Polish Immigrants

Polish Culture: S&D Polish Deli and the Polish Falcons of America Building

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The bustling Strip District street is a pantheon of diversity, hosting cultures and cuisines ranging from West Coast fish tacos to Italian biscotti.  As I approach the locally famous S&D Polish Deli, the white storefront festooned with Polish emblems beckons customers from all backgrounds inside.  Within the store, an array of Kielbasy, or sausages, and Haluszki, or noodle dishes are on display under a glass countertop, and hundreds of specialty ethnic foods crowd the shelves in the store’s back.

The Polish Delikatesy is popular for its “slow food”; its ingredients are fresh and cooked in the store, following traditional recipes.  Testifying to the rich history of Pittsburgh immigrants, there are three varieties of the Haluszki: Pittsburgh, Polish, and Slovak (“About Us.”).  These simple, filling dishes provide a shared cultural narrative.  Like Pittsburgh itself, Polish cuisine is a mix of different culinary traditions, incorporating Slavic, Turkic, Germanic, and Jewish customs and ingredients into its recipes (“Polish Cuisine.”).

As I walk through Pittsburgh’s Sidney Street, I almost miss the nondescript red and white stucco exterior of the Polish Falcons of America building.  The organization has its roots in a group opposing Czarist Russia the January Uprising of 1863, dedicating itself to the motto “A sound mind in a sound body”.  In 1917, the Polish Falcons of America trained 25,000 young men for an expeditionary force in World War One, fighting for both Polish independence and American interests, later serving as a standing army for the new country of Poland (“Our History.”).

The group today serves as a fraternal benefit society providing “Physical, social, and financial welfare” for its 23,000 members, offering cultural and recreational programs and preserving Polish tradition.  Through perpetuating these core values, the Falcons continue to serve America’s Polish community to this day (“Our History”).

1- “Polish Cuisine.” Polish American Deli. Polish American Deli, 2006. Web. 04 May 2014.

2- “About Us.” S&D Polish Deli. S&D Polish Deli, n.d. Web. 4 May 2014.

3- “Our History.” Polish Falcons of America History. Polish Falcons of America, 2013. Web. 04 May 2014.

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Polish Push and Pull Factors: Immaculate Heart of Mary Church

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As I walk up the debris littered slope of Polish Hill, the turquoise cupola atop the massive dome of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church stands sentinel over the panorama of Pittsburgh neighborhoods.  This Catholic Church, according to an earnest usher within the main foyer, was built by Polish immigrants who would labor an additional eight hours upon arriving home from a 12 hour shift.  His enthusiasm is soon dampened, however as he explains that “many young people are abandoning the beautiful church” and its congregation is shrinking.  Despite this modern exodus, however, the traditional beliefs and practices of the original parish are evident in the ethnic traditions still celebrated and the ornate artwork filling the interior of the sanctuary (“Catholic Church Pittsburgh”).

Polish immigrants came to America seeking land and a better economic prospects.  The steel mills of Pittsburgh provided a steady, if dangerous, source of income.  However, Polish Americans often were accused of “ruining” the economy, as they sent money back home to relatives who had not yet emigrated (“Immigration Library.”).  Some anti- immigrant vigilante groups, including militant members of the Know Nothing Party, violently reacted to this stigma with raids and assaults (Hay 25).  According to an elderly churchgoer of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Party once destroyed the enormous stained glass windows that adorn the sides of the church with stones, attempting to drive the Catholics out of Polish Hill.  Despite these accusations and hardships, the Polish Americans continued to arrive and work, becoming an important factor in the Industrial Revolution.

Although financial incentives spurred the migration to America from Poland, the poor and dangerous conditions back home served to force many immigrants out of the country.  In 1919, in fact, “60% of the land was owned by 2% of the population”.  This discrepancy forced thousands of Poles to seek land and property elsewhere (“Immigration Library.”).  Religious liberty, too, spurred the mass exodus from Europe.  The largely Roman Catholic Polish immigrants, such as those that founded the Immaculate Heart of Mary, were scattered and persecuted by the Russian, Austria-Hungarian, and Prussian Empires (“Polish/Russian – The Nation of Polonia”). These and other factors galvanized the mass departure of Polish immigrants out of Europe and into Pittsburgh.

1-“Catholic Church Pittsburgh, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church History.” Catholic Church Pittsburgh, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church History. Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

2- Hay, Jeff. Immigration. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Print.

3-“Immigration Library.” Immigration Library. The Advocates for Human Rights, 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.

4-“An Interior Ellis Island.” An Interior Ellis Island. MTU Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections, 2007. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.

5-“Polish/Russian – The Nation of Polonia – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress.”Polish/Russian – The Nation of Polonia – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.