The Myth of Wicker Park

By Asha Rowland

Myth.

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The Polish Museum of America

A word that best describes the Polish community in Chicago’s Wicker Park, according to Andrew Obarski, 26, an intern at the Polish Museum of America.

Wicker Park is a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, and was once the center of the Chicago Polish community, until, Poles moved further from the city and to the surrounding suburbs.

What was once an area full of lively Polish shops, restaurants and theaters, is now a gentrified area.

Obarski, who is also a student at Loyola University Chicago, described the dilution of the Polish culture of the area, but also said that the Polish community was originally spread out to begin with.

Still, the Polish boundaries of the area are represented with structures such as the symbolic Polish Triangle, Chopin Theatre, as well as the Polish Museum of America.

Adam Aksnowicz, 22, a docent and collections care assistant at the Polish Museum of America, said the first wave of Poles to Chicago happened in the 1870s. He explained how they were mostly uneducated and barely able to speak English. Yet, over time, they began to adjust, still sticking together in their community, even during the second migration caused by WWII.

However, Aksnowicz explained how the third migration of Poles occurred in the 1980s as a part of the Solidarity Movement, bringing a wave of Communist-raised Poles that did not blend well with the uneducated Poles of the area.

As a result of this new blend, Aksnowicz said that, “over time, the Polish community just died out in this area.”

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Confirming this was Zygmunt Dyrkacz, 63, owner of the Chopin Theatre and a resident of Wicker Park for 36 years.

“Now everything is gone,” Dyrkacz said.

Dyrakacz explained this dilution when he said that, “slowly the kids went to schools, and parents told kids not to speak Polish…it would limit their chances.”

While gentrification in Wicker Park may have reduced crime and raised property values, Dyrakacz bemoans the loss of Polish culture.

“I feel it would be better for Chicago if the little areas were kept alive” he said. “It gives it a little flavor.”

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