Immigrant Heritages Make America Stronger

As a child growing up in United States my circumstances were quite unique. I belong to an immigrant family from Poland. Members of my family began immigrating to the United States starting in the 1960’s and continued until the 1990’s. My father came to the United States as a teenager and my mother when she was in her twenties. They both immigrated for different circumstances, met here, and were later married. My generation, including my sister and my cousins, are the first to be born in the United States.

Even though we were raised in the United States, our childhoods were very different. I did not speak English until I went to pre-school at the age of 3. I live in a large Polish diaspora community that has been historically Polish since the late 1890’s. This is a community where everyone knows each other and where business can be conducted solely in Polish. I had to go to Polish language school on Saturday mornings when my English school friends got to watch cartoons. Every Friday night I would argue with my mother that no other kids my age had to go to school on Saturdays. Her response was that one day I would thank her. I did in fact thank her when I reached my twenties and understood the amazing gift of my culture that my parents had given me. I would not change anything about my childhood. In fact, I learned many life lessons growing up in such a community.

I had three adults, my mother, my father, and my grandmother, that worked multiple jobs in order to provide my sister and I with opportunities. As a result, my sister and I both earned advanced college degrees. As I grew older, I met friends my age who immigrated to the United States from Poland. I watched as they worked hard to learn the English language, attend school, and were employed in order to achieve their own goals.

My community taught me was the importance of history both on the national level and the personal level. I always knew where my family was from, why they left, and how this shaped their lives in the United States. This in turn shaped who I am today. I have a great understanding of my culture and heritage. I can fully understand my identity as a Polish-American and be proud of it.

When I was younger I believed that I lived in two separate cultural worlds-an American one and a Polish one. As I grew older I realized they worked together. In America, members of my Polish community could fulfill their dreams to own businesses, to obtain an education, and maintain their cultural heritage. This sense of collaboration has inspired me as a young professional. I have worked on several projects that required the partnership of the Polish community with non-Polish institutions.

My immigrant heritage has shaped who I am as a young professional. The life lessons that my community taught me influenced my decision to become a professor and educational researcher focused on college access for immigrant groups. It is because my parents made the decision to move to the United States that I am able to fulfill my dreams, it is now my turn to help others reach their dreams.

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