Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Green Vase." A Bohunk in the Ivory Tower, Continued


Some years back I received an interesting email from a senior Polonian leader. This person wrote to say that she loved my work, but that "powerful people in Polonia" didn't like me.

I was amazed by this. I didn't know that there were powerful people in Polonia. If there were, why did Polonia face so many intractable problems, not least of which was the pervasiveness and power of the Bieganski stereotype?

I was also amazed to contemplate that any powerful people in Polonia were even aware of my work enough to dislike it.

The email continued. The reason they don't like you, this person said, is that you are open about your parents being peasant immigrants. You talk publicly about being working class. They want to hear only about Chopin, Curie, and other high class Poles.


I don't know if what this person said was true, or just idle gossip. What we do know is that Poland was a majority peasant country well into the twentieth century. Heroes on horseback get a lot of attention, but most Poles' heroics, in the Old Country and in the US, consisted of working very hard under very tough conditions.

Integration of Poland's elites and its peasants and workers has always been a challenge, as students of Polish history know all too well.

Unfortunately, contempt for the Poles who earn their living by the sweat of their brow is not limited to aristocratic snobs. There are all too many Poles in Poland eager to denounce American Polonians as backward, unworthy embarrassments too stupid to read their Milosz, too eager to go bowling instead. I get emails from snobs telling me that lumpen Polish Americans are responsible for the Brute Polak stereotype because we are all, well, brutes.

What are ya gonna do?

I've been told that there are so many Polish cleaning women in the US that they introduced the word "klinowac" into Polish. It is constructed from the American verb "clean" and "owac," a Polish verb ending.

Like a great many Polish, Slovak, and other Bohunk women, I worked, often full-time, while a full-time graduate student.

Lunch Ticket, the literary journal of Antioch University Los Angeles, has just published a piece by me about my time as a live-in domestic servant and full-time graduate student. You can read that piece, "Green Vase," here.


  1. Beautifully written "Green Vase" Danusha, as I have come to expect. And, yes, a good point about all these powerful people in Polonia - where? - who?

    And how interesting that "the world" denigrates those who do so much of the most vital work. If things are not kept clean, then we all become disease ridden. If people do not get out there in the fields and grow food, by hand or machine, we starve.

    Perhaps us Poles/Polonians should have been smart enough to make our living making yet more designer frocks for emaciated ladies.

    But would there be enough emaciated ladies to go round, you ask?

    Perhaps so, if no-one was out there doing the important stuff.

    1. Sue, thanks for reading and thanks for the positive feedback.

      About your suggestion that we make frocks ... one of these days I should post about Coco Chanel, admired and upheld as a role model. And her career as a Nazi moll.


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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