“The people who go to St. Stan’s aren’t Polish; they’re Polish-American.” Those words, blurted without thinking, have haunted me for almost a decade and a half. Anna Mycek-Wodecki, then art director of Chronicles, was a true Pole. Like Leopold Tyrmand, the founder of Chronicles, she was a refugee from communism. Unlike Tyrmand, she was ethnically Polish, and a Catholic. She had been surprised to learn that this new employee with the German last name was a Polish Catholic, too, and she took me under her wing.
But when I asked Anna if she attended St. Stanislaus Kostka on the southeast side of Rockford, she did not disguise her disdain. St. Stan’s was established in 1912, but more recent Polish immigrants, even those who had become American citizens, were of a different breed from the Polish-Americans who had been here for several generations.
When I gently reminded Anna that, as a fourth-generation Pole in America, my experience was more like that of the Polish-Americans at St. Stan’s than like hers, she arched an eyebrow, and a wry, sad smile spread across her face. There wasn’t much more for either of us to say that day.
The vast majority of Poles had immigrated to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and they—we—were thoroughly “Americanized” between the two world wars. ...