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Theoretical rights, multiculturalism, and marginality -- the Polish-Canadian case (Part Four)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted April 25, 2016

The concept of a Polish-Canadian literature is rather problematic. There is a greater presence in terms of all of the varieties of writing carried out by émigrés and Canadians of Polish descent, but they still do not amount to much on the Canadian literary, journalistic, and academic scene. While writings in the Polish language may have been more common among various types of émigré authors, these could be called "Polish literature in Canada" – which had virtually no impact on Canadian society as a whole.

In earlier years, the most prominent Polish-Canadian writer in English was probably Eva Stachniak (an émigré author). Canadian-born authors have included Chuck Konkel; Apolonja (Pola) Kojder; and Helen Bajorek-Macdonald. Among the most notable authors of wartime memoirs in English are Aleksander Topolski; Lilka Trzcinska-Croydon; and Kon Piekarski.

Andrew J. Borkowski is the child of a Polish immigrant father, whose collection of short stories, Copernicus Avenue (Cormorant Books, 2011), is a slightly fictionalized version of Roncesvalles Avenue (in the Parkdale-High Park area of Toronto). It won the prestigious Toronto Book Award in 2012. Aga Maksimowska's book Giant (Pedlar Press, 2012), is a story of a Polish girl who comes to Canada at the age of 11 in 1989 (much like the author herself did). It was nominated for the 2013 Toronto Book Award. In 2013, Jowita Bydlowska has published a memoir, Drunk Mom (Doubleday, 2013), but its Polish or Polish-Canadian content is minimal. Jowita is the longtime partner of Russell Smith, a well-known Toronto writer and raconteur. While Ania Szado's gloomy first novel, Beginning of Was (Penguin Canada, 2004), had some Polish elements, there is no Polish content in her second novel, Studio St-Ex (about Antoine Saint Exupery in New York) (Viking, 2013).

Further advances in technology could perhaps weaken the trends to total assimilation that certain earlier technologies have made possible. However, the arrival of new technologies that could perhaps assist fragment-cultures, has probably come too late for the Polish-Canadian community. Also, immigration from Poland has now slowed to small trickle. A combination of circumstances, such as the "demographic low" in Poland, and ready access to Western European countries for Poles, suggests that there will never again be major Polish immigration to Canada.

There are also some new initiatives underway – the Poland in the Rockies Conference, the Quo Vadis Conference, a Polish-Canadian students' coordinating body (PISK), and a Young Polish-Canadian Professionals Association.

So one can perhaps see some stirrings of renewal.

The community has shied away from publishing discussions in English, and from trying to construct an "intermediary" Polish-Canadian identity. The result of this is that the community -- beyond those persons who arrive as immigrants (and may relate through the Polish-language community newspapers) -- is largely deprived of a public voice and setting for intellectual reflection in regard to its place in contemporary Canadian society, as well as its possible future in Canada. Considering that Canada is today officially a multicultural society, this attenuation comes at a rather unfortunate time.

Despite the expansive but theoretical guarantees of various rights, the community has become attenuated because of various socio-cultural factors, and cannot be seen as flourishing. It is suggested that paying greater attention to social and cultural factors of a given community is more important for gauging its place in a given society, than looking primarily at juridical rights that are often theoretical.

Partially based on a draft of an English-language presentation read at the 6th Congress of Polish Canadianists (Polish Association for Canadian Studies) (Poznan, Poland: Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan), April 5-7, 2013. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.

 

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