By: Jordan Campbell

photoIt’s mid afternoon and Helen Madej sets down a plate of Polish pancakes on the counter of her restaurant, but as she peers out into the dining area she doesn’t see any customer of Polish descent.

“Most of my customers aren’t Polish but that’s a good thing,” Said Madej the owner of Podhalanka, one of the only remaining authentic Polish restaurants in the neighborhood.

The reason why the majority of Madej’s customers aren’t Polish is because Wicker Park is slowly but surely losing it’s Polish identity. Wicker Park used to be a Polish cultural hub in the Chicago. But, due to a difference in immigration as well as the effects of gentrification, Wicker Park might not ever return to being the supreme Polish neighborhood in Chicago.

There were three main waves in Polish immigration to Chicago; however these waves brought completely different type of Polish immigrants to the neighborhood.

“The first and second immigrants were mainly composed of un-educated skilled laborers, as opposed to the highly educated ‘white collar’ third wave, “ said Adam Aksnowicz, 22 ,a tour manager at The Polish Museum of America.

These different waves shared their Polish heritage but had completely different visions for the future of the Polish people. The difference in visions made it difficult for the varying waves of Poles to coexist, and led to the displacement of Poles to various other Chicago neighborhoods.

Now if that wasn’t enough to damage the Polish identity in Wicker Park the effects of gentrification sealed the deal. As more upscale business moved into the area, the neighborhood improved drastically. Crime decreased drastically and new businesses increased opportunity for employment in the area.

Yet, while gentrification “cleaned up the neighborhood” so to speak, it is essentially destroying the remaining cultural identity. Polish immigrants were no longer able to afford the increased rents and property taxes this forcing out the last of the residents who kept the Polish culture alive.

“Personally I don’t think Wicker Park will ever return to what it was, ” Aksnowicz said “the Polish people don’t have a need to immigrate to the neighborhood and I don’t think they ever will. “