Diamond in the Rock

By Maisha Kasole
In a dark empty museum along Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago’s Wicker Park, Julita Maria Sigel, 39, a photographer, talks with melancholy of the old photographs.

“ Look at those photographs, you can tell it was a very vibrant community,” she said of the photographs in the Polish Museum of America.
The black and white photographs of crowded streets, in front of museums, theaters, and restaurants.
Glimpses of the past, men laughing and kids running.

Today, Walgreens and Starbucks has replaced the little Polish shops.

Visitors to the so-called “ Polish Triangle,” which is Division Street, Milwaukee and Ashland Avenues, see little evidence of the Polish culture.

A Polish restaurant, a theater, and a museum, are the remainders of that original Wicker Park. Today, it looks like any other neighborhood touched by gentrification; it looks random.

First in 1870, Polish came to Chicago to escape a war, they didn’t believe in. It was the first wave. During World War II, a second wave of refugees came. The last wave was the third wave, they arrived after the collapse of communism, in 1980’s.

The Polish people are now spread in the suburbs, some of them return to Poland to look for jobs. There is no hope for a fourth Polish wave of immigrants.

Those who did come 40 years ago didn’t fit in with the old generation, and their perspective of a Poland that doesn’t exist anymore.

Wicker Park is a museum. Each and every street has been once crossed, by a Polish immigrant. Some man or woman who believed in the American Dream.

Every day, 13,000 human beings cross those streets, they live on those houses.

The Polish culture is like a diamond, in the rock, for tourists. They try to find it, but only the ghost of it is left.

Ferdinand Fornmoi, a 25-year-olds is Hispanic. The young man always has been interested in the Polish culture. “ Polish culture can still be found,” he said,” but you have to look for it. “

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