Poles and Polish Americans in Service
to the United States and the World

Polish American Congress, Washington DC Office – On July 29, 2010, for the fifth consecutive year, the Washington DC Office of the Polish American Congress (PAC) presented the interests and perspectives of the Polish American Community during the annual event Taste America.

Poster listing the participants of the event

Poster listing the participants of the event

During its 19 years of presence on Capitol Hill, the Taste America event has drawn approximately 650-700 visitors annually – primarily members of the House of Representatives and Senate and their families, to whom the event is addressed. Traditionally, the reception is held in the Members’ Dining Room of the U.S. Capitol with a rich choice of hors d’oeuvres and a string quartet; today, it is the only public event that is authorized to take place in this historic setting.

The event, an elegant reception with an expo of approximately 12-15 exhibitors, once again invited the Polish American Congress to present its display, the only ‘ethnic’ exhibit at the event. The preparations for the event were once again conducted under the oversight of Dr. Barbara B. Andersen, Director of Research at the Washington D.C. Office.

Each year the event is organized under a different theme; this year it was Protect and Defend (The PAC suggested the theme to the organizers as a way of highlighting two anniversaries—the centenary of the Kosciuszko and Pulaski monuments in Washington DC, both of which were unveiled on the same day a century ago).

Although the PAC Washington D.C. Office traditionally strives to keep as close to the theme as possible, this year’s theme was approached from a much broader perspective – one that emphasized many Polish and Polish American military achievements throughout history and all over the world, while also highlighting accomplishments in the health sciences and the preservation and transmission of cultural heritage.

To create a clear link between the theme of the event and the many books, brochures and handouts on the two PAC tables, the office organized its display into six sections (clearly marked with corresponding signs):

  • Protect and Defend Historical Awareness primarily included information about the Katyn Massacre and German Nazi concentration camps in Poland. The memory of these tragic events cannot be forgotten.
  • Protect and Defend Memory of Heroes. Here, the PAC focused on extraordinary individuals, such as the generations of Poles and Polish Americans who have served the United States and the world, as well as Polish Righteous Among the Nations.
  • Protect and Defend Cultural Heritage and Accomplishments. This very rich section included a wealth of information ranging from that about Polish presence in Jamestown, where Polish settlers successfully organized and carried out the first strike for civil rights on American soil in 1619; booklets about Frederick Chopin and the 200th anniversary of his birth; a book about Joseph Conrad; handouts which discussed the first Polish settlement in Panna Maria, TX; the Crazy Horse Monument that is being carved in South Dakota by the Polish family of Korczak Ziolkowski; and finally, the many contributions of Polish Americans in health sciences (e.g. info about Casimir Funk, the discoverer of vitamins and Hilary Koproski, who discovered the polio vaccine, to name a few) and Polish American inventors, such as Stephanie Kwolek, who invented Kevlar – a life-preserving material used in fragmentation resistant vests worn by soldiers and police officers.
  • Protect and Defend Cultural Dialogue. Although the main focus of this section was Polish-Jewish relations, several other pieces of interest were also presented, including the contributions of Poles to cultures of other continents as well as albums about Pope John Paul II.
  • Protect and Defend Sovereignty presented visiting members of U.S. Congress with information about the many contributions of Polish American soldiers and the Polish military throughout American history, including current efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The section also included information about the Polish and American constitutions, as well as Poland-related legislation in state legislatures nationwide.
  • Protect and Defend Health presented the visitors with complimentary colorful antibacterial hand wipes.

The two tables were flanked by large posters prepared by the Office for the purpose of the event; the first poster presented the greatest contributions of Generals Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski and highlighted the monuments dedicated to both Polish heroes, which were unveiled on the same day, May 11, 1910 in Washington, D.C.; the second poster showed the most important milestones in the history of Polish presence on American soil and in US-Polish relations. Both posters proved to be major conversation pieces during the event.

Months of preparation resulted in the creation of an environment that allowed the PAC staff to engage in short but lively conversations with more than 30 Members of Congress as well as various Capitol Hill liaisons and diplomats. In addition to such great supporters of Polish American causes as Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) or Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), the PAC also talked to Representatives Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Paul D. Tonko (D-NY), the Republican House Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA), Don Young (R-AK), and Scott Garrett (R-NJ), to name a few.

The attending guests of the Polish American Congress included His Excellency Robert Kupiecki, the Polish Ambassador to the U.S., Maciej Pisarski, newly appointed Deputy Chief of Mission at the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C. and Pawel Kotowski, Chief of the Political Section at the Polish Embassy. Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict made it impossible for Frank Spula, the PAC president to attend.

To complement the wealth of information, the PAC also offered all visiting guests Polish delicacies for tasting, such as famous Polish chocolates and perfectly chilled fruit juices – a beverage that in previous years was very much appreciated in the sizzling heat of Washington summers.

All of the materials available on the two tables of the PAC exhibit were complimentary, so the PAC staff of four made every effort to encourage visitors to take copies of each piece of information. As a result, hundreds of books, booklets, brochures, handouts and promotional items were distributed during the three-hour event. Each visitor was also presented with an elegant gift bag containing an attractive color Taste America Newsletter, which was prepared for the event by the PAC Office in order to summarize the display and provide information about the sponsors. The gift bags also contained copies of each of the 12 handouts created for the event, and of course samples of Polish chocolate and other promotional items.

Naturally, all of this would not be possible without the generosity of sponsors who not only supported the effort financially, but who also provided the Office with a multitude of informational materials and helped with logistical aspects of the enterprise. We would like to express our thanks to:

  • The American Council of Polish Culture for providing brochures For your Freedom and Ours summarizing the Polish presence during WWII.
  • The American Institute of Polish Culture (Miami, FL) for providing several hundred pounds of great and beautifully published books (e.g. some leather-bound), brochures and CDs. The books included Conrad and his Contemporaries by J. H. Retinger (author), Feliks Topolski (illustrator); Polish Contributions in Latin American Culture by Edmund Urbanski; and The Accomplished Senator by Laurence Gozliski, to name a few.
  • The Embassy of the Republic of Poland (Washington, D.C.) for not only supplying the Office with a selection of materials on Polish-Jewish relations, tourist information on Poland, and numerous publications on Polish art, among other materials, but also for securing all transportation needs associated with the exhibit.
  • The Cato Institute (Washington, D.C.) for providing several copies of a publication of the Declaration of Independence & Constitution of the United States of America.
  •  The Council for the Protection of Memory and Martyrdom (Warsaw, Poland) for furnishing the office with very informative and professionally designed books on the Katyn massacre.
  • The National Katyn Memorial Foundation (Baltimore, MD) for supplying brochures and books on the Katyn massacre and Katyn Monument in Baltimore, MD.
  • The Polish Museum of America (Chicago, IL) for providing several different types of workbooks and coloring books designed for younger audiences, some of which were about Casimir Pulaski, Ignacy Paderewski, and Polish cultural traditions.
  • The Kielbasa Factory (Rockville, MD) for providing the Polish sweets and juices, and
  • Last, but not least, the Polish National Alliance (Chicago, IL), the Polish and Slavic Center (New York, NY), and the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union (NJ) for their vital and very much appreciated financial support.

Finally, we would like to express our great appreciation for the months of hard work, research and design efforts of the Office’s three Summer Associates: Agnieszka Maczuga (Dominican University, Chicago, IL), Saundra Malanowicz (American University, Washington, D.C.) and Olivia Burzynska-Hernandez (University of Oregon, Eugene, OR).

From the very beginning of the PAC presence at Taste America, the office made every effort not only to have the display located in the same spot of the room but, most of all, to offer the best and most attractive display during the event. From what the crew has heard from visiting legislators, this goal had been accomplished yet again.

Below are reflections by Saundra Malanowicz, one of the Office’s Summer Associates:

<<My summer internship began with an introduction to the Capitol Hill event, “Taste America.” As the Legislative and Public Affairs branch of the Polish American Congress, our Washington, DC office as a rule does not organize culturally oriented events, with the exception for the Taste America reception, which the PAC office considers to be an invaluable opportunity to show the people in our capitol the significance of the Polish-American community in the United States. We would strive to impress the people of Congress not only with information about Polish history and traditions, but also with the profound connections between Poland and the United States: from the common values of democracy and freedom to the countless Polish-Americans who have contributed to health, safety, and innovation in the United States throughout its history.

Using this brief introduction to the purpose and goals of the Polish American Congress in Taste America, our team dove right into the brainstorming, research, planning, writing, editing, and organizing that went into preparations for the event. We had the freedom to take the theme this year, “Protect and Defend,” and figure out the best way to present it to our audience: members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Then we would be responsible for creating a display that could include handouts of information, books, brochures, posters, foods, music, and anything else we could think of that would drive home the message of “protect and defend” from a Polish-American perspective. We decided, therefore, to adopt a broad understanding of the theme and focus not only on military activity, but also on health, culture, traditions, memory, truth, and values.

With each of these aspects of Polish American history and contributions to keep in mind, we began the huge amount of research that went into creating and compiling materials for the event. For me, this research was utterly fascinating, eye-opening, and sobering all at the same time. As a fully Americanized member of the Polish American community, I did not grow up hearing the praises of great individuals such as Thaddeus Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski, or following the significant involvement of Poland in the Iraq War. I did not know that Polish Americans were responsible for the creation of the polio vaccine and vitamins, or that over 6,000 Poles have been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations”. However, I was most captivated by my investigation of the Katyn Massacre. As a student of international and Russian studies, I have taken numerous classes on World Politics and the history of Eurasia; although I had heard of the Katyn Massacre before this summer, I had not studied it extensively or thought about its repercussions for the people of Poland. These people, who saw the horrors of the Holocaust upon their soil, who risked their lives for the sake of their Jewish friends and neighbors, and who fought for freedom and democracy for centuries, were abruptly crushed by the Soviet Union. If anything, my experience researching the history and current developments of this tragic event has ignited a profound new interest in my studies.

Finally the day of the big event arrived, cloudy and hectic. After finishing some last minute folding and boxing of materials, we piled into the van and hustled over to the capitol building, full of excitement and expectation. The pouring rain and rolling thunder suppressed our enthusiasm for only a few minutes as we hurriedly moved our mountain of boxes into the Member’s Dining Room at the south end of the building; soon we had unloaded our books, gift bags, pamphlets, brochures, handouts, posters, juices, candies, cookies, and yes, even coloring books onto our display tables and were poised to impart our accumulated knowledge upon members of Congress (and maybe eat some tasty food along the way!). As a rather quiet and reserved individual, my goal for the day was to truthfully present the information I had learned about Polish history and Poles in America to the people who came by our table. Little did I know that, beginning at 5 pm, our little display with abundant giveaways would face a growing cascade of people with questions, interest, and enthusiasm for what we had to say. In fact, I was completely shocked by the ease with which I fell into the role of presenter and educator! Although the quick pace and dynamic energy in the room overwhelmed me at times, I was able to engage each new visitor with enthusiasm throughout my three hours on the job (of course, the Polish candies and juices that I sampled throughout the night did a great deal to sustain me as well!). Donning expressions of astonishment, each guest seemed truly amazed to hear that Kosciuszko, a Pole, designed the fortifications at West Point, or that over 20,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia were secretly exterminated in the forests of Katyn 70 years ago. Their interest paralleled my own fascination with such topics, and I believe that everyone (myself included) left the event enriched by mutual discovery and meaningful interaction. This, after all, seemed to be the ultimate goal of PAC at Taste America.

Saundra Malanowicz
August 2, 2010>>

Please contact Washington D.C. Office at pacwash@pac1944.org for high-resolution photos as well as to see the posters prepared for Taste America 2010.

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