by Rachel Warden
There are many different types of families in this world. There are some that are distant, while others stay closely in touch. Around the world, family structure and level of importance differs. In the United States, we tend to view the typical American family as being an ordinary middle-class family living in the suburbs. As a result, we oftentimes overlook the diversity of family life in this country. Many families that live here hold some cultural values and practices that differ from American culture; of these families, there is the Rowinski family.
I am really close to the Rowinski family because I have been dating Daren, the son of Martin, for three years. Although Daren did not immigrate to the U.S. from Poland, his father did. I had the wonderful opportunity to dine with the Rowinski family in celebration of Babcia’s – or grandmother’s – birthday. It was really interesting being a part of their intimate family dinner. I felt a little bit nervous at first, since this was the part of the family that I don’t know very well, but they made me feel so welcome with hugs and friendly conversation. It would be impossible to dislike such genuinely kind people.
After I enjoyed a filling full-course meal with the family, I had the chance to sit down with Martin and talk to him about his culture. I was drawn to speak with him about his roots because I had only heard bits and pieces from Daren. I found his – and his mother’s – story to be fascinating.
Martin’s mother is a strong woman. She endured a harsh life in Poland, when the country was still communist. Ultimately, she decided that it was in her family’s best interest to move out of the country to somewhere with more opportunity – the United States of America. Her first request was denied, but Martin persuaded her to reapply. Sure enough, they were approved! At eleven years old, Martin moved to the states. Upon arrival in the San Francisco airport, his first thoughts were: “Wow, this is a big city”!
Martin’s native language is Polish, so he had to overcome the obstacle of learning a second language – English. When I asked him what advice he would give to another Polish person wanting to communicate in the United States, he responded, “You are going to make mistakes and say things wrong…don’t stress about it. Just learn from it.” Martin now speaks both languages fluently. Adjusting to a new culture was a bit of a shock at first, but some things between the two cultures are very similar. One example of this would be how children are punished. The two cultures spank children (although in the US currently, many parents are now choosing to not spank their children). Another similarity between Polish and American culture is how families are structured. In a “traditional” American home, the father works while the mother stays at home to take care of the children. The same goes for traditional Polish families. However, now that there are much more women in the workforce, there is an increasing number of Polish and American families in which both the parents are working.
Family plays a key role in Polish culture. Family gatherings are very important, such as the one that I had the honor of being a part of. Families are closely bonded in Polish culture, much more-so than many American families. The emphasis put on family in Poland is much higher than that within American values. I have noticed this with my own family in contrast with Daren’s. My family is fairly divided; we are spread out across the states and therefore don’t see one another often. On the other hand, Daren’s family is close. His immediate family stays in touch with one another very well and they always have the support of one another. Most of Martin’s family resides in the United States, particularly in the Bay area and Sacramento valley. However, there are a few that still live in Poland. For example, a few of Martin’s cousins still live in Krakow, one of Poland’s greatest cities.
We then began discussing the topic of the sights to see in Poland. I recall Daren showing me some beautiful pictures that he and Martin took on their father-son trip last summer. Martin began to give me details about the beautiful river, lakes and the mountains that paint the landscape of Polish nature. There are also a lot of historical sites, including many castles which inhibit the land. “Tell me about some of your favorite Polish traditions and foods”, I requested. Martin replied wistfully, “One of my favorite things is how the families follow traditional meals or other traditional events…Seeing years go by and still the tradition is there is awesome. My favorite food is meat pierogi hands down.”
The longest answer that Martin gave to me was in response to my question: What types of things do Americans take for granted? Martin is the perfect example of taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the U.S. He has established a successful business, which he runs along with his close friend and business partner, Dan. He told me that, “Americans are like fish in water, the fish doesn’t even appreciate the water…A lot of Americans take their freedom for granted”. Martin’s story can be an inspiration to all who want to believe in the American dream still. His success just goes to show that many people who immigrate to this country recognize the opportunity of this country much better than U.S. citizens can because we often take what we have for granted.
Martin’s strong cultural values have been a large part of making him become who he is today. “I think the love for my family, my kids, are what make me who I am. They are the most important thing in my life and I want nothing but true success for them, not just financial success but a well-rounded success of family and finances and one with God.”
Here you can find all of our articles up to 2018.