Polish Language Blog

Why Poles immigrated to America? Posted by on Jul 18, 2013 in Culture

Do you ever wonder why your relatives immigrated to America? In my case most important thing was to be with my husband…Other than that I never really thought about moving here. Love living in New Hampshire, but my place is where my family is and I would be happy anywhere with my husband and kids. But of course years ago people had something different in mind…

When was the largest wave of immigrants from Poland to the United States?

1921-1950 and 1981-Today

Before these larger waves, Polish immigrants came to the United States looking for a better life. Most Polish immigrants to the United States were agrarian and unskilled laborers, and they came from a country that had been occupied by outside forces up until 1919. Many could no longer survive in Poland because their country had not yet modernized its agricultural methods or industries and could not compete with the more industrialized countries in Western Europe. Also, at this time.60% of the land was owned by only 2% of the population, signifying that the average Pole did not have a lot of opportunities to advance himself in the agricultural sector. After World War I and during the reign of communism in Poland, political refugees fled the country seeking freedom, first from an occupation by Germany and then from communism.

For many Polish immigrants, the United States held the promise of a better life. The United States was a growing country in need of labor to expand, and Polish immigrants provided some of that labor, especially in the growing milling and slaughterhouse industries in the Upper-Midwest. After World War II, because the United States stood so strongly against communism and the USSR spehre of influence, it attracted political refugees from communist countries in Eastern Europe such as Poland.

Where did they settle, and why?

The first official Polish-American settlement and independent Polish Catholic church was in Panna Maria, TX, but large pockets of Polish immigrants settled in Upper-Midwestern cities, such as Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, St. Louis, and especially Chicago. They worked in mills and slaughterhouses in these growing cities.

Stereotypes, Discrimination, and Other Struggles

There were many stereotypes associated with Poles in the United States. The “Polish Joke” said that all Poles were slow, stupid, undependable, volatile drunkards. When Poles first settled in the United States, they were accused of not wanting to assimilate, holding closely to their language, culture, and religion. In reality, many Polish immigrants could not wait to become Americans, and stereotypes around being Polish caused them shame. They were really smart and hardworking people.

Poles were also accused of ruining the economy because they send money back to Poland to support family members. The amount of money Polish workers sent overseas eventually became so large that it worried both American and European authorities. But all they wanted to do, was to help their loved ones back in Poland…

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.