Immigration Stories – Epiphany After 22 Years – by Maria Nowak. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Immigration Stories – Epiphany After 22 Years – by Maria Nowak. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve always felt like I have a close connection to my heritage. My family has taught me to always be proud of our Polish background, with my Mom’s side being “100% Polish”, and my dad being born in Poland. With the traditional food we cook, masses we attend, ethic dance groups we participate in, and the numerous other traditions we partake in, I’ve always felt in touch with my roots. I never learned to speak Polish fluently, but my family would always say words and phrases at home while I was growing up. When I was around the age of 12, I joined a Polish Folk Dancing group, a group that my parents were once a part of a long time ago. While in this group, I learned traditional Polish dances, learned Polish songs, went to Polish festivals, made traditional Polish meals, volunteered at various Polish events, and so on. What I now find astonishing is that it was not until recently that I learned the real history behind my own father’s migration story from Poland. Why I never asked him, I am not really sure. To my surprise, his story was nothing what I had imagined it to be. Now knowing what I know about his story, it has reshaped my own identity concerning my heritage.

My dad first began by explaining the motivations behind his reason for leaving Poland and coming to America. While I always just figured the reason was because he met my mom, and wanted to be with her, I was wrong for thinking that was the whole story. My father shared his childhood memories with me of a, “Chevrolet rolling down the narrow Polish roads projecting prowess of the United States”. In his eyes, American cars were exceptionally beautiful and powerful compared to those that were built in his home country. “At that early time in my life I already recognized that there will be time allocated for me in my future, to experience, and to witness how those lasting things of power and beauty are made at the place of its origin-America,”. The beauty and power he saw in American cars was transferred to his curiosity of the country itself. Around the 1980s was when my father made the decision to move to America permanently. While I feel that most people might juggle and struggle with making this decision, my father said that it was not a hard decision for him to make. What he remembered from his childhood, along with having faith in his religion that this would be the best choice for him, he took the leap of faith.

Growing up, I always knew my father had a fascination with cars. He often would buy and sell new or old ones, more than any other family or person I grew up with. I was never aware of the sentiment behind the cars relating to his own childhood. I never knew that the beauty of cars that he saw was connected to his dreams of coming to America. If I had never asked, I would still be ignorant of this information.

Most migration stories that I’ve heard about or read about have come with many challenges. While I know there must have been traditions, customs, language barriers, culture shocks, etc. that my father endured, he never looked at his journey like that. My father claimed, “Living in the United States I never considered a ‘challenge’, but as a blessing. I believe I came to this country for the right reasons, and those right reasons gave me a feeling of being vastly blessed day after day,”. It is to my father’s advantage that he does not look like a “typical” immigrant might look, being that he is white and from Europe. While he wasn’t born in America, he has not faced the same discrimination as other immigrants who are not white.
My father explained to me that his experience learning English was positive. He was fascinated with what he believes is a “flexible and accommodating language”. He even believes that at times it is easier for him to express his thoughts in English rather than his native language. Though he still struggles with some English grammar, words, or phrases, he never feels “less than” because he does not always understand.

My father has a pretty heavy European accent. Growing up, I have become “immune” to hearing it. The way he speaks is what I’ve always known, and to me it never seemed out of the ordinary. I recall I was in middle school the first time someone ever said something to me about the way my father speaks. My friends from school would always say that sometimes they can’t understand what he’s saying or asking because of his accent. At first, I was shocked, but with time I have come to understand the differences with how he says certain words or phrases that may be outside of the “norm” of American culture.

I always wondered if it was ever hard, awkward, or uncomfortable for my father to return to Poland when visiting his family. Again, I never asked the story behind my father’s migration process, so I didn’t know how it had affected him. One “story” he mentioned to me was, “my old neighbor joked that I left Poland for the United States while he stayed behind to rebuild ravaged old country by the wastes of extreme socialism. Poland was stunningly restored, but this restoration comes with a grain of sand for me to remember. I was not part of that restoration and somehow, I felt I should have been,”. My father never really spoke about what life was like for him growing up, or what his family dealt with while he still lived in Poland. After learning about this story, I could tell that there were struggles he dealt with when leaving and returning to his homeland.

One thing that has stuck with me from my father’s story was when he talked about the migration process as a whole. He shared, “For all of us, there is a point in life where we’ll migrate somewhere to build a new life for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be a foreign country,”. I think my father is correct when he makes this statement. Moving to a new country can be a migration process, moving to a new state, a new city, away to college- there are many ways in which we can all experience migration situations. Each experience is unique, and the reasons behind each story has the potential to be legitimate. When we go somewhere new, we must assimilate to the new culture around us. Sometimes we create new identities, in order to feel like we belong to the new group around us. That being said, creating this new identity of ourselves doesn’t mean we must lose our past identities as well. My father has done this by passing on his Polish traditions to his family.

What I think is important to remember is that the motives that may cause someone to leave their home and migrate to a new location are typically unknown. It is not anyone’s place to make assumptions or judgements if they do not take the time to ask. We truly cannot understand the intentions behind someone’s journey if we do not take a step back to learn from them. We should hold each story as legitimate, until possibly someone gives us a reason not to. It should not be the other way around, in which we judge first and ask questions later. Learning about my father’s experience has been eye-opening to me in a way I was not expecting. I had a lot of preconceived notions about my father as an immigrant that were changed when I learned more about his past, which in turn helped me to learn more about who he is today.

I think that learning about my own father’s migration has had a positive impact on my own identity of my heritage. All the traditions I grew up with would not be a part of my life if he had not made the decision to come here. While I may still continue to struggle with feeling disconnected to what I feel I should have asked my father long ago, I am pleased I have had time to learn and reflect the stories I was told. After 22 years, I feel like I have a whole new perspective on who my father is. This perspective has helped me to re-shape my own heritage identity. Reflecting on someone else’s experiences can help us to reflect on our own experiences, which humanizes the whole concept of migration. Like my father said, we truly all do find ourselves as migrants in some form or another in our lives.

From Professor Liang’s Fall 2018 Introduction to Political “science” class.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our guiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five years we have published over 300 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our volunteer student editors and writers come from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). We have an all volunteer staff. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang and NSR Student Editors and Writers. For a brief summary of our history, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Immigration Stories – Epiphany After 22 Years – by Maria Nowak. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • DyAnna Grondahl

      Maria,

      Your father’s migration story is fascinating. I appreciate your attention to the privilege your father had in relation to his migration as an English-speaking white European. One of my classmates and dear friends, Abigail Blonigen, is writing about that idea a bit in her research paper. Her immigration story is about a white, English-speaking man immigrating from the U.S. to Europe. While those characteristics certainly make migration less difficult, I still can’t imagine the challenge of making such a journey. I appreciate your parents’ close ties with their Polish roots, I imagine that continues to keep them connected with their Polish home.

  1. Megan Gonrowski

    Maria,
    This is a lovely narrative about your own personal experience with your heritage as it exists in the United States and your father’s direct connection to Poland. Something that stuck out to me in this narrative was the ease of your father’s transition into the United States. He did not face many barriers as you stated based on his reflection on his migration to the U.S. I think this ties well to the idea of consent that we have been discussing in the Human Rights course this semester. There is a difference in the feeling and experience of migration when a migrant has control and consent over the migration. In other words, a migration can go smoother when the migrant has more pull than push. I also find it fascinating that you still have a very strong tie to your parents ancestral heritage and I suppose this is due to your fathers very recent migration. Having a heritage or even a culture was something I debated for a long time because I am a mix of many different western European ancestry and my most direct tie to Europe is my grandmother who is full Italian, but she was born in the United States and very strongly sees herself as an American. I think having this tie to ancestry is something many people are searching for in the United States as sites like Ancestry.com become overwhelmingly popular. Humans in general seem to cling onto the past and the generations that came before them. In the end, I think my heritage stems form Europe but my culture and identity was created in Minnesota.

  2. Matthew,D Koch

    Maria,
    Thank you for your personal narrative. Your pride in your heritage is evident in your writing, as well as your father’s. As a migration story goes, yours is a pretty smooth one, no illegal activity or unjust difficulty from what I can tell. Not that this makes your story any less powerful, just different from what we normally hear. In this age of sensationalism we have lost a bit of the ability to live with enough. Your father’s love of American cars is shared by many people even today. The vintage collectors are as avid as ever to have American muscle in their garage and your father has great taste in brand. I also liked your father’s quote, about how migration doesn’t have to be from country to country. This is something that is a part of my own grandparents story, who moved away from their family to Minnesota where they knew no one in a small town. Thank you for your post I look forward to more work from you.

  3. Jacob Moran

    Maria, thank you for sharing this story about both your father’s migration experience and how his experience has gone on to impact your own identity. One thing that really stuck out to me while reading this piece was how your father felt as though he did not have to overcome many daunting barriers. I wonder if he felt this way because he chose to migrate rather than feeling as though he had to. I wonder if he faced many obstacles that other migrants would view as daunting, whereas he was so eager to migrate to the United States. I find that to be a very interesting concept. Being 50% Polish myself, I have always yearned to learn more about my own Polish heritage and I would absolutely love to visit Poland sometime in my life. Before my grandfather died I always loved hearing his stories about his famous duck blood soup, which he claims was his specialty that his family brought to America from Poland. I really enjoyed your story because I related to it so much. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. Dylan Brovick

    Maria,
    I really enjoyed your article which is filled with great advice and life lessons. First, I think your point at the end is very important in that we do not know all the intentions or full story of someones past and the decisions they have made. Your example of your father is perfect because everyone would assume they know most of or all their is to know about their close family members. Truly, everyone is different and many things are more complex even within a family and it shows that even more time and understanding is needed for those we don’t know much about. Unlike you I do not have much of a connection to the past of my family and the cultures they come from. I think that has something to do with most of my family not being immigrants and the many generations my family has already had in America. Lastly, I found your story interesting to be compared to the others and the treatment of immigrants based on the color of their skin. It is amazing how in the news whenever immigrants are talked about the images of colored immigrants is usually used. It almost allows for people to believe that the only immigrants coming to our country are not white but of a different race and that is dangerous for the different ideas and thoughts about American immigration that can be spread.

  5. Alexandra Erickson

    Maria,
    I really liked your observation about all of us facing a migration of our own. I have moved schools, and next year I will move to a bigger city. While this may not be a move across a country, it is a migration in its own right. When meeting people who are not from here it may be useful for us to recall some of the feelings that we may have felt during our own times of transitions, for we are all more alike than we are different, as Professor Liang would say. Another aspect of your article I can relate to is that I have also learned things about my dad that I had never really considered to ask and that he had never mention. Like with your example of your father’s accent, there are some aspects of our parents that we don’t notice just because we are so used to them. This was really interesting, thanks for sharing!

  6. Brandon Pickeral

    Maria,
    Thank you for sharing such a personal story of migration and your intimate reflections about your father’s experience. You do an excellent job of showing us all the importance of learning about others migrations while not forgetting to listen to the stories of the ones closest to us. I am particularly grateful for the reminder that just because we move and assimilate into a new culture, does not mean that our old one is lost. As you said, the traditions and culture of the past live on in new generations as it is passed down. In addition, you give us another excellent reminder to be respectful of the experience’s others have gone through and to “take a step back” in order to learn from them instead of passing judgment on them. Thank you again.

  7. Ryan Sauve

    Maria,
    This was an awesome experience that you must have had with your father learning about his immigration story. It was a very interesting presentation that captured my attention about current day European migrants. The trend of immigration tends to be from regions other than Europe nowadays and learning about your father’s journey was very neat. My favorite part of your presentation was the idea that it was your father’s destiny to come to America and how much he identifies as an American. It was interesting how you didn’t hear your father’s accent until later in life when you could take a step back, up to then it was just his normal voice. I think it is awesome how you consistently keep up with traditions from Poland and keep those traditions alive in the United States. It was refreshing to hear such a personal immigration story.

  8. Owen Granger

    Maria
    Thank you for sharing your fathers migration story! I believe that it is important for all of us to be curious of our familial history. It gives us the opportunity to be grateful for all the sacrifices made to put us into the lives we are in. I am disappointed but not surprised that your father faced less discrimination that other migrants. Of course, no fault of his own but I think we all need to reevaluate how we think about and treat immigrants. Going along with that, just as we talked about in class, we have no idea how bad a situation was to force someone to make the decision to leave their home. I believe that we should be grateful that they chose to come to America to find their better life.

  9. Cassandra Mahlberg

    Thank you for sharing this, Maria.
    It is really interesting to learn things about our friends, family, and neighbors, that we wouldn’t otherwise know without asking. I appreciate your father’s dedication to cars and the drive to come to America. It is compelling the way his differences and values shaped your life without your knowledge. The language and accent barrier that you never experienced (because it was natural) sounds very complicated in relationship to others. Much of the drama and alienation surrounding migrants in the U.S. has to do with language barriers and fear. The fear comes from the inability to understand and anxiety about losing one’s own identity, for example, if ‘too many’ migrants join a community, the native people may feel threatened (as if they’ll have to bend to the new culture and language). While this difference can be negative in some cases, I’m sure that a little education and exploration will help solve a lot of the discomfort. Did that work with your friends who thought he was different? Did they build understanding after a while?
    Thanks again!

  10. Ellery Bruns

    Maria,
    Your father’s story reminded me that we can only learn from each other if we communicate. Like you, when I interviewed my grandpa for a previous paper I learned much more about who he is and who I am. I found out that I was much more Norwegian than I thought, especially in my mannerisms. Identity is interesting that way. Even if you don’t think you are directly impacted by your cultural heritage, the indirect behaviors, beliefs, and customs permeate into your life from seeing your family communicate with each other.
    Your father’s narrative also reminds me that home is what we make it. Home is a complex term; it changes from person to person and rarely remains static throughout your life. We can have multiple homes throughout our lives, even if we stay in the same place.

    Great article! Thank you for sharing.

  11. Hannes Stenström

    Maria,
    I enjoyed both hearing your talk and reading this story about your father’s migration story. I find it interesting to hear how the image of an American car could elicit such strong, positive associations in your father. I guess that it serves to show just how big of an impact consumer products can have on our mindset and how powerful these connotations can be, sometimes to the extent that they can serve as a catalyst and pull-factor for deciding to move halfway across the globe.
    I can also relate to the part were you write about how you find it a bit peculiar that it was first now that you actually learned more about your father’s story. I feel the same way about my own parents; they don’t tell stories from their earlier years spontaneously, I have to ask them about it. Perhaps it is a testament to the selflessness that often comes with being a parent, but I still feel that knowing your parents’ background often helps with understanding both them and yourself as a person. Taking the time to sit down and listen is definitely worthwhile.

  12. Joseph Ehrich

    Dear Maria,
    This article was really interesting to read and it really shows the differences that European immigrants face compared to immigrants from Africa or South America. I found it very interesting of how your father was motivated by American cars and how that car symbolized everything that America was known for. Poland was underneath Communist control for 44 years and many Polish citizens were not able to face the luxuries that Western countries had. Its so fascinating that your father was treated much better and was discriminated less when migrating to the United States. Even though he came a American citizen, he still wanted to keep a part of his Polish ancestry by going to Polish dances and making traditional Polish food.

  13. Katie Peterson

    Maria, thank you for telling us about your family history and sharing your experiences! I really enjoyed listening to your presentation in class about this as well. I think it is really special that your family is able to have Polish traditions that keep you connected to your heritage. I would really like to watch some Polish folk dancing! Your father’s point about how we all migrate somehow is a good thing to remember–I think it is important not to forget that every individual has a story, and that it is valuable to listen to them. Thank you for sharing!

  14. Sam Long

    Thank you for telling us your personal experience with your immigration story. Passing on traditions from your Polish background is very interesting and I think that it is a great way to stay connected with your family. I learned that communication is key not just when telling stories but in everyday life as well. I also think that it is very nice that your father never forgets where he came from and always wants to be a part of it. Very enjoyable to read thank you!

  15. Diana Deuel

    Hi Maria!
    This is so awesome and I am so happy to hear about your connection with your family! It is so cool that you joined a dancing group! I do not have connections with my family history so It is awesome for me to read other peoples stories. It is so cool for you to have so much pride! I hope you continue to learn and be apart of that!
    Thanks

  16. Madina Tall

    Maria,
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful immigration story with us. I actually got to listen to your presentation before I read your article so I already had a good feel to what the emotions attached to the immigration story are! I believe that this is a very good example of “assimilation”, a term we discussed heavily in class. Your fathers migration story is an amazing one and so is yours! Your love and connection to Poland is evident and it radiates through your writing!
    Thank you,

  17. Tessa Lowry

    Thank you for sharing your story and about your family with us! I think it is interesting to see different reasons and feelings about the migration. I have migrated from Canada although Canada will always be the place I eventually want to go back to. I think it is cool that although you are in the United States your parents have found a strong polish community to help their heritage and tradition.

    Thank you, Tessa

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