Over centuries, Polish people were forced to leave their homeland. The reasons were many. For starters, the turbulent history of this Central European nation, once a mighty kingdom, disappeared from the maps for 123 years and fell under the occupation of its three neighbors (Russia, Prussia, and Austria). Then, of course, there were two World Wars, Soviet occupation, and a difficult road to freedom. Many Poles had to run from persecution, ostracism, and a lack of possibilities to grow.
Polonia: serious attachment issues
One thing you need to know about Polish emigrants is that Poland is serious about ensuring they remain attached to their home country. And we do not mean just fresh emigrants who decided to move in relatively recent times. Poland keeps its ties with generations of emigrants, which is unique among countries with high emigration rates.
Have you ever heard the term ‘Polonia‘ (and not in connection to the Warsaw Football Club)? Poland’s relationship with its citizens and the descendants of Polish emigrants required creating a separate term: Polonia. In fact, Polonia has both a broad and a narrow definition. The former includes all people of Polish roots and those of Polish descent born abroad. The narrow understanding of this term refers solely to the latter group. So is there a better term?
Actually, there is: Polish diaspora
The Polish diaspora. According to the information found on the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, this is a preferential term since the diaspora includes all Poles and people of Polish descent who live abroad. The diaspora is estimated to be about 21 million strong (bringing the number of Poles and people of Polish descent to circa 60 million globally).
Would you like to know where the Polish nation’s turbulent fate led its daughters and sons? The largest center of Polish ex-pats is, indeed, in the United States of America. It is estimated that Polonia there is between 9 and 10 million strong! Second place belongs to, and you may be surprised, Germany, which is a second home to about 2 million Poles. And if you were surprised by that, then what if we tell you the third country with the largest group of Polonia is… Brazil! Its 1.5 million Poles make it the third country with the most members of Polonia.
The United Kingdom, with its circa 700 thousand Polish ex-pats, places Great Britain outside the podium in the race for the title of the Largest Polonia Centers, which may also be less obvious when you focus on the news of Poles going to the Isles in masses after joining the EU. Clearly, not such a massive move after all! There are more of them in places like France (historically the main direction of emigration of Polish elites since the 19th century), Canada, and Argentina.
Do they feel Polish?
Ok, so there are many Poles who, at some point, moved abroad. But do they even feel connected to a country they and their lineage might have never visited for multiple generations? In fact, they do! There are communities, such as the famous Polish-Haitan community (a remainder of the Napoleonic victories). This diaspora’s members resemble Poles in appearance, though the vast majority have never set foot anywhere near Poland, nor do they speak the Polish language. Still, when asked, many of them realize their ancestors were Polish, and in their language, they use certain sayings borrowed from Polish.
There are also more active communities, like those in the USA, where later generations were in touch with Polish culture. How? Through Polish schools. Polish schools are an important and cherished extension of the Polish Educational System. Poland’s Authorities make sure that such schools are available to Polish minorities. Programs are introduced to encourage young students to learn about their Polish roots and the country’s culture, language, and history. This is also a unique attitude presented by the Polish nation since Polish schools can be found virtually everywhere where one can find Polish minority centers. We mean such ‘exotic’ destinations as Thailand, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Qatar, China, Kyrgyzstan, Iceland (with the largest minority in Reykjavík), and Egypt.
It is estimated that there is at least one Polish person living in every single country on the globe, making Poles true cosmopolitans and the world’s citizens. By this logic, it is possible that your family had a Polish-descent member at some point in the past. So, are you sure it didn’t?