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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

Poland’s Anniversary of Democracy a Time to Remember

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This week’s big anniversaries of the Normandy Beach invasion 70 years ago, and the crackdown in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago have taken away from another important milestone: the 25th anniversary of Polish freedom from Communist rule.

The Consul-General of Poland in New York City, Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, visited WNPR and talked about the important Polish anniversary this week, in connection with her visit to the Polish Studies Program at CCSU. “Poles are very pro-American,” she said on Where We Live.

Democracy came to Poland, Junczyk-Ziomecka said, because massive economic reform took place — initially very difficult — and Poles who had immigrated to the United States learned how a democracy could lead to a thriving society. - HB

Read more of John Dankosky’s story at WNPR.org: http://wnpr.org/post/polands-anniversary-democracy-time-remember

Photo: Lech Wałęsa speaks at Gdańsk Shipyard’s gate during the strike of 1980. From the Polish magazine, Znak, via Creative Commons.

Obama Visits Poland to Announce European Security Initiative

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Obama is calling on Congress to approve up to $1 billion in support of an effort to expand NATO security in Europe. On a four-day trip in the region, Obama spoke in Warsaw on Tuesday. “Under this effort,” he said, “and with the support of Congress, the United States will preposition more equipment in Europe. We will be expanding our exercises and training with allies to increase the readiness of our forces.”

Obama seeks to boost the military capacity of non-NATO countries that are along Russia’s border, including Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. He’s planning to meet with Ukraine’s newly-elected president, Petro Poroshenko, and other leaders from Europe. - HB

Read more at WNPR.org: http://wnpr.org/post/obama-seeks-1-billion-boost-us-military-presence-europe

Photo: Lawrence Jackson for the White House

"The first signs of an emerging Polish-American community in New Britain could be observed by 1894. The local Polish-speaking people had by then arranged for worship in their own language. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Misicki came over from the St. Stanislaus parish in Meriden on Sundays in order to officiate at a Polish mass at the old St. Mary’s Church on Myrtle Street. New Britain’s Polonia was organizing a parish of its own at the same time. The corporation which they formed for this purpose, called St. Casimir the Prince, was incorporated on November 14, 1894. The leaders of this movement to establish a Polish church in New Britain were Joseph Jarzabski, Frank Lawrynowicz and Gabriel Kalinowski. Father Lucyan Bojnowski was assigned to the New Britain parish and in 1896 the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church was dedicated." Excerpted From: The Poles In Their Homeland In America, In Connecticut - PS

Poetry inspired by New Britain’s industrial history

Ravi Shankar, poet in residence at Central Connecticut State University, wrote a poem inspired by works on display at the New Britain Industrial Museum. It’s called “The Spirit Level,” which has multiple meanings — and is, in part, a reference to the levels manufactured by Stanley Toolworks, which used alcohol with an air bubble trapped in it. Here are the first few verses: 

Hard hittin’ New Britain, some of my students intone
to describe their home for a few years or a lifetime
in that depressed part of Hartford County once known

by relics in unphotographable pre-European times
as a fertile hunting and fishing ground by the Tunxis,
Quinnipiac, Wangunk, Podunk and Mattabesett tribes

who chipped arrowheads from coarse-grained schist,
naming the land Pagonischaumishaug, or White Oak Place,
though to say this in class, please professor don’t flunk us

if we can’t pronounce that, is what with a straight face
I get in response to evoking memories of these stewards
who seemingly have vanished without the faintest trace. 

Read more of Shankar’s poem here. - HB

Poland native Aga Pasieska was in Connecticut while doing some anthropology research on the Polish community. She spent a little time in New Britain, and lots of time with Polish families who run farms in the Connecticut River Valley. She met with me in April, before she headed back home. She’ll be back in the fall to do more research. - ct

Polmart, located in New Britain CT, calls themselves the “doorway to Europe.” They offer a variety of Polish and European food and claim they are the largest re-seller of Polish products on the east coast, 90% of which are imported from Poland. 

Pol Mart staffer Kinga (pictured) works the deli, where meat is delivered from Chicago, New York and Connecticut Butcher shops. The deli offers staples like kielbasa and ham, but also more exotic items like blood sausage and head cheese, a gelatinous treat made with meat from the head of a pig or cow.

The bakery offers loaves of rye, baguettes, and Babka bread - a sweat bread that is common to Europe and sometimes swirled with cinnamon or chocolate. 

Pol Mart also has canned foods that might bring back memories of Europe, or give an experience to a curious eater. Bigos, one of Poland’s national dishes, is a hunter’s stew made from cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms, tomatoes and Polish sausage. You can also find Polish newspapers and magazines. 

And in case you haven’t had your fill yet, upstairs at Polmart is Pol Mall, a shopping center full of Polish souvenirs. 

"Many members of the American Jewish generation before me refuse to go to Poland. For some it’s because they have endured too many horrific accounts, for others it’s a refusal to support a country where millions of their people were killed, and still others just don’t want to travel to a place that evokes death and sadness. I understand these notions." - Sophie Katzman, Trinity College student on her recent trip to Poland