12 January 2011

My Feet in Two Worlds, The Brutally Honest Truth of It

I'm letting you know right from the very beginning, that this is going to be brutally honest.  The way it really is for me emotionally.  But I also want to say that this does not in anyway mean I look down on either country.  I still love the USA and Poland, and both of it's peoples. 

And I want to also say that this is specifically my perspective.  My experiences.  It doesn't represent everyone in any particular group.  So, please, don't take it away from me or trivialize it because you might not understand or empathize or agree.  Ready?

For myself, a part of my personality and what I feel is that missing gap where Poland should be. 

That gap made by being taken from your family, from the land where everyone speaks your birth language, where you don't look different, where your name is not unusual and you don't get twenty questions for it, and perhaps even nasty judgements for your heritage.  From where your quirks and particular mannerisms are common place.

Don't get me wrong, I love America.  I love living here.  But if your name is something like Jane, Jessica, or Amy, and your great grandparents were born in the USA, you look like the typical American girl next door, and you've never travelled outside of your home country's borders, your grandparents were always just down the street and present for holidays, then you don't understand what I mean.

My husband came from that same background, an easy to say American name, grandparents always a huge part of his life, his accent and speech were never different from anyone else's in school, etc. 

I wanted him to see who else I was.  No, I needed him to see.  Or else, I didn't think our relationship would truly work in the end.  So, I took him to Poland for our honeymoon, amidst many protests from him and his family.

So, who am I?  By now, it's fairly clear what my background is.  I was born in Poland to Polish parents.  We fled Communism and it's oppression.  We waited to get legal papers all in order to become U.S. citizens, came to America, and all was peaches and cream.  Right?

Not exactly.  For one thing, we had no help.  None.  There was no neighbor, friend, or relative to call on when someone had an emergency.  Whether that emergency be that someone had to go to the Emergency Room and my parents needed a babysitter or money for the medicine, or someone was sick, so that we had a roof over our heads or food on our table, or even just so my parents could reconnect on "Date Night".

For work, my father grabbed whatever he could as quickly as he could.  Because, apparently in the USA, they didn't care that my father has a Masters Degree from Poland.  If it wasn't a Masters Degree in the USA, they didn't care.  In fact, one place even told my father that he was lucky they considered him to even graduate his high school.  The same went for my mother, who also had a Masters Degree back in Poland.

So, he ended up getting some minimum wage work working as many hours as he physically could (he still works well over 70 hours a week) while my mother tried to find a babysitter she could trust with me.  She found one, went to work also making minimum wage, until the babysitter took me outside in the dead of winter in just a onesie and I got very, very sick.  This was according to a couple of other neighborhood eyewitnesses.  So, it looked like my mother couldn't work because we couldn't find anyone trustworthy to watch me without potentially killing me.

So, since there was only one income in our house, we ate boiled white rice, split a can of vegetables and each ate one boiled hot dog.  Every.  Single.  Day.  For well over a year.  Because that was all we could afford.  There are pictures of my parents during this time and they were so skinny.  I, however, was not, because my parents made sure I at least ate enough.  To this day, I hate boiled white rice.  I hate canned vegetables.  And I especially hate hot dogs.  And when someone makes a comment that I am a food snob or eat weird food because of that, it boils my blood, because they didn't go through what we did.

Why not apply for assistance, perhaps, you ask?  Don't even make me laugh.  We couldn't get it because we were not born here.  While my father walked home from work everyday in the scorching summer heat through the miserable neighborhood we lived in, he saw houses where nobody worked and they had air conditioning units blasting and were cooking all sorts of food for dinner.

As soon as my father got a better job and we could afford to, we moved out of that area, filled with litter, cockroaches, and drunks, and into an apartment in a decent area so that I didn't have to worry about gun fights on the way to school.  The apartment where I shared a room with my sibling.

I never did my first Holy Communion because of several reasons.  Some churches wanted my Godparents there for it.  Ummm, they are in Poland and can't get Visas to come over?  "Then you can't do it".  Some churches didn't understand why I didn't speak good enough English to understand the Bible at the time, never mind that I was learning English.  And, as my mother said, "If you do your First Holy Communion, you will have only your father and myself there".  My vision of a party afterwards would not happen, because what family could come to the party?  They were all in Poland.  I would again be the weird kid who only had parents there supporting them during a childhood event.

For Birthdays, I grew up having small gifts because we had just come to this country, you don't get rich overnight, and no family giving me presents.  Not a big deal until you go to school and other kids brag about the hundreds of expensive toys they got.  Then, the inevitable "What did you get from your parents/grandparents/aunts/cousins, etc.?"  And, "Oh".  The same was true of Christmas. 

Thanksgiving and Easter were also lumped into the same category by the question "Who came over your house/Who's house did you go to?"  My answer?  "Nobody.  It was just us.  At our house.  Because my family is all in Poland.  Thanks for reminding me.  Again."

I remember playing with cardboard boxes and one little doll I had as a small child.  I never really thought that I didn't have a lot.  Until I went to school.

I also didn't think I had an accent, until it was pointed out to me by several children in front of a teacher who didn't say anything to them.  It was then that I found out what "Polack" meant.  It wasn't a word in Polish.  It was only a word in English and apparently there were many nasty jokes involving that word.  I hated school.

I also found out what the "N" word meant.  A girl, who apparently thought it was funny, told me to walk up to the black boy in our class and say "Hi, N-----!"  She told me that it meant friend. 

Apparently, it did not because I got in a lot of trouble for it in school, even though I was just beginning to learn the language.  And of course, the girl who told me to do so didn't get in trouble, because, as I was told by some big angry adults (I still have no idea who they were but could you imagine being in kindergarten how big they were and small and vulnerable I felt?) that I "should have known better than to repeat everything someone tells you!"  Never mind that I didn't even know my English alphabet or colors yet and was eager to learn.  The lesson I learned from that, don't be quick to learn things from people.  Don't trust anyone.

I started taking ESL classes to learn English.  I remember getting very frustrated with the teacher at times, who only spoke English and had no idea, not even one ounce, of what I was going through.  I finished it early because I wanted to fit in so desperately.  While taking ESL, I was still expected to take all the other classes that the American kids were taking.  There was no leniency for the fact that I didn't speak the language which the lessons were given in.  I got exceptional grades in English and Spelling.  I was proud of myself for it.  I, the little girl from another country, the one with the funny accent, the "stupid Polack", was getting better grades than the American kids were.  But to them, I still talked funny, and nobody discouraged their harsh words.

At first, for lunch, I brought food from home, as many kids did, but my bread was different, my sandwiches different.  My mother packed, heaven forbid, vegetables in my lunch, which, heaven forbid, I ate because, heaven forbid, I liked them and grew up eating them and wanted to grow up to be big and strong.  Until I noticed other kids would ask too many questions about my food. 

Once, a little girl asked, "Why don't you eat peanut butter and jelly on white bread like us?"  I answered "What's that?  I never had it before".  She told me that all American kids ate it and that maybe I should "Go back to where I came from if America is so bad that you can't even eat what we all eat, you stupid Polack".  I was 7 years old.  It wasn't the first time I was told to go back to wherever I was from because I did things a little different (never mind that I desperately wanted to fit in and never said anything nasty about what they did).  It wasn't going to be the last time I heard it either.

In fact, I heard some very strange statements about Poland from other children.  That we were all Communists.  Did we have tombstones, tomatoes, diapers, cows, cars?  That we owed the USA for everything because the USA rescued Poland during World War II because we were too stupid and lazy to fight the Nazis.  I could go on for hours.

At home, I tried to speak English all the time, even though my parents wanted me to still speak Polish so that I would have that as a job skill later on in life.  They were right, of course, but with what I went through at school, I didn't care.  My parents spoke to the teachers about my issues with my peers and the first couple of teachers cared and had me sit at tables where the children were not judgemental and nasty. 

But then, I got a teacher who didn't care at all and probably secretly was a nasty little racist herself.  My schoolwork suffered for a while under her.  I began to draw back emotionally from people and not focus.  In the beginning of the school year, when she met my mother and I, she requested a fellow teacher to try translating for us.  When the second teacher came, she listened to us speaking English, albeit with accents, and she announced "They speak English clearly.  You don't need an interpret or."  My new teacher would go on to hold hostility toward all of my family.  She and my mother once got into a screaming argument because she believed I should have been held back the year prior and because she believed I needed to be tested since she felt I had a low IQ.  Never mind the fact that the same year we were all tested for future placement in the new Gifted and Talented programs and my results placed me 2 years ahead of my peers.  My mother was so pleased at the results, she shared them very nicely with the teacher, who in the conversation went from her usual fake smile (it was the year I also learned that just because someone smiles, does not mean they are actually happy) to a very unhappy and angry face.  She then looked at me, smiled and said "I always knew you were intelligent.  You just lack focus, sweetie."  And then turned to my mother and said "I still think she needs more ESL classes" and walked away.

We did a presentation in class, my first.  I didn't fully understand what the assignment was, asked and was told to "Just do it!".  It was for Black History Month.  It was the first time I had ever heard of that.  I asked my parents if they had a Polish History Month and my parents laughed.  Apparently, there wasn't an Immigrant History Month, either.  The assignment was to pick a famous Black person and write about them.  This was a new idea to me.  How would I know who was a famous Black person?  My parents didn't really know either so a classmate's mother suggested, and I wrote about Martin Luther King, Jr., who's dream of a color blind world really touched me. 

While presenting my essay in front of the class, I began to stumble on my words and speak quieter and the same racist teacher commented "Somebody needs more ESL classes!  Go sit down!"  I was so young and I still remember how angry and hurt I felt.  I still carry hatred towards her, which I know is wrong, but I don't care, it's the way I feel. 

The holes I have in my education are all from that year.  I can't multiply off the top of my head and I struggle to write an research essay about a theme someone presents me with.  That year, we also learned about the names of other countries and their capitals.  I decided in high school to learn that on my own, since I didn't learn it that year in elementary school.  I could work on it more, I know.  I could shake the blame I lay squarely on her.  But she was also a teacher.  Someone who helps shape children into the adults they become.  And I don't think she had any right to be one.

I also feel shock and disgust at the education system because although my mother repeatedly reported her for marking all my homework as wrong, of which the answers were all always correct, even according to the Principal of the school, she continues to teach to this day.  In fact, when we moved to a new school district, my younger sibling was assigned her as a teacher in the new school.  She attempted to fail my sibling as well, and state that she could not understand their "accent" which they did not have, being born and raised in the USA.  After three months of her continued harassment of my mother and sibling, my sibling was transferred to a different teacher, but that woman was never reprimanded.

I ended up losing my accent very quickly.  I also forgot Polish.  My cousins, both Babcie, Cioci, and Wujek would all send me cards and letters which I loved.  But I didn't know who they were.  And it reminded me constantly that I was missing family.  And I couldn't call them to talk because at the time, calling Poland could cost you over $100 for just a half an hour.  And I didn't write to them because I felt ashamed that I didn't know Polish well enough anymore to say anything.

I even had play dates with another little boy my age who was also Polish and who constantly reminded me that he "was more Polish" than I was.  Surprising, he and his family later in life were confused why I didn't marry him.  I'm actually glad I left the neighborhood I lived in, because shamefully, many Polish Americans had that same "I'm more Polish than soandso" attitude.  I don't think that is a Polish trait, I think it was specific to that neighborhood.

Even though I threw myself wholeheartedly into becoming as "American" as I possibly could, there was always someone every single year who would call me a "Polack", make fun of my name, my nose, and what I would eat.  So, I guess, no matter how hard I tried, I was still a "foreigner".  Forever.  Taken away from family, lost my ancestral language, but still not allowed to wear the new identity.

Sometimes, I would tell such ignorant people that the word was a racial slur and it was as bad as the "N" word.  To which I would be told that there was a place called "Pollock Johnny" so it couldn't be racist.  After all, other "Polacks call each other that".  First, "Pollock Johnny" spells it like a fish and uses a racial slur to describe themselves, so they must be ignorant and stupid as the word means.  And frankly, I blame a large amount of the unapologetic use of that nasty word on that "restaurant" and people who use it like they do.

Second, I never ate there and never will, nor do any Poles straight from Poland.  Third, some Blacks call each other the "N" word, but many consider it a racial slur anyway.  And true Poles do not use that word to address one another.  Honestly, if someone asks about my name and I say I am Polish, and they say "Oh, I'm a Polack, too!" or "Us stupid Polacks" or something else like that, I actually physically walk away from them.  I don't even want to discuss anything else with them.  At all. 

It is how the person who is the target of the word feels about it, not how you say it or mean it.  I could call someone an idiot with all the sweetness in the world behind my words, I still just called them an idiot.

Every year, on the first day of school, the teacher would call out a name and you would acknowledge it.  After a few years, I got used to the same routine.  A pause, a stumble on the first syllable, another pause, a weird look as though the name has the plague (of course, everyone else in the class is a John, Amy, Jamie, Michael, and other one or two syllable mainstream names) and then, some sort of remark that embarrasses me, such as "I'll just spell it" or "Who would name their child that?!" or, rarely, a kind attempt at saying my name.

After a while, I learned to just raise my hand before the last step of the embarrassing "she's different" routine and I would say "That would be me" with a smile.  The teacher would either say "What's a nickname I could call you?" or "What sort of name is that?" either with a genuinely curious smile or a nasty smirk (I swear, I still don't understand how some people become teachers).

Or, once, the equally embarrassing "Excuse me!  How do you know I can't pronounce it?  You didn't even let me try!"  To which, I shrank back into my seat and mumbled "I'm sorry".  Of course, that man butchered my name completely.  Then, when I corrected him, "It's ----- but you can call me ----", he said "Why the h--- would your parents name you that?  And your nickname isn't any easier!  I'm going to call you [insert American name that is nothing at all like my real name]".  I told him I was Polish and he said "Well, you aren't in Poland anymore".  Every time that man did role call for the first month, I didn't remember that in his classroom I was not me, but some random American girl name, so I would not answer "Present" and would anger him considerably. 

I don't want people to read this and think "Oh, kids are so mean!"  No, it's not the kids.  Children don't learn this by themselves, this is always taught by an adult.  You know we all have conversations at home that end with "This conversation doesn't leave the house."  Mine tend to be about our finances, how dirty a persons house was, etc.

After all, if it was children only, then why would some of those teachers I mentioned earlier behave the way they did? 

Another example of what it is like to live in Two Worlds, as some people call it, would be when I would talk to some people who I think really enjoy my company and eventually, the topic of Immigration comes up.  Sometimes, the comments that hurts are "All foreigners steal American jobs!" or "Foreigners need to stay in their own country!"  When I point out that I am also a foreigner, I get told "No, I don't mean you.  You aren't a foreigner!  You [were born here, learned the language, don't have an accent, are like us]".  My own In-laws sometimes still say comments like that in front of me.  Even my now-deceased Grandmother-in-law who was Polish by heritage would say it.  It hurts but I still forgive them and love them the way they are.

And when I talk to an adult about American politics or society, if it isn't all beams of sunshine, unicorns and roses, I get told "then go the f--- back home if you hate it here so much!"  The point is, I don't hate it here in the USA.  I love it.  I genuinely do.  Americans are very open, some of their food is amazing, there are a lot of job opportunities here, I can buy anything I want here.  Heck, I would never have married an American man if I hated it here.  And if I didn't like Americans, I wouldn't love him as much as I do.

After all, I can move back to Poland or to another country anytime I want to.  I was just raised that you should be open to change, and try to make everything you can better.  And in order to make something better, you have to acknowledge what needs improvement.  And everything and everyone could improve in something.  This isn't Heaven.  Nowhere on Earth is Heaven.  It's Earth.

And on Earth, I feel like I don't belong 100% in either culture.  I don't speak perfect Polish, I don't have a Polish accent, I dress like an American, I get told that living in Poland would probably not work well for me, and why don't my children speak better Polish?  I also get told that I have a funny name, I "look Polish/foreign", I don't dress like an American, I should accept the fact that I am not Polish anymore and that I am American and not speak Polish or about Poland ever, and if I mention anything I wrote about earlier in this article, I am unpatriotic and un-American.

Several years ago, I started to shake loose from a gradual depression that I couldn't talk to anyone about because nobody could relate to how I felt.  I didn't want my parents blaming themselves like they caused this feeling in me of being a ship without a harbor. 

I decided to blend the two worlds together the only way I knew how to.  I learned Polish again.  Actually, it was more like, I listened to a CD teaching Polish and started listening to Polish music and got a job dealing with people from all over the world who were well educated.  And a light bulb switched on.  My Polish language skills came back.  They aren't perfect but I can get by fairly well.  I started cooking Polish foods.  I started traveling to Poland every other year. 

I'm much happier now.  I don't waste time on people who say stupid comments anymore.  The funny thing is, until I started writing this, I didn't realize how hurt I was growing up.  And when I started writing today, it all came back in a painful, drowning wave.  I had a couple of moments when I had to walk away from this just to cry.  But I'm glad I did.  I feel stronger.  After all, I did something many people will never do.  I left one world for another and never quite fit perfectly into either.  And I figured out that it's OK.  Because they are both a part of me.

Mama’s Losin’ It


Shell said...

Wow, you certainly went through an awful lot!

You sound like a strong woman.

Truthful Mommy said...

This is a great post and I can relate. I am American born but my father is from Mexico, so I am first generation American. My first name is American but my middle name is Spanish and has been butchered at all major events of my life;college graduation,my wedding, etc.It has always been hard for me because being first generation, we traveled to Mexico every year for a month and my dad spoke spanish, and we practiced Mexican customs and ate Mexican foods butmy mother is American,so there are 6 kids. Some of us are pale and some of us are bronze. SOme of us have green eyes,some have brown and some have black eyes. I am pale with light brown eyes and teh worst part for me was not looking Mexican enough to be accepted with the Latino kids but the Caucasian kids knowing I wasn't quite "Caucasian" enough. I don;t know how many people made Mexican jokes or slurs not realizing I was one.Then I had correct and it was awkward for everyone.My girls have blonde hair and blue eyes but they know Spanish and if you ask them they will tell you and anyone who asks...I am Mexican. Thanks for sharing my friend! I am glad you have triumphed and found your comfort zone!

Not a Perfect Mom said...

wow...I couldn't imagine any of my children having to go through that...
strong words...I enjoyed reading this..

Amy said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I've often felt "cheated" because my family doesn't have a strong ethnic connection to any particular nationality. I never considered that there might be difficulty in having one.

platanosandmangoes said...

You expressed yourself so well! I can relate to some of your experiences. I am a 1st gener too!

Unknown said...

I went to bed last night with butterflies in my stomach after writing this. In fact, I almost deleted it. I didn't want to write something so baring and honest. I really thought I would wake up to find a lot of insulting comments under it and instead found all this support! Thank you. It really means a lot to me.

Baby Names said...

Great set of inspirational Blog there, thanks for sharing…

All MMIXed Up said...

So much of this account of your experiences coming to America and trying to fit in resonated with me. Not only is it beautifully written, it points out a lot of feelings and events that many immigrants, and children of immigrants have struggled with or been afraid to talk about. People forget how much ingrained prejudice they pass on to their children, intentional or not. Thank you for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm so sorry that you had such a hard time adapting. I know how hard it is to be away from all you've known. I was in France twice, for the holidays, working, and it already gave me an idea of the pain immigrants have to suffer being so far from their country. I love to travel and spend some time in various places, but I couldn't leave Poland for good. I just can't imagine myself living somewhere else - even in France or USA, which are my preferred countries. And I do know the language - both languages, actually (well, at least I know some language).
I know how it is to be the outsider, to never fit in. Of course, I never was in the situation quite like yours, but when I was a child, me too, I never fit in anywhere. I was called names, kids made fun of me all the time, insulting me and mocking me, though for an entirely different reasons. I'm glad, though, you're over it now. I am too. It's so much healthier, when you don't care about stupid people and their stupid comments!

About the "Polack" word. I get why you think no Pole would say "You're from Poland? Hey, I'm a Polack too!", but I hope you know/remember that it's not the same when Poles say this in actual Polish. "Jesteś z Polski? Ja też jestem Polakiem!" has no pejorative meaning, 'cause "Polak" means simply "a Pole" i Polish ;) ("Polka" being the female version :D).

I have to say, I laughed pretty hard at your "babcias, ciocias and wujeks". The "s" on the end made my day :D


PS. I don't really know why I chose to write this one in English. Just a reflex, I guess ("Answer in the the language of the question!"). :D

Unknown said...

Oh, dang, amythewicked. I didn't even realize I did that! It was a very difficult post to write, very emotional. Even proof reading it was difficult. So, I guess in my teary eyed state, I wrote more Americanized than I would ever or would ever say. I have to correct that. Thank you for pointing that out! I never use an "s" at the end of a Polish word, that's just crazy!

I am actually planning on posting an article I wrote about the difference between the words Pollock/Pollack/Polack/Polak. And that will definitely be in there. Many people just don't realize the difference.

Thank you for your compassionate words. It was extremely difficult, which is perhaps why I now get irritated that my children must learn Spanish. I understand where those immigrants are coming from, however, what about the immigrants from other countries? Why must my heritage be swept under the rug and theirs must be celebrated and shared? Jealous? Yes. I am.

Anonymous said...

Lol, don't worry, I actually think it's kinda cute, the "s" thing ;)

Thy MUST learn Spanish?! o.O I mean, I like the language, but I wouldn't think anyone could be forced to learn it! I didn't know the situation over there was that... advanced. I mean, I realized it was complex, but not that much... isn't that against American constitution?

Unknown said...

There is nothing in the US Constitution specifying a particular language being the official language. In schools all over the US, children begin slowly learning a word here and there from the beginning and by the time they are usually done Elementary school, they have had to take a mandatory Spanish class. It's very very complex, indeed. And unfortunately, I cannot fully voice my opinion on it, because it brings many negative comments. Sufficed to say, I agree they should learn a second, even third language, but our schools need a MAJOR overhaul and I don't think they should be forced to learn one particular language, they should have a choice. But financing for our schools is extremely disappointing and not a priority, to say the least.
My daughters will be taking foreign language on the weekends out of our own pocket, to learn Polish. Because there is no public school option for that.

Unknown said...

Don't get me wrong, I have no hostility or anger toward any immmigrant groups. I love that we are such a diverse nation. I have friends from all over the world. It's awesome. I just want to be able to celebrate my heritage as well and don't feel that it is possible. And I don't blame any immigrants for that. I blame those in government now who seem to favor one over another, for whatever reason. We should all celebrate where we are from, and share that with each other. The world is big and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I see. I knew there is no official language in US, but what I meant was, isn't "mandatory Spanish lessons" against the "everyone is equal" thing? I mean, the choice of the second or third language should be up to the child and their parents. It is so in Poland. I mean, schools set up different languages in different classes, so for example in my high school you could learn English and French, Spanish or German, but there are schools with Russian or Spanish or other languages as well. The choice is yours. (Of course, the choice is limited, there's not enough money to finance it, but still.) Though it's true that, if your want your children to learn some exotic language, like Japanese, Chinese or Arabic, you have to find a private language school or individual teacher. (You can learn those languages for free, but only while studying at the University, usually you have to study the Philology of a given language, like I do for Arabic.) And I can't think of a school that would not have English classes, usually as a second language, sometimes as a third (like I had in middle school, my second language was French and third was English). And this isn't because of immigrants, but because simply this language is universal and very much needed, especially later in life (it's virtually impossible to get a good job without speaking English at least at the intermidiate level. Unless you become politician xD).

I totally get your perspevtive. It's so unfair that one immigrants be treated better than others, just because there are more of them. (Though if you count all polish-descent people in today's USA, you'd probably be surprised at the number. We've been emigrating for a long time :D) And the worst part is, the cultural variety is so interesting and vital to the people's development! Why people don't understand it and want that destroyed?!

Unknown said...

Technically (technically, I stress this word), they are not FORCED Spanish. You can have them learn a different language instead. However, financing is so messed up here that schools technically cannot afford Gym, Art, or the foreign language courses, so you are limited to Spanish for your mandatory second language, while Gym and Art and Music are cut. Which translates to, you are forced to learn Spanish. In Poland, more money is spent on childrens education than in the US, when you think about percentage of income, population, cost of programs, etc. In many countries, more money is spent on education. That being said, Obama's last State of the Union speech addressed this and he promises to have more money spent on education and a rehaul of the system. We shall see. I would love to believe that and see it for my children.

Yes, the Polish population in the US is huge, more so than people realize. But you won't find free Polish courses in Elementary schools as a foreign language "option" vs. Spanish. Or even in any high schools, that I am aware of.

Our cultural diversity IS interesting and, I agree, vital to people's development. Perhaps it's the whole Political Correct mumbo jumbo which has been distorted and used as another political agenda weapon. Perhaps, it's sheer stupidity and/or narrowminded by some. Perhaps, it's well-meaning but poorly executed intention. Idk, but it's a big deep problem in our country and it sparks large debate and usually, the debate does not touch the true subject, that we need to celebrate our diversity ALL of it. While still being Americans. Sure, I am Polish. But I am American. And anyone living here needs to address that internal conflict and put it to rest while respecting themselves, their children, and others. Like I said, it's a tough touchy subject

Anonymous said...

I see. Perhaps I've watched too much The West Wing (the tv show). They were all about education there and I just didn't realize that in the real world, noone actually addressed the issue. For your and all of American's sake, I hope it'll change soon.

Very often it happens to me to thinks about America as an idea - one of a better life, where the "American dream" can really happen to anybody, where people from various places, usually places less free, can get together and live happily ever after. I *know* it's not that simple and merry, but oftentimes I forget.

Unknown said...

I don't want anyone thinking that I feel as though life in the US is terrible. It isn't. It's wonderful. But life is not like tv. Obama said it great in his speech. We will argue on every little thing along the way. Yes, we do. And it's fantastic that we can, to be sure that no matter what is done here, change or keeping something the same, we are trying to make sure 100% that whatever it is will be true to our laws and the Constitution. That's the beauty of America. We tie our hands with it sometimes but at least we can.

In the meantime, our education needs improvement and I look forward to seeing it actually happen.

OHmommy said...

I can relate. I even have a section on my blog called "Posts about Immigration" here: http://www.classychaos.com/favorites and spoke infront of 1000s in Chicago at BlogHer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0NyObbIzg0

I can relate.

Andrea said...

I know EXACTLY where you are coming from. With me it is Australia instead of the USA, and Germany/England instead of Poland.

I pronounce things differently, I see things differently. I have lived 11 years in different countries, and the rest of my life in Australia.

I get laughed at when I don't know something 'Australian', like 2up, or why Gallipoli is important, or that I don't love cricket. That isn't part of the Australia I grew up in, and yet I get ridiculed for it (and sometimes by people I love). I get chastised "all australians know that, you can't be an australian and not". Well, clearly that isn't the case.

At school I got laughed at for my school lunches(although I think they laughed with jeolousy at the love and care that went into it), at the lunchbox full of brie and liverwurst sandwiches, at 'mouldy cheese', and blood sausage. Oh my goodness what??? Nevermind the biltong. Biltong - from Africa. Dried delicious smoked meat that does look rather like a cross between shredded road tyre and dead animal - but is truly delicious.

Yes not only did i have the UK/German connection, but my parents lived a long time in Africa, so Africa and then PNG were thrown in to the mix.

Even in University, the most liberal and progressive of places, I still met with its' woan't, not wohn't. I for some reason pronounce won't like an American. Any other way feels wierd in my mouth.

So yes, I know where you are coming from. I feel more at home in the mixed up expat world in the middle east or europe, as un-real as that life may be, then I sometimes do in my 'Own' country.

Andrea said...

p.s this reminds me of something.The 'cultural melting pot' vs. 'cultural mosaic'.
In the cultural melting pot, all the different cultures are boiled down and come out the same - as one soup... In the mosaic, all the beautiful different pieces and pieced together to make a beautiful varied piece.

I feel more comfortable in a cultural mosaic....less need to conform, and then, it's only to match around the edges.

Unknown said...

Andrea, I completely love that analogy! Yes, I think I feel more comfortable in the mosaic culture instead of the soup!

D Goska said...

Polish Mama, hi, I just blogged about your post. It's here: http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/2011/03/polish-mama-on-prairie-my-feet-in-two.html

Louise Marie said...

Oh, Polish Mama, that was one of the most intense, most beautiful blogs i have ever read. Your struggles were much too intense for a child to have to endure. Yet, these struggles made you stronger. i could almost feel your strength grow as you spoke of memories as a child to that of an adolescent/teen to that of a grown woman. It seems that no one was there for you as a child. However, as an adult you are able to walk away from any potentially abusive situation with your head held high. No longer will anyone cause you to feel inferior. You are now able to care for yourself and any other person who may be unable to care for themselves ie: children. Those pitiful poor excuses of teachers were such small persons. They could not do those atrocities committed against you to someone their own age, so they chose to be teachers. They had a sick control over their pupils. You, and some others i am sure, became their scapegoats. How i hate what they did to you! Let me know where they are and i will let the air out of their tires! :)
i thank you for this blog. You put your heart into it, and i appreciate that. i admire you, my Polish-American sister.

Anonymous said...

Man there’s so much I want to say, but my fingers can’t fly fast enough to catch up to all of the things my brain wants to parlay to you. This is a wonderfully starkly honest post. Thank you for sharing it with us, the rest of the world. It had to be hard, it had to be therapeutic, but you did it, and we’re all better for it. I thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you had such an awful experience. While I certainly had some difficulties I didn't have anything remotely related to your experience. I know when we first moved to Chicago (when I was 3) we lived in an apartment with many other families that had cockroaches and was generally awful before we moved to our house that we rented. But I don't remember that experience, I've just been told about it. I was luckily enough to have moved to America when I was 3 so I wasn't talking that much and English came to me easily. I do heavily regret never having learned to read or write in polish besides a most basic kindergarten level.

I just can't believe how ignorant people are. That is something I most certainly have experience with. I am so sorry you had to deal with that at such a young age and for so long. I would write a letter to the school district and school board about that teacher. They should NOT be teaching any more.

Linda C. Wisniewski said...

Polish Mama, I stumbled upon this through another blog, and I am very moved by your words. I am second generation American, all my ancestors came from Poland at the turn of the 20th century. Still, educated Americans love to tell me Polish jokes about how stupid I am supposed to be, and call me a Polack. When I was young, I said nothing. Now I tell them directly how offensive it is. We have to keep saying it. You said it so well. Caly lepszy. (Does that mean "all the best?" I hope so.)

Anonymous said...

I found your blog today and enjoy what you have to say. This post in particular made me think long and hard about growing up with people referring to me as a "Polack." My favorite response to the hated jokes has been to drop history on the jokers. What would have happened if Sobieski hadn't been at Vienna after all? LOL, most don't know America's history let alone something that happened 450 years ago. Each non W.A.S.P. ethnic group in America has been saddled with crap like this for the last 150 years. The Irish, Italians, French, Norwegian, Swedish, and Polish all have had to put up with this sort of thing in the area I live in. Thankfully this has faded since I was a child.

I'm a century or more removed from those who emigrated to Minnesota. The cultural connection was largely lost through the first few generations, most likely because they sought to assimilate in order to prosper in the melting pot culture. I wish I could go back and learn what they knew and how they felt about being Polish even though Poland had ceased to exist before they were born. I have spent years piecing together what I can so I can present my daughter with an ethnic identity beyond the American Capitalist ideology. Although I say it was lost, I have picked up threads, shadows almost, of tradition. At best I can only imagine what my family was like before they embraced the mass culture. It's heartbreaking to consider your torn loyalties. I yearn for just a piece of the connection you are lucky enough to have with Poland, but I wouldn't enjoy the pain you live with having been torn away, against your will, as a child.

Thank you for sharing your story and the excellent recipes! Your blog is a revelation.

Roxanne said...

Your post... made me tear up, so much that I couldn't even finish it.

My partner is American, my family are from the former USSR, I grew up in Israel, but that feeling, that acute feeling that the color of my passport, the 'A' for alien on my ID card, it excludes me from so much of european life. Nothing was easy. Some things still arn't. I can live in Europe, but I can't work here.

My mother moved us from country to country our entire lives, in the hopes that we could live somewhere normally. She had hoped I would be able to get a passport to go to the UK to study with the scholorship I was offered. But some things don't work out. None of my family is here, besides my parents and brother.

My partner has 300 cousins and aunts/uncles that he's close to. Most of our family died either in WW2 or in communist Russia. He could never understand what life is like, if you don't come from the 'West'.

I've been battling marrying him, in my mind, the fact that I'll get European papers, and then a green card to the US, it makes me paranoid that people are thinking, oh another Russian girl marrying for papers, or that he one day might think so.

My parents got lucky, my mother was adaptable and made sure we assimilated. But I have a lot of friends whose parents, like yours, had masters degrees and ended up working as stock takers and truck drivers (Both where famous architects in the Ukraine).

I hope that our children will be able to appreciate how lucky they are that their life will progress with much more ease. And that they never have to live off hot dogs for months at a time because they have no food.

Nekky said...

This is the third time I'm coming back to this post. I've read it over and over again but can't put myself together to right any comment.
Yes. you are a Third Culture Kid (an adult TCK).
I can relate so well to this post but reading it or commenting is making me to break down because my kids are also TCKs.
I came back just to let you know that I read the post and that you are a survivor.