Photo: Dion VanBoekel/Shutterstock

7 Assumptions We Need to Stop Making About Polish Americans

United States Activism
by Julia Kitlinski-Hong Oct 28, 2016

1. We know how to speak Polish.

Unless our parents sent us to dreaded Polish school or spoke the language at home, we can usually only say a few basic words. One theory is that Polish is not a practical language for the U.S. Unlike more common languages like Chinese and Spanish, Polish simply is not very useful outside of the home.

One regret we do tend to have is that we wish we had learned more than “dziękuję” for moments when we need to communicate with our grandparents or visit family in the homeland.

2. We are devout Catholics.

Our grandparents may have had homes plastered with posters of Pope John Paul II, but not all Polish-Americans are as religious. One thing that we can agree on is that holidays are always a big deal in our family no matter our beliefs. During these special days, it is important to honor traditions like Wigilia, the traditional Christmas Eve feast, and passing out the Christmas wafer, which represents the Body of Christ.

Easter is another big holiday for us, where we decorate eggs and make Easter baskets filled with ham, cake, bread, and an Easter lamb made out of sugar to be blessed at the local church.

3. We are only White-Americans.

Poland may be a homogenous country, but there are many Polish-Americans who are of mixed race. A famous example is the actress Maggie Q, whose dad is Polish-Irish, while her mom is Vietnamese. America is truly a melting pot, and Polish-Americans are not left out of this equation.

4. We all live in the Midwest.

Chicago, Detroit, and Columbus may be the cities known for their large Polish communities, but that doesn’t mean there are plenty of us spread throughout the country. While Chicago is believed to have the largest population of Polish-Americans, New York City actually does. Other U.S. cities with large Polish-American communities include: Portland (Oregon), Buffalo, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles to name a few.

5. We only eat potatoes and cabbage.

It is true that Polish cuisine has a lot of starches and carbs, but it is not the bland food that our ancestors used to eat back in the homeland. Here in the U.S., we have plenty of options from our mother’s version of homemade pierogi to her delicious pork cutlet.

We also enjoy dining out at restaurants around the country that put creative spins on Polish cuisine and create fusion dishes. One example is Stuffed in San Francisco, where there are pierogis filled with goat cheese and spinach, smoked salmon, and jalapenos.

6. We are not well educated.

Dumb Polish jokes aside, Polish-Americans have accomplished quite a lot as a collective group. Albert Abraham Michelson was the first American to win a Nobel Prize for his discoveries on the speed of light. If it weren’t for the genius mind of Steve Wozniak, there would be no Apple company today. Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar, a synthetic fiber that is known for its durability and is five times stronger than steel.

7. We drink too much vodka.

It is true that we embrace vodka as our homeland’s national drink, but we mostly reserve it for weddings, where it fuels all the dancing. Polish weddings have a lot of dancing, which may or may not include the Polka. When we do drink vodka it is usually not straight, but mixed with apple juice, and preferably Zubrowka (bison grass vodka). Tastes just like apple pie.

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