Homecoming: Reconnecting with my Polish heritage through language

This photo means a lot to me because it was one of the first photos I took in Krakow, Poland, and it shows how beautiful the setting sun can be in the city. (All photos by Juliana Kedzior Kaminski.)

“Julia, you are our family. You are Polish.”

These were the words my wujek (uncle) said to me on my last night at our family’s farm in Poland. What he said to me left me feeling… happy. In a tiny village in northeastern Poland, I was eating leftover ciasta (cakes) and drinking herbata (tea) with my family, and I felt completely content.

 

One of the things I did most in Krakow was finding churches and just wandering around inside them.

 

Over the summer, I decided to go to Poland to take a stab at learning one of the hardest languages in the world, which also happens to be my family’s native tongue. For six weeks, I lived in Krakow, a city in southern Poland, where I studied at the Jagiellonian University. It was here that I met other students who were, like me, people of Polish descent who wanted to learn the language better.

 

After my classes, I would walk into the market square and I would always
see this man creating huge bubbles, which delighted all the children, even myself. I would
stand in the crowd and watch the large bubbles float through the sky.

 

I struggled with my Polish identity for as long as I could remember. As a second-generation Canadian, my tie to the “Motherland” is stretching further and further away. My grandparents came to Canada after the Second World War but passed away before I was born. Although both my parents speak Polish, as a family we spoke English to each other, with the occasional Polish sentence thrown in. My Polish skills had never been the best.

 

This is the “milk depot” where my Wujek Janek (Uncle John) worked
during Communist times. The mleczarnia is a two-minute walk from our house in the
village. 

 

Even though I grew up hearing Polish spoken (from Saturday school, and listening to my relatives and parents speak), participated in Polish traditions and customs, attended Polish events — heck, I even worked at a Polish/Eastern European grocery store — I still didn’t feel like I belonged to the Polish community. I felt like an outsider. I was longing for a connection that I never really had. It wasn’t until this trip, during which I immersed myself in the language, that I found it.

Although it was my third time in Poland, this time felt different. It felt like I was coming home.

 

We live on a dairy farm in Poland. During my stay on the farm, I saw a cow give birth.

 

After my program ended and I finished gallivanting across Poland, I made my last trek in a rented car alongside my dad, who had also flown to Poland. We were on our way to visit his side of the family. When we pulled up to our village and I saw my ciocia (aunt) after five long years, it was as if I had gone back in time. Nothing had changed and it was perfect.

 

This house is in the same village and is not in use anymore.
But it’s where my paternal great-grandmother was born and had lived, and where her children
were born. Seeing it every time I visit Poland helps me feel connected to the family I
never knew.

 

I felt an attachment to Poland, one that I never had before. In a village that has housed the Kaminski family for hundreds of years, I felt my name being called everywhere I looked. It was in the rustling of the stalks of wheat, in the soft “moos” of the cows, in the storks’ nests built high up. But most of all, it was when I spoke to my family in broken Polish and looked at their bright blue eyes and dark eyebrows, exactly like mine, that I truly felt like I was home.

 

Dad and Sylwek – This photo was taken in my father’s village while we were walking
along the dirt road. Sylwek is my cousin and I have not seen him in five years.