Photos courtesy of Polish Day in LA organizers.
There is no Polish community in Long Beach, no formal civic group or anything like that in Southern California. In fact, it’s not even known how many Poles currently reside in Los Angeles County. The last time similar numbers were tabulated—17 years ago during the 2000 U.S. Census—about 70,000 Polish-Americans were recorded in the county, according to the Consulate General of Poland in Los Angeles.
Nonetheless the Fatherland will be celebrated come Saturday, when a portion of the East Village Arts District in downtown Long Beach will hold its fourth annual Polish Day in LA, featuring Polish folk dancing, DJs, beer and food from 2:00PM to 10:00PM at Linden Avenue between First Street and Broadway.
How did this celebration of an agrarian country so far away culturally and geographically from California start becoming a tradition here in Long Beach? It just so happens that the organizer of the 2nd Saturday Art Walk, Marek Dzida, is Polish and knows some Polish vendors.
“This is the most popular Art Walk. Soon as we announced that it’s Polish themed, all the vendors wanted to be a part of it. We’re completely full,” said Dzida, who has secured a Polish vendor from Glendale who will set up a kitchen selling pierogi, a sort of Eastern European ravioli stuffed with cabbage or potato and cheese, as well as gołąbki, commonly pork and rice wrapped in cabbage. There will also be baked goods and cold Polish beer, Żywiec and Warka, as well as a display of traditional and contemporary art.
“People all seem to know a little about Poland because of the Pope, because of the solidarity movement, but they never really faced our folk,” Dzida said, who also works with the Hellada Gallery in Long Beach, a sponsor of the Art Walk.
Growing up I spent a lot of time in rural Poland obsessively listening to Southern California gangster rap, and if you told me that there would be a Polish festival one day in Long Beach, I'd probably tell you to lay off the blunt. So I was surprised when I was inside Fingerprints record store once and someone there spoke some Polish to me, while in another weird situation, a guy in Pasadena handing out pamphlets tried to lull me into the church of Scientology by speaking fluent Polish.
But the country does have some deep, unexpected roots in California. Ironically, the first book printed in English in California was written by a Pole: California As It Is And As It May Be by Feliks Paweł Wierzbicki (1849), according to the consulate. And it was a Pole who drew one of the first official maps of San Francisco, which for a long time hung in the mayor's office. In the late 19th century, about 10 Polish nationals landed in Anaheim after hearing about the great American western frontier. That group formed a sort of utopian community, which included actress Helena Modjeska and a young Polish journalist named Henryk Sienkiewicz, who would go on to become the country's most prominent novelist.
"Many came from Chicago or the East Coast for many of the reasons any American came: in search of opportunity and better weather," said Ignacy Żarski, of the Los Angeles Polish Consulate.
“I think it’s mostly the climate. It’s so different. Poland is doing well economically. They’re growing, but still, California is California. Who doesn’t want to live in California?” Dzida said.
Polish Day in LA takes place Saturday at 117 Linden Avenue from 2:00PM to 10:00PM The event is free. For more information, visit http://www.artwalklb.com. Na Zdrowie! (To good health).