by Shelby Pendowski, Enterprise intern
My father has seven brothers and sisters. They all attended the Mattawan Consolidated School District downstate. Following in their footsteps, many of us in the next generation attended the school as well.
Throughout my years at the school, my last name was recognizable and I was regularly asked “which Pendowski do you belong to?” Pendowski is a last name that anyone can tell is of Polish descent.
Yes, I identify as an American but I also find part of my identity as a Polish American. Growing up I can remember the slew of Polish words — usually cuss words — spewing from my grandparents’ mouths. By spouting these words in Polish, us kids could avoid putting on our pretend earmuffs to block it out.
In light of the upcoming Cedar Polka Fest, I began reflecting on the importance of heritage and the stereotypes that come with being Polish.
I loved my grandparents. My grandma acted as our family shelter, taking on any task asked and keeping the cookie jar full of scrumptious goodies. My grandpa was full of personality and didn’t miss an opportunity to play the whole “my teeth fell out” trick with his dentures. Together this pair did much more than help raise me, my sister and my cousins. They kept my family’s heritage alive.
From a young age, my Uncle Tom exposed me to the beauty of accordion music, my palate indulged in the family’s secret recipes of Polish sausage, perogies and gwumpkies and each holiday held true to certain customs. Although my grandparents have passed, I can see the legacy they have left.
The traditions are still upheld. As my family continually expands, we share our heritage with others. I am proud to be Polish.
I think just about everyone has heard the term “polack.” A derogatory term created when those of Polish decent came to America. The term is used to label those of Polish heritage, as dumb, ignorant and drinkers. Older generations when this term is used take some offense, but I embrace it.
Am I sometimes dumb?
Yes, but who doesn’t have their share of embarrassing, unintelligent, dumb moments. Those are the moments that you can truly look back and laugh about.
Am I ignorant?
At times, of course. No one can possibly be informed about all that is happening in the world and at times I just don’t want to know about certain topics.
Am I a drinker?
I just turned 21 yesterday, so no not really. But what is wrong with drinking a little and having a good time? Just because the Polish community enjoys a nice brew, doesn’t mean we are all out-of-control drunks.
Today, the term ‘polack’ doesn’t emit the same connotation it did in the past. I think many in my generation would agree that the term should be embraced and the negative connotation should be laughed off. We should be proud of where we came from and the struggles our ancestors endured.
My family likes to attend the Cedar Polka Fest. We enjoy tasting authentic food from other families’ recipes, we like to burn the calories off by polka-ing around the dance floor for a few songs and we like that so many people, like us, refuse to let their heritage die. If these traditions look idiotic to outsiders, who cares? Each ethnicity has its own traditions, and most of the time they are judged for them as well.
The Polka Fest may not be the most authentic way to get to know Polish ways because it is slightly Americanized. I have heard the complaints that some of the music, food and drinks don’t radiate the true tastes and sounds of Poland, but I think they do show the heritage of Polish Americans.
When making the journey to the New World, many erased their past to blend in as Americans. However, there were some who never lost touch with the traditions of their ancestors. Still today discrimination continues towards many races, but people should stay strong and never forget where they came from.
I am a ‘polack’ and proud of it.