Running Head: POLISH ETHNICITY AND DISCRIMINATION Polish Ethnicity and Discrimination Bobbie Walker Axia College at University of Phoenix Polish Ethnicity and Discrimination I was born to parents who come from an extensively varied ethnic background, most of which consists of European descent. However, my parents have a large amount of Polish background coming from both of their sides of the family. Nearly all that I recall comes from many stories and conversations that were shared by grandparents on my mother’s side of the family.
I never grew bored hearing what they had to say, nor did my heart ever cease to break when I heard of much of their struggles as a young married couple who met after immigrating to the United States, prior to the Second World War. Immigrating from Poland My maternal great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Poland somewhere around 1930 which was years after “Poland had already become independent after the First World War (Reisner, 2008). My grandfather, Joseph, was 12 years old and remembered being on a boat that was very “crowded, hot, and stinky,” although he does not remember getting to view the entrance to Ellis Island as it was heaving with people who were being hurried about and jostled everywhere. My grandmother was about 10 at the time. She could not recall what year she and her family immigrated, although it was in the early 1930’s. Both grandma and grandpas families came over to America for economical reasons.
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The country had already obtained their independence and had been able to attend a Roman Catholic Church in the town they lived in. They were poor vegetable farmers and wanted to make a living in a growing country where they thought their services would be welcomed. When they arrived in Hamtramck, Michigan, they did not experience segregation in the sense that they were forced to do so, rather they themselves chose to set up housekeeping in an area where there was a Roman Catholic Church which already welcomed not only Polish immigrants, but other European immigrants as well.
Unfortunately, their parents were unable to afford a sizeable piece of property, having no collateral to produce for a bank loan. Great-Grandpa worked for pennies building roads out in the countryside of Hamtramck, Michigan until he died in 1941, although Grandpa could not remember why. Great-Grandma died soon after from a flu virus. How They Met Grandma Frank and Grandpa Joe, as we called them, met at a dance in 1937. Grandma was in parochial school and Grandpa was a carpenter, working odd jobs here and there for next to nothing. Grandma and Grandpa fell in love and wanted to get married.
Grandma decided to leave school against her parent’s rules and run away with Grandpa to Detroit where they found a church that would marry them; the church Grandma attended refused to marry them because my Grandpa had not made his Confirmation yet. Trying to Adapt Once they were married, they rented a house in South Detroit in an area that was predominantly Polish and Italian. This area of Detroit was quite “hidden away” and where there were numerous environmental issues such as Zug Island. Zug Island is a small island on the Detroit River that is highly industrialized and has been home for various steel plants throughout the years.
On a warm summer night, one can smell the stench as far north as Palmer Park and as far west as Taylor. Although most of the stores and other local businesses near Zug Island already employed many of the Polish and Italian immigrants, it was very difficult for both Grandpa and Grandma to find work. The general attitude of the existing community surrounding that area of Detroit was very prejudiced; as though the current Polish population in the area had become acclimated to the disrespect and treatment of their people.
Jokes were constantly made up and rumors continually heard of how “Poles are nothing but drunken idiots. ” Wherever my grandparents looked for work, doors were being slammed in their faces because they were stereotyped as being “dumb” or “lazy drunks,” even the women. Grandpa was finally forced to join the army during World War II and Grandma was left at home with a new baby to care for. Since Grandma was not only female, but Polish as well, she experienced double jeopardy for several years.
She was not offered a job until long after my mother was born, Grandpa returned home, and my three aunts were born. Interestingly, this came soon after President Kennedy began discussing “affirmative action. ” When she did finally go to work, it was in a barely ventilated factory working on an assembly line, putting furniture together. When Grandpa returned from the war, he still had a little bit of his childhood Polish accent. Again he tried to find work in a community that was still somewhat prejudiced. He began to feel the effects of what we now call a dual labor market.
Not only had he been a carpenter for years, he became a highly skilled electrician in the army and even obtained some certifications. Still, he was initially viewed as a dumb, drunken Polack, simply because he still had hints of an accent, which made him sound drunk. Several months after his return, he somehow managed to join up in Detroit with another friend from the military who helped get him a job, although it was working in a boiler room at a factory on Zug Island. The Tables Turn Sadly, later in the 60’s, Grandpa allowed himself to fall victim of reverse discrimination when blacks began to move into the area.
Until then he worked hard and asked to be promoted. He received raises and health benefits when the union came to the factory. But not until the factory was forced to hire a more diverse population of employees some 25 years later did he receive a promotion to foreman. In 1976 he applied for a maintenance supervisor job while grandma applied for the leasing manager position. They both were given these jobs at a townhome complex in Dearborn that Edsel Ford had built in 1939 to accommodate his Brazilian and British immigrant factory workers.
Both Grandma and Grandpa kept those positions for about 10 years until they retired in 1987. Due to their newer diverse community, they ultimately hired a wide blend of people from several racial and ethnic backgrounds including, European, Black, White, and Middle Eastern; all whom held a great deal of respect for each other. Neither of my grandparents experienced employment beyond the level of supervisor or manager. However, in their last 10 years at the townhome complex, they adapted to a rapidly changing, very diverse community.
There were countless numbers of not only Brazilian and British families migrating to the area because of the Ford Factories. Now, there is an even more diverse blend of hopeful families migrating to the area from other parts of the United States as well as other countries. Personal Cultural Identification When asked if I identify with either my ethnic group or U. S. mainstream culture, I would say both equally. The U. S. values females in the workplace at a much higher level than does Poland. However, the U. S. oes place a much higher value on materialism and finances, whereas I hold a much higher regard for my family and our health and happiness as opposed to things of monetary value. I embrace my Polish heritage and have a great deal of respect for any family or person who tries to immigrate to the United States. What my grandparents and their families endured during their immigration was nearly devastating. Though they experienced trying times and lived through several eras that could cause one to give up in defeat, they managed to press on, and made better lives for themselves in the United States.
Many Polish immigrants who have migrated here in recent years are unfortunately returning to their homeland now; citing reasons such as high materialism, lower family values, decreased income due to high taxes, and most of all, the exasperating process to become an U. S. citizen (Dziennik, 2007). If ever given a choice between an all-expenses-paid transfer to Poland where I could stay home with my family and have basic needs met or the necessity to base my success on income and material possessions, I would seriously consider leaving for Poland.
God always provides for my family in the best and worst of times. References Dziennik, N. (2007, January 29). Polish Immigrants Leave America for Europe. Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://www. polishforums. com/polish_immigrants_leave_america-4_5606_0. html. Reisner, L. , Davis, S. , & Miara, L. (n. d. ). Retrieved October 4, 2008, from http://nhs. needham. k12. ma. us//cur/kane98/kane_p3_immig/Poland/Polish. html#Intro. Schaefer, R. T. (2006). Racial and Ethnic Groups (10th ed. ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.