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Dorota Kozak

 

We left Poland on 10th April 10 1994, we drew the so-called green card. It was always my dream to live in the US. I do not know why, but I always dreamed about it, I felt that I wanted to be and live there. It may seem strange, but I had such a dream. Perhaps because a lot of my friends from school years lived in the US permanently. And I liked the myth about America very much.

Dreaming of skyscrapers

It was important for me that I was coming to the US with my beloved husband and that the trip would be a new experience for us. I was very excited about the trip, I was 21 years old and, in fact, I did not know anything about life. We left to the States soon after our wedding. I think our parents experienced our trip very much, I know that they were very worried about us. Because that young people wanted to go very far into the unknown, so far from the family.

We had in the States very good friends. Especially one, Piotr, who really helped us settle. Arriving in the US we had nothing to lose. We got some stuff for the road. Saying goodbye to family at the airport we cried a lot.
What I imagined after arriving here? I guess, as everyone else, I wanted to see the wonderful American skyscrapers.

Difficult beginnings

After landing, we went through a special customs clearance for immigrants, which was not the most pleasant. Not knowing the language, I felt a little bit so ... broken. Fortunately, Piotr, an acquaintance and then the only friendly soul, was waiting for us at the airport. I was incredibly glad to see him. Piotr took us to his apartment, where good Polish dinner prepared by his mother was waiting for us. After a few hours we went to the apartment that Piotr rented for us. When I saw it, I thought: God, where is the America ??? It was an apartment in the so-called Polish basement. Together with us lived there two other people. Everything was shared: bathroom, kitchen and a laundry pad locked by the landlord. Additionally we had tiny windows, something awful. When we wanted to do the laundry, we had to pay extra for access to the laundry room.

Two days after the arrival I got a job in the so-called cleaning service. I cleaned houses of wealthy people. It was a horrible experience. I do not mean the work itself, because I like working and I always had enthusiasm for work, but the owner of the service treated all of us very badly. Whenever I reminisce that work I have chills, although I can also say that then I saw how real rich Americans live. I hadn’t seen in Poland such houses, full of pomp. Then I felt great sorrow and I wanted to go back to my beloved family. I often cried at night. My husband did not work for almost two weeks and he was very worried about it. He wanted to go back to Poland already after a few days. It was very hard for us, even though we had each other. It was hard because I totally did not know the language, the city, the streets ... for me then it was a nightmare.

Changes for the better

After three months of living in the so-called basement a cousin of my husband found for us a great apartment. We bought the first car and we didn’t have to commute to work by bus anymore. My husband started work, and somehow we started to move on. When I think of it today, the lack of knowledge of the language, the people, the city - it really was terrible. We moved to a normal apartment, where we were only the two of us: me and Zbyszek. The owner of the building where we rented our apartment was Mr. Lalik. I will never forget him. His life story is very interesting. He was born during World War II in the United States. After the war his parents with him and his siblings returned to Poland. But after a few years, once again they came to the United States and lived permanently in Chicago. We rented the apartment from Mr. Lalik for five years. Sometimes he dropped in for coffee and a chat. I could listen to his stories for hours ...

With time, we furnished our rented apartment. I remember our first TV. I bought it at a garage sale for $ 15. It was as big as a chest, and when it warmed up the picture was jumping and ... no way to watch further. I remember that it was then the season of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan still played. We gathered in front of the TV with our all bunch of friends, but unfortunately our chest warmed up so much that in the end we didn’t watch the match.

We longed for the family, we missed the loved ones very much. But we had each other and friends, and the friends replaced us our family. We spent with them holidays and I have very good memories of all these meetings. So we were in Chicago alone and not alone.

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Remembrances from Poland

We took from Poland all the basic and necessary things: pots, bedding, dishes. So that there was no need to buy it in the store and spend money on the very beginning. We did not know whether we would have a job. We had, of course, money with us but we had to pay for the apartment. And we also had to make a living. Of course I took remembrances from home: photos of parents, holy pictures. All that reminded me of my home, which I love to this day. But after so many years it is here in the US where my home is, I feel good here. I have my favorite places, home and a small garden. Here our son Jakub was born and here is his homeland.

Certainly, the beginnings were difficult. The biggest obstacle for us was the lack of knowledge of the language. But slowly, slowly, step by step we mastered the language and it was much easier to live.

The capital of the Polish diaspora

At a time when we flew to Chicago there lived a lot of Poles here and we had access to the Polish press, as well to stores with Polish food. I always did shopping in Polish stores, especially if I wanted to buy bread and cold cuts. I had a ritual that always on Fridays after work I went to the Polish store in Jackowo and I did shopping.

I feel I am Polish, and I will always feel so, this is what I feel deep down. I speak to my son Kuba only Polish. At home we also speak Polish. We try to celebrate holidays in accordance with Polish traditions. I am proud that I am a Pole and always wherever I am, I say aloud that I am from Pcim – it is a village in Lesser Poland, 60 km from Krakow.

What makes me feel a Pole? Certainly my roots, the fact that I come from Poland, I speak the Polish language. Most of my friends are Polish. I go to Polish church, I do shopping in Polish stores, my son goes to a Polish Saturday school. Although I am an American citizen, I want to feel Polish. I love going to the Polish events, concerts of Polish bands, to which we go with the whole bunch of friends to the Copernicus Center. This is the place where all the Polish events are held.

Winning the lottery

If I can say something positive about myself, it is that my greatest treasure is my family: husband, son and loving mother. I am fulfilled professionally, I have a good job in an established company. What more I could want? Probably to win the lottery, but my mom says: "Let’s enjoy what we have, others are in a worse situation. And you hit the jackpot - you have Zbyszek, you're happy with him." Although I am abroad, I feel good here. In winter I love it when we sit all together around the fireplace. The smell of burnt wood reminds me of the bonfires which we had in childhood at the Raba river flowing through our town.