If you’ve ever lived in Chicago, you’ve probably heard at some point that Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. While that’s an exaggeration it’s certainly the case that the Chicagoland region has a large population of people of Polish descent and that Chicago is important historically to American Polonia. From the earliest Polish immigrants to Chicago in the 1830s through today, Poles have helped shape the culture, politics, religion, and food of Chicago. This week we dive into that history.
Joining me to help us understand more about Polish Chicago is Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga, professor emeritus of history in the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago and author of several books on Polish immigrants and Chicago, including American Warsaw: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Polish Chicago in 2019.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-roll audio is “Mazurka, Op. 24, No. 4, in B Flat Minor,” by Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, performed by Polish pianist and Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski in in the early 1920s and captured on an Aeolian Company "DUO-ART" reproducing piano; the performance is in the public domain and is available via the Internet Archive. The episode image is the Tadeusz Kościuszko Monument, an outdoor sculpture by artist Kazimierz Chodziński, installed in the median of East Solidarity Drive, near Chicago's Shedd Aquarium; the photograph was taken by Matthew Weflen on Sunday, February 19, 2023, and is used with permission.
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Kelly Therese Pollock 0:00
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please, tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too. Today, on the third episode in our short series on Chicago History, we're discussing the history of Polish Chicago. If you've ever lived in Chicago, you've probably heard at some point that Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. We'll come back to the veracity of that statement in a bit. But it's certainly the case that the Chicagoland region has a large population of people of Polish descent, and that Chicago is important, historically, to American Polonia. To understand Polish immigration to Chicago, we first need to understand a bit about the history of Poland itself. In October, 1795, representatives from Austria, Prussia and Russia met to divide up the lands that had been the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. It wasn't the first time Poland had been partitioned. But this third partition meant the end of an independent Polish state until World War I, over 100 years later. In 1830, Polish patriots launched the November Uprising, which became a full scale war against Russia. After the failed revolution, thousands of Poles fled Poland in a great emigration to Western Europe. At the same time, the earliest Polish immigrants to Chicago were noblemen who came in small numbers, hoping to create a new Poland in Illinois. In 1848, polls attempted again unsuccessfully to rise up this time against Prussian forces. The Greater Poland Uprising of 1848 was part of a wave of European revolutions that year, sometimes described as "Springtime of the Peoples," and it involved the peasantry, much more than earlier Polish revolutions.
After 1850, Polish emigration to Chicago intensified, and Poles primarily settled in five Chicago neighborhoods: the Lower West Side, Bridgeport, Back of the Yards, South Chicago, and what became known as the "Polish downtown," the area around Pulaski Park, River West, Bucktown, Wicker Park, East Village, and Noble Square. One of the earliest leaders in the Polish community in Chicago was a man named Peter Kiolbassa. Kiolbsasa had emigrated from Poland with his family as a teenager, settling first in Texas. He initially fought with the Confederate Army in the Civil War. But after he was captured, the Union Army recruited him to their side, and he was promoted up to captain. After the Civil War, he moved to Chicago, where he joined the police force, and, with Anthony Smarzewski-Schermann helped organize St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church, the first Polish parish in Chicago, founded in 1867. Kiolbassa was the first Polish elected official in Chicago, serving in the state legislature from 1877 to 1879, and as city treasurer from 1891 to 1893. St. Stanislaus Kostka was only the first of nearly 60 Polish parishes to be established in the Chicago archdiocese. Likewise, Kiolbassa was only the first of the Polish elected officials in Chicago. Kiolbassa had run as a Democrat. John F. Smulski was a Republican who was elected city attorney in 1903, and state treasurer in 1906. Although there has not yet been a Polish mayor of Chicago, Poles played an important role in the election of Mayor Anton Cermak in 1931, as the Czechs and Poles allied together in Chicago. Later in the 20th century, Chicago Democrat Dan Rostenkowski, son of a longtime alderman of the Polish downtown, became one of the most powerful congressman in the country. Rostenkowski served as chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee from 1981 until 1994, when he was indicted on corruption charges, and defeated narrowly in his reelection bid. Poland, which hadn't been an independent state for the entirety of the 19th century, regained its independence after World War I, when a Polish Republic was proclaimed on November 3, 1918. The Peace of Riga, signed on March 18, 1921, finally ended the Polish Soviet War. The peace was brief. The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, launching World War II, which devastated Poland. After World War II, the Soviet Union seized Poland as a satellite state. A third wave of Polish immigrants fled to Chicago in the 1980s, known as the Solidarity Immigration, when martial law was imposed on Poland in 1981. In June, 1989, in a partially free election in Poland, the trade union, Solidarity, won an overwhelming victory, precipitating the peaceful fall of communism in the country. In 1998, the road between the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium on Chicago's museum campus was renamed Solidarity Drive to commemorate the movement to bring freedom to Poland. Solidarity Drive features the statues of two famous Poles: astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, and military hero, Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Let's return to the question of whether Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. The brief answer is definitely "no," since there are two cities in Poland with larger populations than Chicago's Polish population. Even if you focus on cities outside of Poland, though, Chicago does not have the largest Polish population. So many people of Polish descent have left the city of Chicago for the suburbs that both London and New York City now have larger Polish populations than Chicago does. But if you look at the larger metropolitan area, that includes the suburbs, Chicago comes out on top. According to a 2015 report by WBEZ Chicago, "The Chicago area has a Polish ancestry population of just less than 900,000. New York's is closer to 800,000, and London's is much smaller. Translation: The Chicago metropolitan area is the largest Polish metropolitan area outside of Poland." Chicago can claim the largest Polish parade outside of Poland, the annual Polish Constitution Day Parade, which celebrates the anniversary of the ratification of the Polish Constitution on May 3, 1791. The parade has been held in Chicago nearly every year since 1892, with the exception of 2020 and 2021, when it was virtual because of COVID. More than 150 Polish clubs and associations participate in the parade and an estimated 10,000 spectators watch each year. Joining me now to help us understand more about Polish Chicago is Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga, professor emeritus of history at Columbia College, Chicago, and author of several books on Polish immigrants and Chicago, including the 2019 book, "American Warsaw: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Polish Chicago."
Hi, Dominic, thanks so much for joining me today.
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 11:01
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Kelly Therese Pollock 11:03
I am always delighted to talk about Chicago. So I'm excited to talk here about Polish Chicago, which is something I didn't know as much about going into this. And the entire time I've lived in Chicago, people have told me there are more Poles in Chicago than anywhere else in the world except Warsaw. I believe that's not actually true. But can you talk a little bit about the importance of Chicago to the Polish diaspora?
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 11:29
Sure, basically, Chicago is the capital of the Polish diaspora in North America, from its founding in 1850s. Really, there's an early Polish migration to the city in the 1830s, right after the Russian Polish War of 1831, '32, '33. But after that, there's a what we call the Za Chlebem migration. That means, "for bread." So it's basically an economic migration that takes place and this is largely peasant in background. There were some others who are some are intellectuals and some are, you know, religious leaders, priests primarily, etc. And of course, also the Polish Jewish community, which also comes along. And by the mid 1850s, you're starting to see a small but discernible Polish community evolving on the north side of the city, northwest side of the city, near Milwaukee, Division, and Ashland really on Noble Street and Division. And the leaders of that are a fellow named Antoni Schermann,and Piotr Kiolbassa, and they are two people who helped to create the first Polish Catholic church in the city, St. Stanislaus Kostka, which is still there, on Noble Avenue, and its rival, Holy Trinity is still on Noble Avenue down the street. And that's the beginning really, and, and that really becomes the center, sort of the center for the Polonia in Chicago. It's the largest and most prestigious settlement. But there are five original neighborhoods that emerge very quickly. On the west side, there's the area in Pilsen at 17th and Paulina, St. Adalbert's parish, which in Polish, we would call the neighborhood of "swietego Wojciecha" or the parish of St. Adalberts. Then there's the Bridgeport connection. There are 2 Polish Catholic parishes in Bridgeport that are founded, and in the Back of the Yards, where there are three. So that's so you've got West Town on the northwest side, you have Pilsen, and then you have Bridgeport, Back of the Yards, and the 5th is South Chicago, down by steel mill community. And so out of those five original neighborhoods emerges a Polonia that really spreads quickly across the area.
Kelly Therese Pollock 13:39
So a lot of Chicago stories end up referencing the 1893 World's Fair. I live in Hyde Park, so I'm surrounded by World's Fair and of course, there is a connection here that you talk about in "American Warsaw." Can you talk a little bit about that? And so Poland isn't an independent country of its own at the time, but there is a Polish presence via the Chicago Polish community.
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 14:01
The 1893 World's Fair is actually important, and also is the 1894 Exposition Lvov, which is now in Ukraine, and it's now called Lviv, sometimes called Lvov or Lemberg, because it was under Austrian control as well. Those two fairs are very important because one of the things one of the points I make in my book, "American Warsaw," is that there's a constant argument over what is the relationship between Chicago, or between the American diaspora, and Poland? What does it mean to be a Pole in America? What does it mean to be, and what is that relationship? How or how do people in Poland feel about that relationship as well? See, I think that migration is very important for both American history but also for Polish history. And it's often ignored in Polish history. It says, "Oh, yeah, a lot of people left. Oh, well, well, now let's get back to talk about the important things." But I think it's actually crucial for the development of the Polish independence movement. And in 1893, when the Polish community, they're starting to feel a little clout, right? Starting to have a little power and great Chicago word "clout" comes out, right? They push for their Polish day at the Columbian Exposition. So like 5000 Poles marched from the downtown area, cross this, crossed the Loop, get onto the Illinois Central Railroad train, take it down to the Jackson Park. And there have a huge celebration. Previous to this, there had been a sort of exposition of small exposition of Polish artists, which was very important. But it wasn't marked as, as as part of an independent country because it was not an independent country. But there had been this exhibit of Polish artists at the exhibit. There was also a Polish restaurant. It was the only Polish building at the at the fair and was set up by people in the diaspora. So this was the beginning of sort of, you know, I mean, if you think about Chicago ethnic parades, almost every weekend, we've got somebody marching someplace, right. I remember attending the Polish Constitution Day Parade, it was the same day that there was a walk for Israel. Right. And somehow, there was another Greek parade coming right across it, and we they cut. It was just, you know, there's a wonderful Yiddish word mishegoss. You know, this was such a "wow, what the hell's going on here" you know, kind of thing. Parades, though, mean, "We're here, we're important, and you better watch out because we're getting power." And that's what this begins in 1893. And it is the beginning really of Polish political, economic, and cultural power in the city. The following year, Poles in Chicago and in New York and other places, but primarily in Chicago, helped organize an American, a Polish American Exposition at the Lvov Fair, which is a fair that's held in 1894. It's a celebration of a Kosciuszko rebellion and the last partition of Poland in the 18th century. And it's an attempt to bring Polish patriotism together. See, because Galicia, which is an Austrian province at this time, Austro Hungarian province this time, is also a hotbed of Polish nationalism. In fact, in Galicia, the official language is Polish, not German, not Ukrainian, not Latin, as it once was for the entire Austro Hungarian empire. But Polish. And so the Poles are given a great deal of freedom to go about doing things and they do things very quickly. They're very pointed in what they want to do. They want to reunite all the Polish lands. Now, what does that mean? I mean, Poland was once the largest country in Europe. It included many ethnic groups, large groups of Poles, but large groups of Polish Jews, Germans, Slovaks, Czechs, white Russians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians. There was a huge Assyrian population in Poland at the time. So I mean, you have this huge group of people. It's sort of like the United States, right? I mean, it's got all these people living, but this is before the rise of nationalism. Once nationalism takes off, then you get Zionists going in one way. You got Ukrainian nationalists going another way. You got Polish nationalists going another way, Lithuanian nationalists going another way. And you get the arguments that make Eastern Europe such a fascinatingly crazy place.
Kelly Therese Pollock 18:17
Yeah. So you mentioned that the Polish community in Chicago and the US more broadly, is so important to the history of Poland. And that really comes out in World War I and World War II in the ways that that Polonia really contributes to both of those war efforts. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 18:35
Yeah, World War I especially is important because it's after World War I that Polish state is reestablished in November 11, 1918, the same day as the Armistice. It's the same day as Polish independence. There's an uprising, the Austrians are thrown out, the Russians are all over the place. And before World War I does not really end in Poland till 1921 will be the Treaty of Riga that ends the fight between the Soviets and Poland. So in the Polish Army defeats the British army against independence. But World War I is so crucial, because the Poles in diaspora, particularly in the United States, start to form an army. They call it the Blue Army or Haller's Army, and this army will go to the western front first, but then be transported to Poland and will fight in the Polish Soviet War, 1919, 1920. Poles organized just a tremendous amount of money for Polish war relief, that is to help. I mean the countries when we think of the World War I here in the west, we think of the Western Front. You know, you think of "All Quiet on the Western Front," terrible trench warfare of Western Europe. But Poland was the Eastern Front. And Poland was devastated, just absolutely devastated by the fighting. As the Russian army came, the German army pushed them back and the Austrians came and the Russians push them back. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth so the Polish countryside was basically devastated. Poland faced a famine right after the war ended in 1918. So there was tremendous amount of attempt to try to raise money to feed Poland. Herbert Hoover was very important. You know, we talked about him in his Belgian relief, but he was also important in Polish relief efforts. And so there's this, this nation, which is trying to reemerge. And that brings up a question, a question that Poles in the diaspora also have to face. What does it mean to be Polish? As they say in Polish, "Polskosc." Gosh, what is Polishness? And this is something that we argue about constantly. I always say that Poles, especially in the diaspora, like to do two things. We like to have parades. And we like to argue with each other about who's a better Pole. And we have to define that right. So the Polish Roman Catholic Union says Jews can't be Poles, because only Catholics can be Poles. Polish National Alliance says anybody can be a Pole, as long as they believe in Poland. So one of the early vice presidents or treasurers of the Polish National Alliance is Jewish. One of the founders of Polish American Congress during World War II is Jewish, because they identify with Poland, as Arthur Rubinstein did. So you have this, this this constant question, "What does it mean to be Polish?" The argument is constant, you know, and so between the wars, the generation that's coming to adulthood, are mostly many of them are American born or came when they were young, right? They're starting to identify more with America. And so they're they break to an extent with Poland in the 1930s. And they say, we're not we're Polish Americans with the emphasis on American. And there's this sort of break between plus and Poland comes under attack again, everybody kicks back in to help Poland. And you'll see that a lot. We're having a major exhibit open on May 20, at the Chicago History Museum, May, 2023, on Polish Chicago. It'll be 2200 square feet or so, and it's going to travel to Warsaw as well. But one of the things that we have in that exhibit is a room on the connection between Poland and Polish Chicago. And this contact, you know, it sort of like you know, it wanes and waxes right, back and forth. And whenever Poland's in trouble, Polish Chicago steps up. So you see them stepping up in World War I, raising an army of sending money for relief, World War II, not raising an army again, but sending relief and care pack well not care packages yet that comes later after the war. But those kinds of things. And there's always been this connection as early as the 1890s. Many people believe that the Galician economy, that is the Austro Hungarian part of Poland that was occupied by the Austro Hungarians, that the economy was actually based on the American dollar, because people were sending money back. Polish Catholics, Polish Jews were sending money back to their families and villages and settles all over Galicia. And so they were really helping people at the time. So this connection was constant. Now, you know, you have various waves of Polish immigration. First, you have this sort of small wave of veterans from the Russia Polish War, the 1830s. Then you have the largest group called the Za Chlebem economic migration that really runs from about 1855, 1858, to about 1925. Then you have the World War II migration of displaced persons right come after the war. This is a second large, but not as large as the Za Chlebem migration. But then you get a small migration in the 50s and the 60s, and then the Solidarity Immigration. So you have wave after wave after wave of Poles coming to Chicago, reinforcing this idea of Chicago, sort of a capital of the diaspora. And this is really important, because when Lech Walensa climbs over that fence in Gdansk, you know, in the early 1980s, Roman Pucinski, who's an alderman in Chicago, and and before that a congressman and later mayoral candidate, unsuccessful, organizes, you know, money to be sent to help Walensa and the Solidarity Movement. When the communists are eventually kicked out of power in Poland, about 1989, 1990, Walensa comes to Chicago to raise money for investments, because Poland is, you know, I mean, I first time I went to Poland, I've been to Poland 15 times. First time I went was 1986. Country was poor. I mean, people were standing in lines to get bread and meat and milk. I remember going to a restaurant and I ordered three things and each one they didn't have. It was on the menu, but they didn't have it. It was like a third world country. Now Poland is like, like visiting Paris, you visit Krakow, I think it's just a beautiful place. And it's been, things have changed greatly. So that now, today, the immigrant connection is cut off. When Poland became a part of the EU, European Union, they didn't need a visa to come to France or Germany. The largest immigrant group in Norway are the Poles. The largest immigrant group in Ireland are the Poles. Until Brexit, the largest immigrant group in Britain, were the Poles. I was in Sicily. And then I was told by a Sicilian that there were 50,000 Poles in Sicily, working on construction jobs. And it's just kind of amazing because they can go anywhere. So they don't need to come to Chicago to make a little extra. There are 15, I think, 13 or 15 buses every day from Poznan to Brussels. So if you can work in Belgium, you can come home for Christmas, you can come home for Easter, you can visit your grandma for a weekend, and get and then you know, Jet Blue and all these other places, other airlines that are so cheap, it's easy to move back and forth. So I think that that has been a big part of it, as well. So the connection isn't as strong as it once was between Poland and Chicago. But the cultural connection is still.
Kelly Therese Pollock 26:21
Yeah. So I want to talk a little bit about, we talked about clout in Chicago politics, and you write about how there is and was, of course, a lot of political clout for the Polish community in Chicago, but perhaps maybe never quite as much as one would think there could have been given the size of the population. There's never been a Polish mayor of Chicago, for instance. Could you talk a little bit about that andwhy why there wasn't more clout?
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 26:48
Well, first of all, I think the the issue with clout or political power in the city of Chicago, and Poles are a huge group, a very huge voting bloc. The Polish American Democratic Organization was founded in the early 1930s to support Anton Cermak's election as mayor. Poles get a lot of political clout in the Democratic Party. They don't get the mayoral. They get jobs, there are a patronage jobs. There are certain wards that are controlled by Polish committeeman, Polish aldermen, the Rostenkowski wards right, which is the Milwaukee/ Division/ Ashland area, Pucinski on the northwest side, eventually. But you can never seem to come together to support any one candidate. And this is an interesting question, because remember, I was talking with a good friend of mine, the other day, Dan Pogorzelski, who was just elected to the Metropolitan Water Commission, whatever it is. Dan, is an astute observer of Polish, and Polish American history. And he said that, you know, you have to understand that this was a colonized people. They were, you know, after the partitions, they were basically colonies of Austria, Germany and Russia. They had no power. They were cut off from their original roots, and cut off from each other, needed to get a visa to pass from one part of Poland to the other part of Poland. So they were cut off from each other. So they were divided. And in Chicago, they remained divided. Southwest side Poles don't vote for northwest side Poles. Because "We're better Poles than they are. They won't vote for us because they're better Poles than we are. Right. And we both jump on west side Poles and say, 'Ach. Who the hell are they?'" So you know, I mean, you put there's, and this is said about the Jewish community too. You put three three people on an island, you get six political papers, right newspapers and two radio stations and whatever, 14 podcasts to argue with each other about who's the better Pole. And and so that division remains. And there's also a social class division. I grew up by the stockyards. I worked at Union Stockyards as a boy. I've written about it. There was a feeling that those people on the south side were lesser than people in the north. People on the north side were more generally from the Prussian and Russian partition. Poles in the south side came from Galicia, the Austrian. So there was this disconnect. So I think that's part of it. I mean, think about it. They built 60 Catholic churches in the city, 60 of them,, and yet couldn't come together and get a cardinal, couldn't even get together and elect a mayor. I mean, when Adamowski ran, he came the closest. He, Adamowski ran against Richard J. Daley, the first Daley, in 1963. He came the closest to beating, and he still lost by 100,000 votes. But he actually did capture some of the southwest side vote, though, it was not as much as he captured on the northwest side. But when Pucinski ran against Bilandic in 1977, he didn't capture any southwestsiders. He captured some southsiders, but no southwest side wards went his way. Why? Well, it's good question because he was from the northwest side. And that was pretty much the same as in the Black community, west side Blacks, southside Blacks. For a long time, same thing in the Jewish community, west side and south side Jews, you know, actually, German Jews and Eastern European Jews. So there was that division between two groups. And so you see that playing itself out over and over and over again in Chicago history. And today, of course, is 90% of all Polish Americans live in the suburbs. So the days of ever getting a mayor, again, are extremely low.
Kelly Therese Pollock 30:41
So let's talk about that, then that that move to the suburbs, because there used to be something called the Polish downtown in Chicago. There were all these neighborhoods, as you mentioned, but there isn't that presence, that striking presence anymore within the city limits of Chicago. So is this just a story of what lots of immigrant groups do: they come, they get better jobs, their kids go to better schools and they move out to the suburbs? You know, what, what's going on here?
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 31:11
It's the same story, I'm afraid. You know, so when the Poles first came in large numbers, you know, the west town area the area around I guess they call it Wicker Park now. Everything seems to be Wicker Park, because you can't rent rent apartments to yuppies and call it Polish downtown. But then the Milwakee/ Division/ Ashland area, when they first came here, was largely a German neighborhood. St. Boniface was a German church. And there were clashes between Poles and and Germans in the church itself during Mass. And so the Germans began to move northwest. So they moved all the way out, geez, to Logan Square to Humboldt Park, where the Poles would never come. But of course they did. And and they moved out there because the Puerto Ricans would never moved there, right because it was too far away, so the Puerto Ricans have chased them there. And now they've moved on beyond. And now some of the children are moving back to West Town because it's hip to live in West Town. So you get this kind of image of people just sort of moving across the cityscape constantly. The Germans moved out, the Irish moved, the Irish have largely moved out. And the Poles have largely moved out. And then you know, as late as the 1970s, 1980s people said, "No this isn't permanent. There will always be a Polish neighborhood." And then when the Solidarity Migration moved in the area Avondale around Milwaukee/ Diversey, it was St. Hyacinth's parish, that became the epicenter of immigration. It would always stay Polish. Well, it didn't, did it? People are moving out and now yuppies are moving in. I don't know. Can you still use the term yuppie? I'm not even sure. But young professionals are moving into that area, pushing people towards the suburbs. So the Poles, you know, people always ask me, "How can we save St. Adelbert on 17th St?" Move back to the neighborhood, go to Mass, throw a dollar in the bucket, you know, collection plate. That's how you save St. Adelbert's. If you had 1000 Poles that still lived with 1000 Mexicans in St. Adelbert's, you could save St. Adelbert's, but if you don't move back, what are you complaining about? When was the last time you went to Mass there? Now there are some people who do, and I support their protests. I wish something could be done to save that parish. But my parish closed in 1990, my home parish, you know, and it was it was a parish that was shared between Poles and Mexicans very, very comfortable that Mexicans would cook for Polish holidays, Poles would cook for Mexican holidays. They sort of shared the whole space. But there's an old church, and it needs a lot of work. And there were two other Polish parishes in the neighborhood. Now there's only one. So yeah, I mean, if you move out, you have no right to talk about losing clout. There have been various attempts to try to establish a Polish ward. But it's such a fluid population, right? Thankfully, the Solidarity Immigration, and even the displaced persons were of a different social status and they were better educated they spoke Polish better. Of course, you know, I mean, my generation grew up speaking up, because we say "po Chicagosku" in the Chicago manner, which is our own little dialect. You know, we take an English word "pen," the "pen-jest." We'll add our Polish ending to it, you know. So this was better Polish, they were better educated. Some of them came with master's, doctorate degrees. They didn't want to live in four rooms on Milwaukee Avenue with a shared bathroom in the hallway, you know? So they moved out. And and that's the story of Germans, Irish, Jews, leaving large numbers from North Lawndale going up to Glencoe area, north of the city and Highland Park. And you know, it's just, it's the American dream. So Americans want a backyard. Now you want a really big backyard. I want a little bit better schools for your kids. But there's still the maintenance of Polish Saturday schools, still the maintenance of "Polskosc," Polishness. And then you have to take in the question of intermarriage, intermarriage, you know, which is in all groups, right? I'm my wife is of Sicilian descent, so my children are half Italian, half Polish. Who do they identify with? That's a good question. One of my daughters spent two summers in Poland trying to learn Polish, and she did a little bit. We talk a little bit to each other sometimes. But it's not the same. I mean, she didn't grow up in the same milieu that I grew up in. I grew up on 47th Street and Ashland Ave, between Ashland and Damon. And it was a very East European street when I grew up. There were Polish Jewish stores or Polish stores, bakeries, delicatessens. Everybody spoke a little Polish. And I grew up in Back of the Yards. And so actually, we all kind of learned how to swear in about five different languages, because there were so many different ethnic groups living together, but separate. So I know these communities, the Polish community, but also other ethnic communities tried to create a protective sphere that took care of people from cradle to grave, cemeteries, churches, or stores, and taverns. Taverns played a big role in the Polish community. One of the people I talk about in the book, "Li'l Wally," Jagiello, the polka king, right, and he grew up from age eight or nine years old, playing the accordion in Polish taverns on Division Street, and later became a very rich man, by creating JJ records, "Polka King of America," and married actually, the girl who lived in the same building I lived in Backof the Yards, Janet. It was a, it was a protected community. Now, by the 60s, that protection is starting to break up. Poles are gaining clout. My generation went to university. My father's generation went to work and fought World War II, but he made sure I went to university. That gives you a different perspective and move into other other areas, both physically and culturally.
Kelly Therese Pollock 37:38
Yeah, I think one of the most poignant moments in your book, is you're talking about people moving out of these neighborhoods, and there are immigrants, women who are old women at this point who never learned English because they didn't have to. And all of a sudden, they're surrounded by people who don't know Polish.
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 37:54
Right. Yeah, they're left behind. Back in the 70s, the Polish American Congress Charitable Foundation, asked me to do a study, I was in graduate school. And I did a study of poverty in Polish community. And I had interviewed these people. I mean, they were lost their, you know, their neighbors were all Hispanic now. And they didn't speak English. And their neighbors didn't speak English. Very little communication would be going on. And they resented it, they lost their community. You know, I mean, there was a feeling of resentment. Why did you come here? The same resentment that the Germans felt when they moved in, you see, and we do this to each other constantly in places like Chicago and New York and Detroit. And one day, we're all going to wake up in Des Moines and scare the hell out of each other, because we'll all be headed the same direction. One of the reasons I wrote the book was this idea of "Polskosc," Polishness. In 1980, I was at a conference in Toronto, Polish scholars, Polish American scholars. It was international conference. And I was hanging out with a bunch of Polish historians, sociologists, and my Polish is not great, but it's okay. And we were passing around what Polish historians and others do. We were passing around a bottle of vodka and singing songs. And, you know, we spent two days or so academic conference yet breakout in a certain way or another. And I remember I recited a little poem that I learned as a boy: "Kto ja jestem wy pytacie. Narodowa moja jaka?." "Who do you say I am I, what's my nationality?" And then it says, "I speak Polish, of course I'm a Pole." And I recited that. And this Polish sociologist says to me, "Dominic, you realize you're not Polish, right?" And it was like a slap in the face. Because nobody in Chicago had ever told me I wasn't Polish. I was also an American. But nobody in Chicago said to me, "You're not Polish. I was always Polish. I mean, I was just looking at my high school yearbook for some reason or another and all these people had signed the book. Almost every mark was about me being Polish. And here was this guy in 1980, who had the guts to tell me I wasn't Polish, you know? And I was just like getting, you know, there's a wonderful word, Japanese word called "satori," a slap in the face. It's enlightenment. It's a epiphany and a pivotal experience. And I sat and I realized, "Wow, I'm really not." And that's one of the reasons I wrote the book. Because how do we define "Polskosc" or Polishness? And it's one of the reasons we're having this exhibit at the Chicago History Museum. It will deal largely with the idea of "Polskosc," what does it mean to be a Pole in the diaspora? Can my daughters feel Polish? Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. You know, because they weren't raised up in the community that I was raised up in. I was raised up in a pretty strict, I went to Polish Catholic school, where we learned Polish. My grandmother used to say to me, "If you want to eat, you have to ask in Polish." So I had to ask her in Polish. I remember sort of intense feelings when I was in my grandmother's kitchen, it was like being in Poland. And so when the guy told me I wasn't Polish, it was like spitting in my face. I was like stung. Later on, I went and had a Fulbright and taught at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, which is the oldest university in Poland. In fact, that year, they celebrated their 600th anniversary, I believe it was. And that fellow was there is a good friend of mine. And he came up to me, kissed me on the cheek and said, "Welcome home." And it was just, you know, it's very moving. But yeah, so I go back and forth, when I can. And I hope I hope when our exhibit moves from Chicago History Museum to the National Polish Museum of History, it's just going to open in Warsaw, that I'll be able to go there, at least one more time.
Kelly Therese Pollock 41:54
Yeah. So if there are people in Chicago, we've mentioned that it Polonia doesn't have quite the presence in Chicago that it used to, but if there are people in Chicago who want to see some Polish areas, Polish buildings, Polish restaurants, maybe do you have recommendations?
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 42:09
Sure. I mean, they can travel up Milwaukee Avenue, which has just been named the Polish Corridor. And you know, there are some Polish restaurants and of course, there are now more and more in the suburbs, that's where the Polish population has moved. I am a Polish mountaineer, which is a specific group. We are very proud of our mountaineer heritage, our Alpine heritage, the Tatra Mountains in the Carpathians. And there are a bunch of Polish restaurants, Polish Highlander restaurants in the southwest suburbs, because that's where most of the Poles live. There is one place, that's a really good place. There's this Polish Highlanders of North America Hall on Archer Avenue. It's on Archer Avenue in the Brighton Park area, Polish Highlanders Alliance. And that they took an old I believe it was an old Volkswagen dealership and they remade it into a Polish mountain chateau. And it's absolutely exquisite. It's beautiful. There are meetings, there are dances, tavern, restaurant, you know, it's it's great meeting place, in a neighborhood that's now primarily Mexican. It's changed, but if you follow Archer Avenue out, you'll get a Polish restaurant somewhere on Harlem. There's Szarotka. There's also, Janosik, and several other places. There is actually I won't give you the address, but it's on 88th Avenue South of 95th Street, a beautiful Polish chateau built by a Polish architect and carpenter. It's made without the use of a nail. It's all you know, joint and mortise, and it's beautiful. 88th Avenue just past Harlem. And there's various places like the Polish Museum is another place because Polish Museum is a good place to go. And it's still in the old Polonia, on Milwakee Ave. and Augusta, just off of the Kennedy Expressway. And there are several Polish churches in that neighborhood that are worth visiting. There's the Polish, Holy Trinity is still Polish, still very much a Polish church. It's a Polish basilica for the city and there are various other places like that, St. Hyacinth in Avondale and up and down Milwaukee. When you drive when you're coming in from O'Hare Airport, you drive right past St. Stanislaus Kostka's rectory. I told the pastor once that you could make a lot of money by offering Communion out the window. He didn't think that was a good idea. Because the expressway was moved a little bit over so St. Stan's was down. And that actually happened for a few churches in Chicago. But there's still a Polish presence. There's a restaurant called Staropolska which is open for dinner on Milwaukee Avenue, near St. Hyacinth. There's various places that people can find. I like to go to old Polish churches like St. Joseph's on 48th Street, Back of the Yards, or there's the last tavern on Whiskey Row. Whiskey Row is 40,45 taverns in a row, right by the stockyards on Ashland Avenue. And the last Whiskey Row tavern is at 43rd Street and Ashland Avenue on the northwest corner. It's called Stanley's. And it's, it's got a lot of character. There's a parking lot right next to it. There's a lot of those kinds of places still around. And you can find some of those places still on Division Street, still on Milwaukee. There's, my daughter, tells me there's the Pulaski Day or Polish Day pub crawl, on the northwest side. So
Kelly Therese Pollock 45:39
That sounds dangerous.
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 45:42
Dangerous to me, and I'm, I'm 73 years old. So I don't do stuff like that. If I was 33. I might but not at 73.
Kelly Therese Pollock 45:48
"American Warsaw" is a great book, great read. How can people get a copy?
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 45:53
Oh, they can get it through the University of Chicago Press website. They can get it through Amazon and there are various bookstores. Seminary Co Op bookstore carries it in Hyde Park, where you live right, I met my wife. And there are various other places that it's easy enough to get to. And please tell people to come to our exhibit on Polish Chicago at the Chicago History Museum on May 20th will be the opening and running for about a year.
Kelly Therese Pollock 46:18
Excellent. And I will be sure to go as well. Dominic, thank you so much. This was a really fun conversation, and I just had a great time learning all about Polish Chicago.
Dr. Dominic A. Pacyga 46:28
Thank you for having me. Dobranoc!
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Dominic A. Pacyga is professor emeritus of history in the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago. His books include Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago: Workers on the South Side, 1880–1922; Chicago: A Biography; and Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made, all from the University of Chicago Press. Pacyga is the 2014 Mieczyslaw Haiman Award winner for exceptional and sustained contribution to the study of Polish Americans.