Having a Polish-American Heritage means that I have had the unique opportunity to be able to experience many wonderful and remarkable traditions in my life. I have been able to witness weddings with polka bands, grand marches, the oczepiny and the poprawiny. My holidays have been filled with my Great Grandmother’s kapusta, which my aunt creates from our secret family recipe, our traditional trip to Stanley’s Market for kielbasa, my Great Uncle presenting the Oplatek at Christmas and of course, having homemade pierogi on Good Friday. Everyone who shares this pierogi experience with us will always leave our home with the tell-tale scent of butter and onions on them.
However, my Polish Heritage is more than just the tangible traditions that have helped influenced who I am. The intangible things have left a more lasting, rooted impression on my life. I realized this when I went away to college last fall. For the first time in my life, I was hundreds of miles away from my family, in a new and intimidating environment and without a friend or familiar face in sight. But then I recalled my Great Grandparents, Ludwig and Hedwig Pietrasz. Ludwig was born in Jeziorany, Poland and had eventually made his way to the United States. Hedwig Pacieszniak was born in Poland on January 8, 1908, lived in Poland during World War I and came to the United Stated when she was 11 years old. The great courage it must have taken them to come to an unfamiliar place, not speaking the language and not knowing anyone. They were strong and remarkable people who eventually met each other in Hamtramck, Michigan and married on July 21, 1925. I realized that I came from a long line of courageous and resilient people and that I too have these strong characteristics and because of this, I was able to not only thrive in my new environment, but to exceed my own expectations.
In addition, my Polish heritage has been immersed in love and encouragement. Accomplishments, no matter how small, are shared by every member of my family and celebrated with excitement and enthusiasm. Every stride that I have made and every success that I have had stems back to being able to grow up with this strong Polish legacy and I know it will continue to follow me in my future and in turn, be a part of how I raise my own family.
What does it mean to be Polish? It means that family is the most important thing in the world. Our Polish traditions, weddings, holidays and foods are all rooted in strong family ties. My family still celebrated holidays and life events with Great Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins just like my Great Grandparents did with their families. It means that others view us as helpful and reliable. It means that we are not only courageous, but resilient people. It means that I have a strong sense of pride and respect for all who have come before me and all who have helped shape me into who I am today. It means that my Polish beliefs and customs will remain strong and my Polish Heritage of family support, resiliency and reliability will define everything that I do in my future.