See the lady in white? She’s been in the USA only three years. Her Polish accent is so thick, I had to listen hard to understand what she said. But her joy while she joined the Polish folk dancers was so vibrant, there was no misinterpreting it.
Her name is Angelika Ejtel (Ange-LEEK-uh AY-tel), and she had a booth across from ours in which she sold her photography. Her craft is fascinating — she takes black and white pictures, using herself as a model, to illustrate the emotions presented by her favorite Polish poet, Halina Poświatowska (Ha-LEEN-uh POEsh-via-TOV-ska–the accented S has a very soft “shh” sound, and the Ws are pronounced like Vs).
Illustrating poetry through photography is a wonderful idea, but my fascination is with Angelika herself. Let me show you what I mean.
In a brochure from Angelika’s June 4 exhibit at the Texas Women’s University, “I am of a Bird Wing,” she says this:
“I am of a Bird Wing” is a selection of images inspired by the poetry of a famous Polish poet, Halina Poświatowska, based on the textual analysis of the notions such as wings, birds, and action of flying. These are often used in her poems as metaphors for freedom, lightness of being, or ephemerality of life.
Look at the word choices Angelika used to describe the work. In Poland, she earned a doctorate in Linguistics. She taught Italian and French to Polish students, and Polish to international students. One of the first conclusions many Americans jump to when they meet someone new to this country — someone whose accent is thick and English is sketchy — is that they’re uneducated. What a sad assumption that is. I mean, if they’re here from another country and they can speak English at all, they’re already miles ahead of me. They’re bilingual; many are multilingual. I’ve forgotten most of the French I learned through high school and college, and my Spanish is so bad, my Mexican friends laugh at me.
Angelika is passionate about her heritage. She expressed disappointment that most of the people in the Polish community of Bremond, Texas, didn’t know Poland’s most famous poet or couldn’t speak a word of Polish. Language, she says, is the most important way to remember your culture.
So far as I know, Billy’s dad was the last in the family who could easily converse in Polish. Billy knows a few words, but I’m not sure he can string those words into a sentence. But his family has been here since the 1880s. They moved from being Polish in America, to being Polish-American, to being Americans. They celebrate their Polish heritage with food and festivals (they do, at least, hang on to their recipes), but they’re American.
One of his friends at work feels the same way Angelika does. He moans about his kids not wanting to learn their Mexican heritage. They’re too busy being American.
That’s what most of us in America want. We want a melting pot of people who want to be American, not change America to fit the country they just left. We have our own history and heritage, and we want people who are willing to celebrate it with us.
But I love the fact we’re multicultural. I loved seeing the Polish folk dancers and hearing the stories behind the songs and eating pierogies and sausage, just as I love Cinco de Mayo and the festivities associated with it.
I’m with Angelika in lamenting the loss of the different cultures’ languages and heritages. My dad’s family has been here since the 1700s, so our Irish roots are totally gone. We’re American, and have been for centuries. I have “Irish Pride,” but no idea what it means to be Irish.
I’m also proud to be an American, and I hope that someday, Angelika will be proud to be American, too, even as she clings to her roots. She’s such a beautiful addition to our population. I wish I could’ve spent more time talking with her. She’s passionate about her beliefs, passionate about her work. She’s a fascinating woman.