Polish Culture at Payton and in Chicago and Polish Independence Day

By Ella Schaffer, Staff Writer

On November 11, 1918, Poland regained its independence from Russia, Prussia, and Australia after being under their control for 123 years. Poles fought for their independence with the help of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, and they won. Thus, November 11th is remembered as the Polish Independence Day. The holiday is extensively celebrated in Poland and by individuals with Polish heritage outside of Poland. 

Poland’s presence in Chicago does not go unnoticed. Chicago’s West Side is at times called “Old Polonia,” or Old Poland. Chicago is home to the largest number of people with Polish heritage in the United States; nearly 7.3% of Chicagoans are of Polish descent.

Señora Sulisz, a Spanish teacher at Payton, explains that “In Chicago, we have one of the biggest Polish populations outside of Poland. Growing up in the Chicago area, I always felt immersed and connected to the culture. Around the city we have a lot of locally owned restaurants that make amazing food that easily transport you to your Babcia’s kitchen. Where I grew up, there was always a Polish deli or supermarket that my family would frequent.”

Señora Sulisz mentions that “In Chicago, we have the Polish Museum, Taste of Polonia Fest, Polish Parade on May 3rd to celebrate the declaration of the Constitution of May 3rd, 1791, art in the city by famous Polish artists, many Polish style churches, and also a Polish film festival. I feel that there are many resources here in Chicago that make getting to know Polish culture easy for those that are interested/curious!” 

Kurowski Sausage Shop is a popular Polish grocery store and deli in Chicago.

Polish culture is represented at Payton through the Polish Club. The club is not restricted to people with Polish ancestry as Señora Sulisz notes, “At Payton we have a large Polish population that is really passionate about our culture. When I first started at Payton I remember seeing a student at the club fair offering pierogi to her classmates. I had no idea that there was a Polish Club, and I asked if I could help in any way. I was really excited to see that we had students here that wanted to teach others that were not familiar with Polish culture more about it. I [had previously] sponsored the club for about 2 years and during that time I saw the club leaders teach their classmates about the rich food, music, traditions, films, and cartoons. We tried candies, ate paczki (Polish donuts) and made arts and crafts during Easter; all of which are important Polish culture traditions.” 

Evidence of Polish heritage at Payton among the student body (Polish flag is drawn).

The Polish Club focuses on spreading and sharing Poland’s rich culture and history. The Polish Club presents presentations on Poland’s historical figures, its history, and its current affairs. The club also watches Polish films, and gives back to the Polish organizations and people throughout Chicago. For instance, the Polish Club wrote letters to the Polish patients at a nearby nursing home. Payton’s Polish Club holds a significant role in the lives of its members. Some members have been participating in the club since they started attending Payton. Eating Polish foods or conducting discussions in the Polish language serves as a way to connect the students to their Polish heritage.

Cards created by the Polish club for Polish nursing home patients.

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