Influence of U.S. Public and Government Views on Polish Immigrants

In the example of Poland, we see the influence that the context of reception can have on an immigrant group. Specifically, because Poland was facing political turmoil and the United States had ulterior motives in aiding it, Polish immigrants received special support that has directly led to their success as an immigrant group. This raises some questions about American policy, particularly concerning which immigrant groups receive support and whether the decision to aid these groups should be based so heavily on political ideology.

In the case of Poland, American views are most important during World War II and the Polish Solidarity Movement since those are the two periods when Poland was most represented in American media and because the latter signifies a period of increased migration from Poland to the United States. In Iwona Korga’s article on Polish information policy during WWII, she notes that the Polish Information Center, which was under the supervision of the Polish Embassy in the United States at the time, had a mission to “convince American public opinion of the justice of Polish war aims” (2007:29). Some of these aims included “creating the image of a modern democratic Polish state” similar to that of the U.S., “exposing Hitler’s treatment of the Polish nation,” and “acquainting Americans with Polish culture” (Korga 2007:29-30). Many of these policies were reflected in the media, which sought to create sympathy for Poland and its quest for democracy, usually quite successfully.

In her article titled “American Attitudes on Two Attempts to Establish Democracy in Poland, 1947 and 1989,” Anna Mazurkiewicz notes that after WWII, “American opinions were mostly favorable to Poland as long as U.S. relations with it did not mean war” (2005:70). This is the first glimpse of an American trend to support Poland in its aims only as long as it remained beneficial. For example, although a 1945 survey before the Yalta Conference showed that “59 percent of the respondents were of the opinion that the United States should take a more active part in the settlement of European problems ‘such as those of Greece, Italy and Poland,’” it was likely only due to the fact that America’s future was tied to the fate of some these nations (2005:69). This is also evidenced in the fact that about half of the 32 percent who said that “the U.S. should leave these concerns to be settled by European powers” also said that “if it meant domination of the little countries by Britain or Russia, the United States should take an active part” (2007:69). Clearly, American views of Poland were highly influenced by the government’s political agenda.

By 1947, the American government was unable to respond to the situation in Poland especially considering the fact that the American public was “still largely pro-Soviet” when democracy still had the chance to be formed. In the words of Mazurkiewicz, “The ‘sentimental’ friendship was there, but the American government did not respond” (2005:86). Therefore, prior to the Solidarity movement, Americans had a positive view of Polish immigrants, allowing Polish immigrants more growth than some other immigrant groups. Here we see the benefits of sympathy from the American public founded in political issues. It was not until the 1980’s that the U.S. government directly aided Polish immigrants in the adjustment process. The Refugee Act of 1980  allowed for Polish refugees to “obtain federal and state support for ‘language and job training, as well as housing allowance and food stamps’” (Coleman 2004:28). During the 1980’s, when Poland had a second chance at forming a democracy, not only the positive views of the American public (influenced by the American government), but also the direct action of the government in order to support democracy allowed Polish immigrants to have even better circumstances for their arrival.

Poland is a prime example of the effects that political conditions can have on an immigrant group. Therefore, it may be extremely beneficial to promote a positive image of an ethnic group in order for immigrants to experience a positive reception in the U.S. However, it seems unfair that this positive image historically comes hand-in-hand with a political agenda. Perhaps by using the American education system to better promote positive images of different ethnic groups, more immigrant groups will be given the benefits that nations receiving sympathy for their political situations have received. Also, when it comes to aid from the U.S. government, it seems inappropriate only to offer aid to immigrant groups whose nations it has a political stake in. Perhaps if other immigrant groups were given similar benefits, they would encounter less trouble adjusting to life in America. U.S. policy concerning immigration must see a shift from offering aid when it is desperately needed to offering aid when it can be beneficial.

Works Cited

Coleman, Geraldine Balut. 2004. “Educating Polish Immigrants Chicago Style: 1980-2002.” Polish American Studies 61(1):27-38.

Korga, Iwona D. 2007. “The Information policy of the Polish Government-in-Exile toward the American Public during World War II.” Polish American Studies 64(1):67-96.

Mazurkiewicz, Anna. 2005. “American Attitudes on Two Attempts to Establish Democracy in Poland, 1947 and 1989.” Polish American Studies 62(1):67-96.

Educating Polish Immigrants

Although the Polish immigrant population in America today is not one of the most prevalent, its success in terms of educational attainment and income raises a few interesting questions concerning immigrants in America. Specifically, the Polish American and Polish immigrant population in the Chicago area has used some interesting methods to ensure that individuals were not only being educated with American standards in mind, but also focusing on the group’s heritage and history. This group is also a prime example of some of the ways in which the success of an immigrant group can lead to some adverse effects for future immigrants when too much focus is placed the second and third generation.

In a profile of Polish Americans using data from the 2000 U.S. Census, Jason C. Booza notes that “when compared to the national population, Poles 25 years of age and over are much better educated” (2007:68). For example, 19.1% of the Polish population in America had a Bachelor’s Degree as compared to 15.5% of the total population (2007:70). Another surprising statistic is found in the 3.8% poverty rate for Polish families, as compared to the 9.2% national average. A closer look at the education of the Polish community in Chicago provides a glimpse into some of the approaches that have allowed for the group’s success.

Firstly, it is important to note the positive influence that the Refugee Act of 1980 had on many Polish immigrants since it offered “language and job training, as well as housing allowance and food stamps” (Coleman 2004:28). Although this wave of Polish immigrants differed in many ways from earlier waves, both groups “showed the desire to see all American Poles learn about Polish culture” (Coleman 2007:29). Clearly, assistance from the U.S. government is a beneficial step towards success for an immigrant group. In Chicago, many schools began to offer bilingual education programs following the Bilingual Education Act in 1968. Despite some issues including lack of qualified teachers and materials, various schools were able to implement these programs successfully, but many individuals in the Polish community desired a way to teach children the Polish language and culture in a way that would not impede their immersion in the American education system (Coleman 2007:33-34).

Along with the desire for immersion, the group’s success in terms of education and occupation, as well as its subsequent assimilation into American culture and its spread into the suburbs, have raised questions concerning the future effectiveness of bilingual programs (Coleman 2007:34). This is evidence of the fact that an immigrant group’s needs are constantly changing, so frequent reevaluation of its disadvantages is required. Bilingual education may have been the best option when children were having less success in schools, but because the issue has been largely solved, a different approach that also tackles more relevant and recent problems could be beneficial. Also, bilingual education programs were successful because of the high concentrations of Poles in certain communities, but because these programs have aided in assimilation, the group has been spreading geographically, which will lead to difficulty in using the public education system to address their needs.

Because immersion is becoming more favorable than bilingual programs for Polish American students, education concerning the Polish language and culture must be found elsewhere. Polish Saturday schools seem to be the most effective way of allowing Polish Americans to be immersed in the American education system while still contributing to America’s multicultural heritage. The Polish immigrant group is a good example of how both assimilation into American culture and remaining entrenched in the culture of their homeland can lead to success for a group.

Works Cited

Booza, Jason C. 2007. “A Profile of Polish Americans: Data from the 2000 U.S. Census.” Polish American Studies 64(1):63-74.

Coleman, Geraldine Balut. 2004. “Educating Polish Immigrants Chicago Style: 1980-2002.” Polish American Studies 61(1):27-38.