Taste America 2009

PAC Representation of Polonia at “TASTE AMERICA” event on Capitol Hill

On July 30th, 2009, the Polish American Congress (PAC) proudly represented American Polonia at the annual Taste America event, which took place on Capital Hill. The event was attended by hundreds of people, most of whom stopped by the display to express their interest and curiosity about Polish and Polish American history, culture and traditions, and who wanted to learn more about Poland and the Polish community in the United States.

It was the fourth consecutive year that the PAC had the opportunity to promote the Polish American Community (Polonia) and educate members of the U.S. Congress, their families and friends about the various aspects of Polish and Polish American history and culture. Additionally, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the PAC’s more than 65 years of accomplishments, helping to better the lives of American Polonia.

The unique reception, which was, as in past years, held in the historic Members’ Dining Room at the U.S. Capitol, drew many exhibitors, including the Library of Congress, the Maryland State Department of Education, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the Center for Civic Education, and Stratford University, to name a few.

Surrounded by this distinguished company, the Polish American Congress presented its display offering a wealth of information and numerous promotional items.

Each year the event is held under a different theme; in 2009 it was “Education Underway”, with the ultimate goal of acquainting the attendees with progressive forward-looking seeking education. In keeping with the theme, the PAC’s exhibit entitled “Education Underway… In Polish American Theory and Practice”, was tailored to showcase a number of Polonia’s educational achievements, as well to educate guests about most important anniversaries being celebrated in 2009 as landmarks of how far Polonia and Poland have come.

The Taste America event offered an invaluable opportunity to get acquainted with those who share similar interests and/or provide them with information through an aesthetically pleasing and informative display. In order to achieve this goal, PAC set up a rich display that concentrated on three areas.

The first – Education in the Polish American Community – presented an assortment of information (a multitude of brochures, publications and handouts) that included listings of major higher education institutions that offer in their curriculum courses and/or programs in Polish studies; Polish schools in the US (organized state by state); US-Poland educational exchange programs; the most prominent Polish-American educational organizations, as well main Polish American museums and libraries.

The next two sections offered “education in action” where the PAC team took the opportunity to educate visitors regarding a variety of topics, such as Polish and Polish-American anniversaries taking place in 2009. Here the highlighted milestones included:

  • 90 years of Polish-American diplomatic relations.
  • 70 years since the outbreak of the Second World War
  • 65 years of the Polish American Congress
  • 20 years since the Polish free elections that marked the end of the communist regime in Eastern Europe.
  • 10 years of Poland’s membership in NATO, and
  • 5 years of Poland’s membership in the European Union.

Each of the anniversaries was explained in detail through large posters, numerous handouts, and brochures prepared specifically for that purpose, as well as by distributing DVDs and books. In this section, the visitors could also find copies of the articles: “Polish Units Took Part in Normandy Invasion, D-Day, June 1944” and “1989: Fateful year for Poland and Europe” by J. Krcmar, copies of pertinent resolutions introduced in the U.S. Congress during the 111th session, as well as numerous other materials. In addition, the PAC team offered thorough explanations to all visitors who had questions, comments or just wanted to chat about the display and its contents.

A special part of this section was dedicated to the Polish Righteous Among the Nations, giving particular recognition to Poles who helped the Jews during WWII despite risking a death penalty for themselves and their extended families, which was established by Nazi Germans as the price for such an “offense”. Because of their heroic actions those individuals were subsequently distinguished by the Israeli Holocaust Martyrs’ And Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, Yad Vashem, and honored with the recognition as “Righteous Among the Nations”. As of today there are 6,135 Poles whose life-or-death contributions were singled out by Yad Vashem, with Polish recipients constituting the single largest ethnic group of all European nationals officially recognized by the state of Israel.

A highlight of this section of the display was a poster created by the PAC team, which showcased 10 of the recognized Poles, including their photos and brief stories of how they-and often their families-helped their Older Brothers in Faith. Those short biographies clearly were of a particular interest to the visitors. Many of them took the time to read the stories and on numerous occasions shared stories from the histories of their own families and/or those of their friends.

Not surprisingly, a complementary book titled Poles who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust: Recalling Forgotten History, published by the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, was a particularly popular item at the exhibit.

Another complimentary book, Thinking After the Holocaust: Voices from Poland, edited by Sebastian Rejak and translated into English and Hebrew, a collection of essays about the complex issue of Holocaust, was another well-received item. Other complimentary publications on the topic of WWII that were handed out included: The Emissary: The Story of Jan Karski; Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Story of Irena Sendler; and Nazi German Camps on Occupied Polish Soil During World War II. All these publications were donated to the PAC by Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, D.C.

Attendees were also invited to take home CDs with music by Chopin and Liszt performed by the Polish American pianist Jerzy Stryjniak, and an architectural book written by Czeslaw Bielecki, called Beyond Architecture In Praise of Eclecticism, among other items.

The last part of the exhibit offered something for the palette – samplings of the well-chilled, award-winning Polish beer “Tyskie” and Polish juices, alongside delicious Polish chocolates (including Prince Polo and Michaszki), which were by far the most popular and widely complimented (and voraciously consumed) promotional items of the exhibit.

Similarly to previous years, each visitor also received a gift bag containing copies of all the handouts, promotional items such as letter openers, fridge magnets, pens, bottle openers, samples of Polish chocolates, etc., as well as copies of a brochure summarizing the display that was specially prepared for the purpose of the event. In addition to a greeting from Frank Spula, the president of the Polish American Congress, the brochure highlighted the achievements of the Polish American Congress over the past more than 65 years, as well as made sure to recognize the sponsors of the event, without whom the display would not have been possible.

We would like to take this opportunity to again express our deepest gratitude to the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union for their generous patronage of our display. In addition, our great appreciation goes to those who made our exhibit a success: the Embassy of the Republic of Poland (for numerous publications and assistance with logistics), the Kielbasa Factory of Rockville, Maryland, (for Polish juices and chocolates), MillerCoors (for Tyskie beer), and last, but not least, to the Polish and Slavic Center in New York City and U.S. Pharmacia International in Rockville (for financial support).

The PAC team, composed of Dr. Barbara B. Andersen and summer associates: Zosia Klosowska, Malgosia Kwiatkowska, and Matthew Beck, have been working hard towards making the display of the Polish American Congress an extraordinary one. Countless hours were spent doing research and preparing informational materials. The efforts paid off and, in accordance to the feedback that the team received during the event, the final product was truly impressive.

Apparently, the impression was also shared by the PAC’s summer associates. Malgosia Kwiatkowska wrote later in her reflections of the day:

“(…) After the van was thoroughly inspected we were granted access to the Capitol by one of the guards and in the mid-day heat we gathered all the boxes, packages and containers on a wheel cart to undergo another security checkpoint inside the South side of the Capitol. From there we were directed to the Member’s Dining Room, a truly historic setting, where the PAC team, together with other exhibitors and vendors, was able to set out its display.

Within an hour the display was ready and it was truly amazing! Three tables were full of books, various publications, brochures, handouts, CDs, DVDs, stickers, baskets of chocolates, refreshing fruit juices and Polish beer.

Five p.m. arrived and it officially started! At first visitors were rather reserved and shy, and we needed to encourage them to take a look at the prepared materials, to taste chocolates and to engage in conversation. Eventually, as the room filled up, the crowd became more bold, more forward, and prone for a chat.

I had a chance to meet many different people, all of them were curious about Poland, its history and culture.  Many, as it turned out, had Polish friends, acquaintances, or even family members of Polish heritage and they were all interested in my native country.  This was very motivating and I was glad to be able to answer their questions.  And these questions were of a various nature, namely religion, culture, language, history, Polish cities and Polish cuisine. Some were more connected to the Taste America exhibit and some were a bit off the topic, but it was a pleasure to educate visitors about Poland, Poles and the Polish Community in the United States either way.

I remember the most interesting question I was asked by one of the guests. The gentleman wanted to know if I remembered how it was living in a communist country and I was able to explain and share my first-hand experiences living both under the Soviet rule and as a free citizen. He was fascinated and touched by my story of long lines to the store to get basic foodstuffs and the fear of imposition of martial law.

I am very appreciative to the Polish American Congress for providing me that opportunity. It was extremely exciting to be at the U.S Capitol, where so many decisions that influence the world are made! I have gained an unforgettable experience, and I also have a feeling that I was able to teach some valuable lessons to the guests, but most importantly, had fun doing it!!!”



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