The Wicker Park Shift

BY Radiance Cooper   Every day – in Chicago’s Wicker Park, Helena Madej, 76, carries out the duties of taking care of her family owned business. Madej first immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1971 and fell in love with the country. “I had family here. My grandfather come in 1905 and lived in this neighborhood and two of his sisters.” said Madej owner of Podhalanka restaurant. “Like there is second war and there is a lot of people coming from Poland because of the second war.” Although it was once the pinnacle of the Polish population in Chicago, the Polish influence in the neighborhood has decreased in the recent decades. Polish Museum of America docent Adam Aksnowicz, 22, attributes the change in culture to a clash of generations between Polish people. “That was in the 1980s …when the younger Poles came and they couldn’t relate to the older Poles. They went elsewhere and then the older Poles started leaving, they went to the suburbs, ” Aksnowicz said. “I mean to be blunt, they started dying out and then this is when the Polish numbers started going down.” Madej says that the change in Polish culture has evolved the faces of her customers over the years. “ Customers change. I come in and it’s a lot of Polish people live here, and later after maybe 15 years later and changed.” Madej said. “ Different people come into Wicker park.” Aksnowicz says that the decreased Polish popultion has affected Wicker Park in different ways. “Originally, it was the Poles leaving that changed the neighborhood,” Aksnowicz said. “And then … you know you see what happened to Wicker Park, all of the young professionals, the artists started moving in there, so that’s started to bleed into this neighborhood. So, where rent used to be so cheap around here, now it’s skyrocketed.” Although having been witness to the shift in the culture over the decades, Medaj has kept her and her business in their original state. “Now it’s different, now a lot of people open business, young people.” Madej said. “That’s why I no change.” – Explorations in Chinatown – Audio from pilsen