Conserving Our Polish Culture
Take two sisters, two years apart, both from Warsaw. One married a man whose parents were Polish and Belarusian, the other married an American. Both have been successfully married for over twenty years. Marriage is important in continuing the existence of the Polish community within the United States because it is only through integration, the existence of Polish churches, schools and dancing that the importance of our culture is passed down through generations. The Poles have never had an easy life throughout History with attacks from Prussia, Germany and Russia tearing apart this country until it failed to exist on the map for a short while. This has never broken the Polish spirit however, in secrecy the culture and language continued to be taught. It seems almost unjust that now in the United States, a country with freedom of speech and expression; Polish parents are failing to nurture our culture within marriages. Often it is difficult however for a second or third generation Pole to remain interested in a culture they have never experienced because they have never visited Poland; this makes integration within the Polish American culture even more important.
My mother was a girl of fourteen when she came to America, my aunt was sixteen. They remain close and continue to speak Polish amongst themselves. The main difference however is that my mother, the younger sister, goes to Warsaw at least twice a year to continue improving her Polish and to visit my Babcia, whilst my aunt has only recently began visiting her homeland again. My father never prevents my mother from going away because he understands how important it is to continue learning about Poland and its current changes. Many older Poles living in America still dream that this beautiful country which has given the world people such as Copernicus, Chopin, Marie Curie-Skladowska and Pope John Paul II, remains as it was under the Communist regime. Some rural areas do indeed remain the same, but Warsaw has now sprouted skyscrapers, fast food chains, movie theatres and American and British shops such as H&M, Marks and Spencers and Footlocker. As Poland joins the European Union it will be important to continue to preserve the Polish culture within families as it slowly is being overtaken by Western culture and expectations. The other main difference between the marriages is that I am bilingual in Polish, whilst my cousin, who is also an only child, is not. My mother sent me at the age of five for two months during the summer to Poland and continued to do so every year. This gave me the experience to learn a lot about Poland and its rich History and culture by actually living there and experiencing the queues in the butcher shop as we waited with a ration book with my grandmother, rides of rickety trams and buses, trips to the Warsaw zoo and many other everyday things which without visiting a person can only hear about. Although my aunt stayed at home with my cousin for over eight years, she never taught him Polish and only now at the age of nineteen is he more interested in his culture. I, at the age of twenty-two, feel that I know Warsaw so well I could walk around with my eyes shut and understand the Polish people as if I had been born there.
Therefore, I must stress that a marriage is not only a three day event but a lifetime of commitment. This commitment should not only be between partners, but to any children who are the only method of preserving the Polish culture within the United States before it dwindles and our cultures and traditions become forgotten or drowned in Westernisation. The twelve course Christmas dinner must remain and the other traditions such as painting Pisanki, or eggs at Easter. Many traditions are related to the vehement belief in the Roman Catholic traditions, however the majority of Poles continue to follow this religion which is an integral part of our culture and therefore it should not be too hard to continue these little rituals which offer a slice at the true picture of Poland.