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Friday, July 15, 2011

Why does Chicago have so many Polish people?


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: chicago polish

Why: I am listening to "Casimir Pulaski Day" by Sufjan Stevens on his album Illinois (which also features a song called "Chicago"). I don't know who that guy is, but he sounds Polish (like Sharon Cherski and Brian Krakow [who are not from Chicago]).
Answer: They started with a small community that got bigger! The first Polish emigrants to Chicago were noblemen who had fled Poland after the Polish-Russian War (1830–31). They arrived with plans of establishing a “New Poland” in Illinois. Why Illinois? I have no idea. I mean, why not? Among these early settlers was John Napieralski, believed to have been the first Pole in Chicago.

By the time of the Civil War, 500-ish Poles had created a small community on the Northwest Side; carpenter / grocer Anthony Smarzewski-Schermann and Union Captain Peter Kiolbassa served as local leaders. They built a church and took on roles in the city and state government.

Then, Polish Chicago ("Polonia") was shaped by at least 3 distinct immigration waves:
  1. 1850s to early-1920s - Za Chłebem ("For Bread") was driven primarily by economic and structural change in Poland. This wave was mostly peasants, and they went until restrictions during WWI cut off this immigration. By 1930, Polish immigrants and their children had replaced Germans as the largest ethnic group in Chicago.
  2. Post-WWII - Hundreds of thousands of Poles were displaced by WWII and then by the Communist takeover of Poland.
  3. 1980s - The "Solidarity" immigration began as a result of the imposition of martial law in Poland (1981) and the decade-long struggle to bring democracy to the Polish Republic. These new immigrants were mainly professionals, artists, and intellectuals that ultimately influenced the cultural and institutional life of Chicago's Polish community.
They had conflicts, of course, about ethnic identity, Catholicism, and land ownership, but now they are living large as heroes and Sausage Kings.
Na zdrowie!

Source: Encyclopedia of Chicago

The More You Know: Incidentally, have you heard this song "Single Again" by Shytown (who is also from Chicago, natch)? It's a pretty catchy jam:

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