The connection between people of Polish heritage and the “old country” may be difficult to understand for many of us who, while still offspring of immigrants, have over the years come to think of ourselves more as Americans and less as (fill in the country)-Americans. We’ve developed new identities that lack a modifier and don’t need a hyphen. For a number of reasons, to be Polish-American still has meaning for millions, but that connection led to considerable pain this week when word came of the plane crash in Russia that killed Poland’s president and other top government officials.
Would a similar disaster in, say, Sweden or Brazil or Uganda strike those nations’ sons and daughters here just as hard? It’s difficult to say. Are those communities as tightly knit as people of Polish descent, especially in Riverhead? You didn’t need to be Polish to be captivated by that country’s fight to free itself from totalitarianism as the Iron Curtain collapsed under its own weight. And think of the impact on a people’s psyche when Karol JÃ³zef WojtyÅÇa became the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian pope since the early 1500s.
We watched as oft-invaded and exploited Poland took its rightful place among the nations of the world. And although that democracy is relatively new, it’s strong enough to survive this hard blow.
Solidarity, the buzzword for the nation’s courageous struggle against Soviet communism a generation ago, never meant more than it does today.