In the early morning, in the centre of an unknown city, suddenly you start panicking: will I cope with everything? And later, you put days together like blocks. It is easier and easier. Day by day, night by night, till sleepless nights are less and less troublesome. You are not tormented by mornings pale from fear. Your thought about bringing your family here is getting mature. And then you become an emigrant from a seasonal worker…
What happened with our class?
It is another time we failed to organize a meeting of the secondary school leaving class. They declared to meet only on internet and organized a meeting online after some years. The basic question was like the title of a song of Jacek Kaczmarski: ‘What happened with our class? One day they could sing all verses. The hymn of their generation, secondary school graduates from the end of XX century, whose life was created by emigration. From the class of 25 people, 16 of them stayed in Poland, and the rest of them packed their suitcases. Jarek and Jola live in the USA. Włodek and Marta in England, similarly as Mirka and Aśka. Beata called from Switzerland. Bernard logged in Scotland, Jakub – in France. Online meetings became their habit. At least once in two or three months they reserve their evenings for talks. They talks for hours about their life abroad, about everyday fight, rage, longing or its lack. About hopes and dreams, that one day they will be able to return to their country, but on their conditions.
Bernard, a graduate of the Agricultural Academy in Wrocław, works as a gardener in a Scottish castle-museum: - Most people from emigration wave said that it is a temporary solution. Later our children were born. It is them who nail the man to a place. There are no stronger lines. Secondly – salaries for which there is no chance in our country. When people start calculating, then very few families decide to return to their country. And now Putin…. Certainly, most of us do are not in contact with our country and this is not going to change. We are Poles in 100 per cent. We bring up our children in Polish language but for now we are not going to return to our country…
Mirka, a social worker on the suburbs of Liverpool; her father has been living in Chicago since the mid of the 70s of the last century: - European emigration, especially the one after joining of Poland into the Union, is not similar to the American Polish Diaspora. People used to run away from communism to the USA. Later, for decades, people could not return to their country. On the one hand, they had this terrible iron curtain, but on the other hand, - immigrant services, which were only lurking to deport you. These kidnapped family histories…..You know, in the case of emigration the awareness of a distance is important. I explained it in this way: for example, if I lived in Białystok, it takes me longer to get home than when I fly from Luton airport to Pyrzowice by plane. Do you understand? And the American Polish Diaspora is separated from the country with the ocean and half a continent. It is not an easy jump…
Włodek, a biologist by profession, works as a builder: - In such countries as England, France or the USA, Polish Diaspora is not a homogenous group. Others are Polonius from the period of the Second World War and directly after it. Others are people from emigration of the martial law, and emigrants from the 90s have different life. The last two waves of emigrants are the time after the year 2004 – and this is the big difference. Younger and younger people emigrate, who are better educated and confident. They do not have any sense of inferiority towards the English. This is a new kind of Poles, they are a bit…..cosmopolitan. They will stay where they will earn more. It is simple. This pragmatism is a kind of a new feature of character. I do not know whether it is good or bad from their point of view. But Poland is certainly losing on this emigration.
Emigration is for people
Beata, a teacher for a few years, works as a barista in a bistro in Stockholm: - Emigration is a normal phenomenon in today’s world. People should live where they want to. It is their right. Europe is open, friendly, multinational. It is worse when in emigration there is an element of coercion. Like in my case. I was scared of emigration. However, I became a single mother bringing up her children and I could not do anything. I was offered work in Sweden. I knew English, so I was very confident and was sure that I would manage. My children stayed with their grandmother. And my nightmare started. I worked whole days and I cried whole nights. I did not turn on the light in the bathroom because I could not look at my face. I felt like a blunt machine used for earning money, so that my little girls could attend a good school, so that they could not feel worse. At one moment it seemed to me that I was falling, that I was losing something which cannot be bought with any money – family, contact with the dearest, love… But I knew that could not return. In a gesture of desperation I took my children to Sweden. They got accustomed to the country, we live peacefully here, although Scandinavia is a culturally strange area for us. Are planning to return? All the time. But, frankly speaking, I think that my daughters will return to Poland only to study there.
Aśka is the only one who works in her profession – she is a hairdresser in Wood Green in London: - Stories which one hears at my work are sometimes a prepared film scenario. Divorces, euro-orphans, some terrible court battles about property or children, alcoholism, depressions. The second side of a medal – the price for dreams about a better life. From my observations I can say that if people had work, good salary and some perspectives in Poland, lots of them would pack their suitcases and came back. Emigration has strangeness in itself, which is practically difficult to get rid of. It looks as if we were separated from a real life with a glass wall. Jola, a mother and a wife from the suburbs of Denver: -Is religion important for an emigrant? Certainly, it is. Do not listen to what is sometimes written in Polish newspapers – that the new generation of emigrants is religiously neutral. The Church is one of very few places where you can feel like in Poland. From my experience I know how important it is to have support in the first weeks of one’s stay abroad. In many Polish parishes such help for the newly arrived is obvious. The Polonius helped us with finding a flat, work, insurance one day. Today we help others, although now fewer and fewer Poles choose the United States. However, some things do not change – we are looking for ourselves, language, culture, custom, finally, a prayer. People still can travel many kilometers in order to participate in the Holy Mass in Polish. This charging accumulators, without which we felt as if without a soul. We cannot forget what the Polish Church is doing for emigrants.
When the last thread is getting torn apart
- Nothing keeps me here any longer – says Marek. We are leaving an old village cemetery. Around us there is Polish gold and rusty autumn, with mist crawling close to the ground. – Nothing keeps me here any longer…. – he repeats. – The last torn thread.
Marek and Andrzej left for England years ago. Marek is planning to return to Poland when he gets old. Andrzej – is not, because he has tried once.
- Some people are not suited for emigration. And it does not concern only the language or cultural barrier, but the personality. I and my wife still miss our country…. – says Andrzej. – And we must live with this nostalgia. We have already paid a particular price for the idea of return. We were tempted by assurance of politicians that in our country there would be a significant change. Whereas, it is still difficult to run economic activity in Poland. Taxes and other financial burdens are ones of the highest in Europe. An accidental situation decides about the development of a company. We had problems with the Insurance Company and the tax office. We said to ourselves: ‘Enough!’ in the situation when we lost nearly all our savings. We decided to return to London not to get stuck in unemployment.
When we were laying a wreath of red roses on a grave of Marek’s mum, the oldest grandson of Mrs. Maria, Wojtek, kneeled on the ground and was stroking the flowers, as if in a sensitive gesture of farewell. Little girls, the granddaughters, all the three children were standing behind, holding one another’s hands tightly.
- We must sell the house. Settle all matters – I hear Maria’s younger son, Andrzej, whispering behind. – But where will we stay when we come here for Christmas, Easter and holidays?- asks Wojtek, who suddenly finds his grandfather’s death double painful. He loses not only his beloved person – also a part of the landscape from his childhood is disappearing. The little children’s heads are cuddling closer to one another.
Nobody from the Jasiński family is alive in Poland.
At night of 17 and 18 October, at Jasna Góra there is vigil night in intention of emigrants and their priests. The motif of the meeting are the words of St. John Paul II said to compatriots on 4 June 1979: ‘Mother’s heart embraces everyone and everywhere’.