Poland Rising

How did the Irish get so popular? In the 19th century and even into the early 20th, the Irish were decidedly not a favorite immigrant group. They were often poor and, more damning, Catholic, a major strike against them in a very Protestant United States. The Irish were stereotyped as hot-headed drunkards, uncivilized and unskilled. Political cartoons were widely used to express negative opinions about Irish immigrants. And yet something changed…

Today, everyone wants to be Irish. There are stores selling Celtic this and that all over the country, Irish bars, and Irish music festivals. Maybe it was sheer numbers. Millions of Irish came to the United States so their influence became impossible to ignore. And they didn’t remain poor and unskilled. Many became politically, economically, and religiously powerful in their new country. John F. Kennedy–Irish and Catholic–probably had something to do with it, too.

All of this leads me to the Poles (and myself as I’m a quarter Polish). Why haven’t the Polish experienced this renaissance of opinion? Poles were often poor and Catholic, too. They didn’t come in quite the same numbers as the Irish but most settled in urban areas like the Irish, especially heavily in the Midwest. Chicago today bills itself as the largest Polish city outside of Poland. And yet Poles are often still the butt of jokes rather than a beloved culture. Everyone I know who has been to Poland raves about its beauty and culture, but rarely do you see a special issue of Conde Nast Traveler or Budget Travel telling you where to go now in Poland.

Southwest Poland, near Jelenia Gora

It all makes me want to start a Polish rehabilitation project.  Someday, maybe we’ll all start wearing purple on Polish Independence Day (November 11th, for those who haven’t already marked their calendars).

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