There’s something to be said for self discovery, but how far back in heritage can a person claim? At what point do we sons and daughters of immigrant’s past become American only? Even if we actively pursue our heritage, is it accurate to hold the identity?
A Polish-American in Poland: Warsaw Old Town
A few years back outside a bar on Stanton street in NYC’s lower east side, a fully accented Polish person we dubbed Underage Kevin due to his age-related rejection from said bar, laughed with condescension when I told him that I am Polish too. “You’re American” he said, seeming offended but in retrospect- nonverbal “offense” to an American is simply Polish indifference. Cultural intricacies that I, as an American, are not privy to. Pierogies and a love for dill on everything can’t make a person fully Polish, not even a Polish mom and doting a Polish babcha grandmother who taught me to tie a babushka when I was eight.
My babcha, Anna Barbaryka Maceyko
“Let’s have a Polish lunch” Grandma'd say from her small and colourfully decorated Pennsylvania kitchen, beckoning to my brother and I. Sourdough bread, various hard cheeses and cold lunchmeat (primarily pork-based) were placed around the polished oakwood table. We’d say a short grace the Catholic way and dig in. On Sundays, pierogies at the church after mass. At Christmas dinner, our then-massive extended family ate ham with potatoes then passed around the oplatki with honey. Walnuts were cracked for the new year’s good fortune and baskets were blessed every year for Easter. We grew up pretty Polish for an American family in Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t enough for mom though. She’s 2nd generation and afraid her heritage might fall victim to the alluring “americana”- the same fate suffered by our father’s Euro-Slavic roots. He claims they’ve been here since the Mayflower, and related to John Adams on his mother’s side. Is this true, who can be sure? We don’t know much about the immigration origins of our paternal lineage.
Desperate to keep our heritage alive my mother took me, aged 9 at the time to the Old Country. We visited our family’s potato and bee farm three hours from the capital city Warsaw close to the Belarus border. We took trains around the country, seeing museums and mountains and salt mines and little streets with little colourful houses. We ate potato pancakes with forest mushrooms and cabbage pierogies with cheese. We learned some Polish, although my mother’s Spanish fluency proved helpful on multiple occasions throughout our journey. We flew LOT Polish airways because the prices were reasonable then. Our family was sweet and kind and I'll always remember our time there as some sort of magical alternative reality.
20 years later still full of love for Poland and my childhood experience there, I’ve returned on my own as rather American adult. I'm tagging along with our cousin Ursula who grew up on that farm outside of Warsaw, and has lived in USA with my parents for years. She’s been such an important link to our culture and was especially patient while watching us kids as we were growing up. Now I've come along as an adult for the journey home.
Family bee farm, three hours from Warsaw near the Belarus border
I heard someone say “cheerio”- it’s a thing. It was not, however, prefaced with “pip-pip” which is potentially a verbal relic of British past- possibly akin to “the bee’s knees!” among other strange old sayings that no one even thinks about anymore. Or- equally as likely-“pip pip cheerio” was never a thing and we made it up. Either way, when I found out I could have a long layover in London on my way to Poland - I wanted to say that phrase loudly and happily. London is cool, I’ve never been, I want to see it. So when the flight attendant said “cheerio” to the captain as we left the airplane at LHR, I giggled. like really loudly. and after fielding about ten thousand questions at customs regarding my intentions for the little layover, I hopped on the heathrow express and popped out at Paddington square.
The Paddington station is beautiful
I'm ashamed to say I fudged my own research- straddling google searches with personal recommendations from friends and forgetting to find the in between. Heathrow Express IS the fastest way to town, and Buckingham Palace/Westminster Abbey ARE "in town" but they're not walkable from Paddington if you have a time constraint. So I hailed a black cab/ stood outside of Paddington and it just pulled up mostly.
Did you know that all cabbies in London have to pass a super rigorous test to drive the black cars? It's called "The Knowledge". This guy here told me all about it (maybe a little too much). But damn London. Putting us NYC yellows to shame with your mad skills.
Except only kind of, because my return driver. An old "proper type" Englishman-with no provocation whatsoever brought up and proceeded to profusely praise the current US president- using nearly the exact campaign verbiage. It was bizarre and maybe a little funny, hearing in his dignified old Queen's English say the words "I like President Trump, he's not a politician- he tells it like it is. He's doing what he can to make American great again". Like, in a British accent! Maybe his usual American clients are older finance types on business trips so that's his icebreaker? Maybe he wants London to "be great again" and he voted for brexit and wants the world to be white, eat potatoes and all the time? I don't know. Shortly after the strange silence left in the wake of that word-by-word worst campaign slogan ever repetition, his next topic of interest was vodka and how Russians are crazy for drinking it with water. Fine, I mean, I like vodka.
Buckingham, Palace is stunning. Translating this visually via photography, man, I tried from all the angles and distances but it wasn't happening. Was it the overcast weather, or my new camera I'm still learning to use? Or maybe it was just too damn crowded, and the place is just SO large that you have to back really far away to get it all. Regardless, I enjoyed my brief visit.
Buckingham Palace to Big Ben to Westminster Abbey, it was a nice little layover walk with some of the big London attractions
Amazing, amazing architecture all throughout the Westminster area. I want to see more of London someday, the energy was fantastic!
and, sideline shoutout to British Airways for this little family in their safety video:
and with that, we were on our way to Warsaw
Lately life has been just how I like it- jam packed with educational activity and an eclectic mix of friends along for the ride. The bone chilling cold has ceased and everyone wants a taste of the newly no-longer-lethal air outside.
****currently in Europe, very excited to adjust this post with images and the most awesome quotes from smart badass do-gooder entrepreneurs when I get back!***