POLISH-AMERICAN COMMUNITY IN SEATTLE
For over a century, the Polish-American community of the Pacific Northwest has been contributing to the local fabric of society while supporting the homeland throughout its turbulent history. Over 125,000 residents of Washington State claim Polish ancestry; around 5,000 Poles live in the Seattle area. It may not sound like a lot, but their level of energy and initiative compensate for the numbers.
The first Polish immigrants arrived in Seattle in 1870 and by 1890 Polish organizations sprouted in several places in Washington State, from Pe Ell and Aberdeen through Tacoma and Seattle, to mining communities in the Mt. Rainier foothills and Cle Elum. The oldest local organization, the Polish National Alliance Lodge 156 in Tacoma, was established in 1890 and is still going strong. Other notable organizations from that period were the PNA lodge in Wilkeson and in Seattle, founded in 1899, and the first Polish parish established in Tacoma in 1890. In Seattle, the Polish parish began to form in the 1980s and was eventually established in 1992.
The first Polish Hall opened in today’s Ballard neighborhood in 1906 and quickly proved too small for the growing community. In 1918, the Polish Home Association was created to procure a larger hall, which after fundraising and a remodel, opened in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in 1920. The hall, named “Dom Polski” (Polish Home), has been a cornerstone of Polish life in Seattle ever since. After a recent expansion to modernize the facility, the Polish Cultural Center, serves, as it has been for almost a century, as a place for meetings, celebrations, dances and festivals for Poles and their multicultural friends.
The center provides a home to a choir, a library, Polish Scouts, as well as a book, poetry, and dance clubs. The stage and ballroom welcome local performance groups and famous Polish visiting guest artists and officials. The school has been offering evening Polish language classes to children and adults since 1951. To accommodate the growing number of families living on the east side of Lake Washington, another Polish school opened in Bellevue.
For half a century, the Ladies Auxiliary has been organizing the popular Fall and Spring bazaars that bring multi-ethnic visitors to the Polish Cultural Center. In addition to financing many of the improvements at the center, the group supports initiatives and community events with contributions to the Salvation Army and Emergency Shelters for Women, orphanages in Poland, and many other local Polish organizations. With the Ladies Auxiliary’s initial funding of the “Project Sybiracy”, the film “A Trip to Nowhere” became a reality. The project shed light on the tragic history of those who survived the Gulag, including several members of Ladies Auxiliary and the Polish Community in the Seattle area.
The Seattle-Gdynia Sister City Association (SGSCA), committed to sharing and promoting business, cultural, and academic exchanges between the two cities, has been cooperating with the city of Gdynia for over 25 years. The organization has been awarded many honors for its achievements, the Best Overall Program, 2006 and 2011, as well as Best Single Project, 2010 with Gdynia Business Week. SGSCA is the organizer and sponsor of the Seattle Polish Film Festival, which became an important cultural event in Seattle.
Polish language has been taught at the University of Washington for over 60 years. To ensure that this tradition continues, a group of volunteers established the UW Polish Studies Endowment Committee (UWPSEC). The organization is raising funds to establish the Chair of Polish Studies, sponsors a Distinguished Polish Speakers Series, provides student scholarships, sponsors Fulbright scholars to the UW, and builds partnership with community organizations.
The Polish Home Foundation (PHF) is a non-profit organization that promotes Polish heritage in the Pacific Northwest by sponsoring local events involving Polish culture and arts and by assisting Polish-American organizations in the area. During the last decade, it raised funds for improvements to the 100-year-old building of the Polish Cultural Center, and has provided financial and organizational assistance to cultural and art events. The annual Pierogi Fest became one of the most awaited events in the spring. In 2012 the PHF produced and sponsored the first Polish Festival at Seattle Center and is staging the second Festival this year.
The Polish-American Chamber of Commerce Pacific Northwest (PACCPNW) promotes Polish-American trade cooperation, entrepreneurship and innovation. With the mission to facilitate exchange between Polish and American businesses, it promotes economic development, hosts trade delegations, and holds seminars related to business opportunities between Poland and the Pacific Northwest. The Chamber builds partnerships with local organizations and raises support for important issues, such as the visa waiver program for Poland.
To keep the community and public informed about current events in the local Polish community, Seattle Polish News reaches its recipients via internet every week. The Polish Home Association publishes a quarterly magazine, Nasz Dom, and internet podcast Radio Wisła keeps subscribers informed about news and events.
The local Polish-American community is well represented among the ranks of Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, and other companies. Polish scientists and professors teach at local universities and work in the medical industry. Many small businesses owned by Poles contribute to the economy across the region. For some, Seattle has been home for decades and for others only a few years. No matter how long we have lived here, we carry on our traditions and participate in the evolving Polish and American culture. We love our city of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest – the climate, the majestic nature, the appreciation of education, science, technology, music and art – which remind us so much of our home country.