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.
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.