind of illusionary concept. It didn’t matter that Polish-surnamed professors were teaching Polish Studies at 150 American universities; nor was it significant that foundations, historical associations, business clubs, and Polish student societies promoted themselves as Polish-rooted. Because I soon came to understand that attempts to connect and share common ground with Polonia “activists” is a fruitless venture. Instead of a willingness to communicate, cooperate, and share mutual interests, I encountered apathy and indifference. (Specific details are available.) Yet somehow, these many Polonia associations seemed bent on maintaining a sort of Polish fiefdom, though without significant purpose. So here we are in 2015 still feeling snug about being part of a Polonia community, yet not appreciating the fact that we are drifting aimlessly.
Wow! What an indictment against Polonia, many of you readers are saying to yourself. Who is this American crackpot who thinks he has all the answers regarding Polonia’s continued existence? In response, I will only remind you that any negative situation first requires acknowledgement a problem exists; thus confirming a problem is the first step in being able to change something. Of course Polonia has its share of talented people capable of providing a new direction. And this “Open Letter” is essentially an appeal to rational people to start a meaningful conversation about Polonia’s future.
Discussions should address the needs and feelings of Polish-rooted people now living in another country, who believe their society still has room for ethnic, minority passions. Yet the focus has to prioritize our motherland, if Polonia is to have meaning. Polonia without Poland is an orphan…a child without a mother.
Sincerely yours, Edward Myska, Szczyrk, Poland
Reader comments are welcome: [email protected]
Note: Edward Myska is the author of “Inside Poland: 1990-2014”…a book being featured by a prominent Brussels bookshop.