There is Poland, and then there is "Polonia."
What's Polonia? It's a term used to describe the Polish diaspora, or the people of Polish heritage whose ancestors left Poland. There are more than 20 million people of Polish ancestry throughout the world, making them one of the largest diaspora communities in existence. You might not hear much about it here, but in Poland, the idea of an overarching worldwide community of people who celebrate their Polish heritage is well-known.
As a matter of fact, as Americans, we get so used to celebrating immigration as a national experience, it might strike us as odd that the Poles recognize emigration as a source of national pride. And yet, Poland has its very own emigration museum, Muzeum Emigracji w Gdyni, which mounts exhibitions celebrating all the little outposts of Polonia around the world.
We bring all this up because that museum has helped organize a Polish-American exhibition in metro Detroit called “Faces of the Polish Diaspora: People of Hamtramck.” The exhibition opens next week at the Hamtramck Historical Museum, and presents photographs by artist and photographer Tomek Zerek, combined with statements compiled by researcher Dr. Anna Muller, relating experiences of migration, war, and Polish identity from descendants of those who arrived on our shores generations ago.
Dr. Muller says her research uncovered "A lot of surprises." "The history of this city is incredibly rich. Several times a day I would be working out chapters for a potential book in my head. This diaspora is completely different, different to the one in Chicago, for instance. The Hamtramck community was built by workers, and was a very poor, badly educated community, but one which led to the formation of trades unions in the region. In other words, it built relations between workers and management and affected the face of American capitalism ..."
The exhibition opens at 6 p.m. Nov. 12, and takes place in conjunction with several events over two days, including a lecture by Piast Institute President Thaddeus C. Radzilowksi at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12, another titled "How Poles transformed Hamtramck" by museum chairman Greg Kowalski at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12, a talk on Polish fairy tales by Joan Bittner at 4 p.m. Nov. 13, a talk by photographer Zerek at 5 p.m. Nov. 13, as well as an oral history workshop hosted by Dr. Muller at 3 p.m. Nov. 14.
The Hamtramck Historical Museum is at 9525 Joseph Campau Ave, Hamtramck; 313-893-5027.