As President of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Polish Congress, I feel impelled to respond to the article entitled “Some hopes for a more effective Canadian Polonia” written by Mark Wegierski.
While I sadly must agree with some of his statements and comments. I would like to explain, refute, and inform Mr. Wegierski about some of the “realities” of Polonia in Canada.
Let me begin by saying that it is true that most of Polonia’s shortcomings result from a lack of funds. Please believe me, there are those who give in Polonia – give of their time, effort, and finances, but they are always the same individuals. Why, one might ask? Why don’t most Canadians of Polish descent include the Congress or one of the Foundations you mentioned in their wills? Why is it that the Canadian Polish Congress can send out a request for sponsorship – a simple $100.00 would do – to 400+ businesses in Polonia, only to receive maybe 5 responses? Why do even some Member Organizations of the Congress balk at paying $10 a year per member – because it increased by a dollar? We as a community have failed, generally speaking, in building and developing a culture of giving to support Polonia.
Mr. Wegierski is correct in saying that “many Polish- Canadians do considerably or even very well in Canadian society. However, this personal success has, unfortunately, rarely been translated into greater clout and success for the community as a whole.”. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that Polonia has been intolerant of many members of the Canadian Polish community due to their lack of Polish language skill. Speaking perfect Polish should not be a criteria for being a member of Polonia!
There is also the perception of some, that Polonia is still too involved in “all things Polish and what happens in Poland.” We should be supportive of a democratic Poland, praise it loudly, visit Poland to learn more about our heritage and also encourage our children and grandchildren to be proud of their ancestry and know the history of Poland. However, we live in Canada and have adapted to the Canadian lifestyle while maintaining our Polish traditions and customs. The success of the Roncesvalles Polish Festival in Toronto shows that we are proud of our heritage but also recognizes that we are now part of the Canadian society.
Mr. Wegierski begins his article with the statement “that the lack of intellectual and cultural infrastructures for the Polish-Canadian community is particularly troubling.” and goes on to list several periodicals and journals which have become defunct over the years. My response would be that those who are raised here and complete their education here are likely to have access to excellent professional materials in English and prefer to read in English. There are still periodicals printed by various organizations for example, the Polish Teacher’s Association, Polish Scouting Association, but these are of interest to their members. Irene Tomaszewski quarterly publishes a fantastic on-line magazine called “Cosmopolitan Review” which is in English and therefore more viable for many members of Polonia. The suggestion that some “Polish-Canadian newspapers may be interested in having such a quarterly magazine supplement” is fine but most Polish newspapers have gone to an on-line format and publish only once a week due to costs and lack of readership. The reality is that today, various forms of media allow everyone to see and hear things happening in Poland and Canada without buying a Polish newspaper.
I’d like to point out that several important contributors to the “intellectual and cultural infrastructure” of Polonia have been omitted. The Polish Catholic Church in Canada continues to maintain culture in our community. One has to just look at the work of the Family Radio, the seminars by visiting professors (several in English) organized by Friends of the Catholic University in Lublin which have been held at St. Maximillian Kolbe Parish and the various concerts, such as the pipe organ concert, held at St. Eugene de Mazenod to see the input of our parishes in the intellectual and cultural life of Polonia. The Polish Engineers Association regularly holds lectures and seminars, often in English, concerning contemporary events in the scientific community. The Canadian Chopin Society not only organizes the Chopin Piano Competition with the winners going to Warsaw for the prestigious worldwide competition, but also interesting concerts featuring Canadian artists of Polish descent. Ludowa Nuta, Symfonia Choir, Andrzej Rozbicki, and Maciej Jaskiewicz among many others provide a variety of musical alternatives. Various theatre companies such as the Polish Canadian Society of Theatre – Theatre, Poetry, and Music Salon put on plays relevant to the community and our history sometimes with English subtitles. Artists such as Ania and Wojtek Biczysko, Iwona Dufaj, Janusz Charczuk, and Wojtek Macherzynski, to name only a few, often showcase their work both in Polonia and in the general Canadian community Numerous folk ensembles across Canada keep the culture of our folklore alive by introducing our youth to the rich history of music and dance of their ancestors. These are just a few examples, mainly in the GTA region. Many more such groups/people exist across Canada and proudly work to maintain Polish culture and tradition through the Arts and through various organizations. My point is, Mr. Wegierski, that Polonia does not lack in opportunities to have intellectual and cultural stimulation.
As to the foundations which give bursaries to students of Polish descent, each of them has their own criteria which must be met. It seems odd that Mr. Wegierski suggests to consider only students of the social sciences. The foundations accept applications from students in all faculties. The reality again is that they can only give out what they have in trust. Once again the problem is that not enough people in the Canadian Polish community leave money in their wills or donate to these foundations.
Now for the Congress. The function of the Canadian Polish Congress, to represent our community’s interests before the people and Government of Canada and to promote awareness of and respect for Poland’s history and heritage and the contribution of Poles to the culture of Canada and the world. I have spent 5 years as President of the Board of Directors trying to build up the visibility of the Congress. There have been several events run by the Congress, among them “Polish Heritage Day at the ROM” which featured artists, musicians, historic displays, films and books by authors who reside in Canada and are of Polish descent. My aim is to have the Canadian Polish Congress be exactly that – Canadian – with a pride in the achievements and involvement of Poles who came here for a new life and live here on a daily basis as part of the Canadian society. In order to have a stronger voice in what matters to Canadians of Polish descent we need to be visible, eloquent (in English), support those from our community who enter politics because they have our interests at heart, support our businesses, our churches, our organizations, our seniors homes, and show other Canadians who we are and what we have done here in Canada and worldwide.
With this in mind, and with the upcoming 150th Anniversary of Confederation in 2017, the Canadian Polish Congress has decided to do a film about the input of Polish immigrants into the development and growth of Canada over the 150 years. We have applied for a Federal Grant and hopefully will receive generous support from various sources in our community The film will include events before confederation when the Kaszubians arrived in Ontario, the history of the coal miners in Cape Breton, the miners in Noranda and Sudbury, the farmers who helped open the West and those who farmed in southern Ontario the Veterans, engineers, and survivors who arrived after WWII, and the “Solidarity” immigration right up to the present.
We are having a fundraising banquet on Saturday, October 17, 2015 in Burlington. We are looking for funds for this endeavour. Will you be supporting it, Mr. Wegierski? I can send you an invitation to the banquet and a sponsorship form.