Chicago (CBS) — Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was in the U.S. for just two days, but he made sure Chicago and its vibrant Polish American community were on his itinerary.
“Transatlantic bonds, transatlantic relationships are very important for people here and in Europe,” Marawiecki said.
It’s estimated the Chicago area’s Polish community totals 1.5 million people.
“Growing up in Chicago, I thought it was normal that everybody was sort of Polish American,” Cristina Ciecierski of Oak Lawn said.
Chicago’s Polish Scouts at the prime minister’s side are just one example of the community’s commitment to its roots.
“It’s very rich. It’s everywhere across the Chicagoland area,” Piotr Chmielwski of Niles said.
The scouting programs help hundreds of young Chicagoans learn of their shared heritage and the immigration that began in the 1850s that continues to this day.
“It keeps it fresh in our minds. There’s always a new migration of Poles that bring the motherland closer to us here,” Ciecierski said.
Zofia Mazurek was among the immigrants who fled to Chicago when communism and martial law gripped the nation.
“As teenagers, we was looking for a better life,” Mazurek said.
As Mazurek’s generation raised families of their own here, keeping their heritage alive remained a priority.
Halina Zurawski runs Saint Ferdinand’s Weekend Polish School on the Northwest Side. It is one of 50 schools serving 16,000 students in the Chicago area.
“They (students) actually learn Polish language — history and geography of Poland,” Zurawski said.
It’s the backstory of the community greeting the prime minister, as they attend the debut of CBS correspondent Peter Greenberg’s documentary “Poland: The Royal Tour,” featuring Morawiecki.
“They still remember the communist Poland, but at the same time, they know now that there is a new vibrant humming city lights type of Poland — and they are coming more and more often back to Poland,” Morawiecki said.
In today’s global economy, many now call both nations home, Morawiecki himself studied at Northwestern’s Kellogg School and has fond memories of Chicago.
“I remember dinosaur SUE,” Morawiecki said of the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil at the Field Museum.
But, unlike a dinosaur, Chicago’s Polish community is alive and well.