America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. But where did we come from?
At one point in history, your ancestors likely emigrated to the U.S. from someplace else. Do you know from where -- and when -- they came?
Nineteen-year-old Christina Slomczewski does.
Christina, a sophomore at Daemen College, takes great pride in her family's history. She grew up in a home in Buffalo based on Polish traditions, and she often heard her grandmother speak the language.
"As a child, I always heard my grandmother talking to family and friends in Polish, and it always seemed like a bonding experience," said Christina.
Christina's great-great-grandparents emigrated to the United States. Even though her ties to Poland are not extremely close, the tradition has been passed down since those first relatives set foot on American soil. The family eats Polish foods such as ham, potatoes, pierogi, (a dough pocket filled with fruit, meat, cheese or potatoes), and kielbasa, (a Polish sausage.) They also celebrate swenconka, or a blessing of Easter food the day before Easter.
So, naturally when Christina was offered the chance to travel to Poland, she jumped at the opportunity. Last summer Christina went to Poland for a month with the Kosciuszko Foundation. The foundation is an organization which helps children in Poland learn English from American teachers. Even without a teaching degree, Christina was able to spend her time in the city of Przypok, Poland, as a teacher's assistant, teaching the English language to students ages 9 to 14.
"While I was there, the teacher and I did lessons with the kids until lunchtime. And in the afternoon we played games with them. It was a lot of fun and the children were really nice," she says.
"Believe it or not, the U.S. and Poland are a lot more alike than most people think," says Christina. "They have shopping malls like we have here -- and they even have a lot of American based foods. [But] I realized how lucky we are to have so many things in the U.S." Christina says: "Every day we take for granted the little things, like clean tap water and free public restrooms. In Poland you have to pay two dollars for a small bottle of water and 50 cents every time you needed to use the bathroom!"
Christina is currently a member of Western New York's largest Polish-American cultural and dance group, Harmony Polish Folk Ensemble. Harmony was founded by several families with Polish ties. They have upwards of 50 members, who range in age from four to 75.
Manya Pawlak-Metzler, president of Harmony, says she is always very impressed with Christina's "ready-to-go" attitude. "Christina is reliable, dedicated, and eternally upbeat. Her ability to adapt to frequent change is unparalleled, and her skill in level of dance has recently resulted in her placement as a junior instructor for our organization," said Pawlak-Metzler.
Harmony's mission is to expose Western New York to Polish culture through traditional song, dance, and simple language lessons. But on a less dramatic scale, the group is also out to prove those who believe Polish dancing is all polka, very, very wrong.
"I think that the people who usually associate [our] dancing with polka all the time are surprised. They get to see the more traditional side of Polish dancing." Christina said.
"I'm proud to show where my family came from every time I dance with Harmony. Just within the hour show we put on for people, they get to live as if they were one of those Polish villagers, and they take home with them a story in which they can tell their families for generations to come."
Emily Spina is a freshman at Starpoint.
The Harmony Polish Folk Ensemble will perform during a masquerade party to be held from 7 to 11 p.m. (doors open at 6) Saturday at the Lily of the Valley Banquet Hall on Union Road in Cheektowaga. The party will include a a bake sale and will feature City Side Band. For advance tickets, call Manya Pawlak-Metzler at 875-2030. Tickets are $7. Food and drink will be available.