By Miranda Graleski
Tucked in a side street off of Chicago’s Milwaukee Avenue is the Polish Museum of America. Upon walking in, visitors overhear the Polish conversations of workers and visitors alike. Even though the Polish population has diminished in recent decades, the Polish history is still vibrantly alive.
“It’s a great place to work,” said Adam Aksnowicz, 22, of the Polish Museum of America.
Even though the population of Poles is declining, the past reflects the family and community feel of the neighborhood.
“The Poles were looking for a home, they were looking for a home base,” Aksnowicz said.
The museum illustrates the family values practiced by the Polish people that settled in the Chicago Wicker Park neighborhood.
The building the museum resides in, built in 1913, was home to the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, which is still headquartered there. At one time, 300,000 Poles inhabited the area, coming in second only to Warsaw. Currently, the Chicago neighborhood is in 5th place behind Warsaw, London, Dublin, and New York City.
The Polish Triangle, the intersection of the streets of Division Street, Ashland, and Milwaukee Avenues, was once rich of culture, food, and traditions of Poland. When asked to describe the impact of the culture on the neighborhood in present day, Andrew Obarski, 26, said “Myth.”
Since so many Poles came over in the three major immigration movements, they were forced to spread out more instead of staying in a concentrated area. “…we just couldn’t fit them all,” said Obarski, an intern at the Polish Museum of America.
Zygumunt Dyrkacz, 63, owner of Chopin Theater, reveals that the dissemination of culture may have been at fault of the parents.
“Slowly the kids went to schools,” Dyrkacz said, “and their parents usually told them not to speak English…for the lack of perfect English limited your chances.”
Despite the decreasing number of Poles residing in Wicker Park, Tuesday nights during the summer offer a festival of sorts. Food, dance, and spoken poetry can be enjoyed in the Polish Triangle.
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