A Connecticut Polish-American Recounts a White House Visit to Discuss Visa Waivers
By Lisa Wisniewski
In February 2013, I was invited to participate in the White House Forum for Ethnic American Leaders. The great irony of my trip to Washington was that while I was able to visit the monumental landmarks and participate in a historic event, many of my family members are still unable to visit the United States without obtaining a visa. For some, this is the greatest barrier to visiting the United States. They can be denied the visa, but are still required to pay the fee.
This is a day where leaders from ethnic communities have the opportunity to inform the administration of what issues their local communities are facing. I was truly grateful to be a part of this historic day. The Polish-American group consisted of people from different parts of the United States. There were attorneys, scholars, and students. While we differed in our professional orientations, we had a common interest of Polonia.
Pictured, left to right: Marcin Bolec, Aldona Baron, Grzegorz Fryc, Lady Blanka Rosenstiel, Lisa Wisniewski, and Adrian Baron. Photo courtesy Lisa Wisniewski
I stood in amazement when entering the White House. I was in the heart of where decisions and history was made. The feeling is indescribable, and this day is one that I surely will never forget. While there was a great sense of wonder and awe, this quickly turned to sadness.
Historically, Poles have contributed in major turning points in American history. Poles were in Jamestown, aided in the American Revolutionary War, and are fighting side by side with American soldiers today. Americans can travel freely into Poland without any additional documentation, yet the reciprocal is not true.
Pictured: The White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Lisa Wisniewski
Many of my family members are unable to visit due to the visa requirement. The cost of the trip and the cost of the visa is simply too high. Their only purpose is to visit and see America. Since they are unable to do so, they have to rely on my explanations and the Google images I pull up of Little Poland to show off my hometown. This not only separates us from the joy of each other’s company but also life events including births, weddings, and funerals.
I am the daughter of Polish immigrants. I am the granddaughter of World War II survivors. Members of my family arrived on American shores at various points in their lives. They made sacrifices, worked hard, and provided their children with an education. I escaped a childhood under Communism because I was born and raised in the United States. As a result of this, I am able to see various perspectives living in two different cultures simultaneously. I can voice my opinion in two different languages, and provide a voice to those who are unable to speak English.
I just finished my first year in my doctoral program. This is my goal — one I set for myself. Every day, I get to live out my personal American dream. I hope one day to help Poles get the chance to experience their American dream. - LW