SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News)— Syracuse is known for its nickname “The Salt City” and its cultural events in the summer. When we think of the Polish Festival, we think of the traditional sandwich, Kielbasa and folk music. But, what about the history behind it?
The Syracuse Polish home was founded in 1919 as a cultural hub for Polish immigrants in Syracuse. It first started out as a club and community center. Today, many ethnic and religious organizations utilize the Polish Home. It’s a scared place for the Polish American population in Syracuse.
“Basically, it’s my second home,” said Marta Chmielewski. “I first came to Syracuse, back when there was no GPS or Facebook and I just walked in.”
In 2009, Chmielewski took a leap across the pond and landed in Syracuse from Poland. She immediately wanted to connect to the Syracuse Polish community. She thought to herself, “Why not teach the Polish language?” Chmielewski met with the Polish Home President, Rob Synakowski, to see if there were any openings.
“I said I like to teach kids and adults,” said Chmielewski. “He [Synakowski] said wonderful, we need a new teacher because someone just left or retired.”
Now, Chmielewski has been teaching the Polish language at the Polish Home for 13 years. She even in recent years has organized trips to Poland for those who either want to go back home or know where their ancestry comes from.
“Ancestry has become a huge thing. People want to know their heritage,” said Chmielewski.
But this isn’t the first time the Polish home and Syracuse Polish residents are trying to preserve the native language or traditions.
In the mid-to late 19th century, Syracuse became a huge melting pot of all different ethnicities. The largest groups were German and Irish. The third largest group was Russian and Polish Jews, that eventually started to migrate in downtown Syracuse.
“The early immigrants came around the 1890s and they first came to the northside,” said Rob Synakowski. “They also were down around the Emerson Museum and then in the ’80s another group came to Syracuse.”
Ever since then, the Polish community has dispersed throughout Central New York.
Synakowski says he feels like a genealogist when it comes to his family and the Polish community. He has traced his family all the way from Poland to New York.
“I love knowing about the history of my family and I think that is the cool part,” said Synakowski.
So, when you are visiting a festival or event in Clinton Square this summer, always remember there may be a story or history behind it.
“It makes us proud and happy that we can celebrate our heritage and show off our culture.”