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A Polish Community Activist - 2002-03-10


English Feature #7-34955 Broadcast June 18, 2001

New York City is full of ethnic neighborhoods which survive and thrive thanks to the periodic infusion of new immigrants. Greenpoint, in the Brooklyn section of New York, has been home to a large Polish population since the latter part of the 19th century. The past decade has seen the latest wave of newcomers arrive from Poland and integrate into the community. Today on New American Voices, one of these recent immigrants, Dorota Warchol, talks about the various organizations and activities of Polish Americans in New York City.

To a visitor, the Polishness of Greenpoint is reflected in bookstores selling Polish books, kiosks selling the latest newspapers and magazines from Poland, bakeries selling Polish delicacies, meat markets selling a seemingly endless variety of Polish sausages. But beyond these outward signs, there is a rich web of organizations and activities that are the life of this community.

"We have quite a few organizations within the Polish community. I belong to the Polish American Congress, which is the umbrella organization to all of them. Particularly involved in Greenpoint life is the Greenpoint coalition, which is involved in developing Greenpoint and the renovation of Greenpoint. Then there are many other organizations, like the Pulaski Businessman's Association, there are youth organizations related to scouts organizations. There are Polish schools in Greenpoint, as well, elementary schools, related to Polish churches. Of course, Polish churches affiliate many people, and they have activities as well."

Active as these organizations are, Ms Warchol says many of them are now in the process of redefining themselves, having seen the end of Communist rule in Poland, and the country's entry into NATO.

"Now in many of these organizations we are setting new goals, since the previous goals, set after the Second World War, have been achieved. I believe the goal right now is to educate and help students to get the highest education in this country, and then we will be looking to them to help Polonia in the United States."

Dorota Warchol says that another aspect of organizational activity is overcoming the stereotypes of Poles in this country.

"There is a very active anti-bigotry committee within the Polish-American Congress, which simply works to bring out the good Polish name, that we are really good, hard-working people, and well-educated, and we don't really have to be affiliated with those hundred-year old Polish jokes which still happen to be cruising around."

Ms Warchol says one remarkable feature of Polish-American life in New York is the extent to which older generations of immigrants, and even their children, born and raised in American, participate in the organizations.

"It's great, and I believe if not for them, those organizations would not survive. Many of them are in their 70s and 80s and they still devote their time and have that energy to work for those organizations. Not only them, but also young people who were born here and educated here. But they welcome members of the new immigration, as well."

Of course, recent immigrants from Poland have established a number of their own organizations, as well. Dorota Warchol, who arrived in this country eight years ago, belongs to a Polish Businesswomen's Association, where the membership reflects the mix in the Polish-American community.

"I may say the organization is 50-50, of women who came from Poland recently and women who were born here and educated here. And we have a very good understanding of each other, probably because we are business women, there is not that much barrier, and our goals are the same."

Ms. Warchol completed law studies in Poland, and came to the United States originally to learn English. Once here, she changed fields, and now works with a large New York company as a financial advisor. She says that she had relatively little difficulty adjusting to a new life, and a new profession.

"There were obstacles, but it's part of our life, they were mostly related to either lacking certain experience, that I didn't have, or the language skills that I didn't have, or I may still not have. But that happens all over, that may be in Poland, and that may be in Kiev. We have to be flexible, that's the idea of my life."

Dorota Warchol says she has managed to achieve a harmonious balance between an American professional life and activism in the Polish community.

"For me the fact that I can help other Polish people, that we can grow, that's something that's in the heart of all of us who work in the Polish community. That we can share our experience, we can share our ideas - since many of us work in American fields - and we can help other Polish people achieve their goals, and that we can be proud of ourselves as Poles in this country."

Next week, a look at another ethnic community in New York - the Haitians of Uniondale, Long Island.

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