Questions of ethnic identity persistence in mass-media dominated North America (Part Five)
By Mark Wegierski
One thing to note is that immigration from Poland has slowed to a trickle. About 800 Polish citizens are granted landed immigrant -- permanent resident status -- in Canada per year. Those Poles today interested in travelling abroad -- given the possibility of easily travelling to Britain, Ireland, and other countries of the E.U. -- would rather go there in search of work and success. However, one thing which might increase contacts is that, recently, the visa requirement for Polish citizens travelling to Canada has been lifted. Indeed, it has been a long time for this requirement to be withdrawn.
Unfortunately, the impetus behind this lifting of visa requirements might have actually been the tragic death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport on October 14, 2007. Through a combination of bad circumstances, Robert Dziekanski, who was coming as a legal immigrant to Canada, waited alone without any help being offered to him for close to ten hours. When he understandably became angry, he was multiply Tasered by the over-zealous RCMP airport police, resulting in his death. What was especially negligent is that his mother had actually been waiting in a different public part of the airport, and had gone home after being told there was no such person waiting there. It is difficult to think of a group in Canada where that level of neglect is possible, apart from some especially unlucky Aboriginal persons.
Another thing to be considered is that, in the current-day, ever more globalized world, Polish culture may be losing its saliency even in Poland. The extent to which the playlists of Polish radio stations, and pop-culture television programs, consist mostly of American rock- and rap-music, is quite amazing. There have also been in Poland the imitations of the American Idol and Big Brother reality-TV shows. Thus, Polish culture in Poland is itself facing processes of assimilation to North American models that are to some extent similar to what the Polish fragment cultures in America and Canada have faced.
The prevalent, current-day mood of postmodernism and multiculturalism should in theory encourage the construction of various, strongly-felt, intermediary identities, such as the Polish-Canadian. However, that is not in fact happening. The community lacks significant government- and corporate-supported structures (which are often today the sine qua non for the continuation of community identities), and its own philanthropic efforts appear to have failed. Most Polish Canadians are thoroughly melding and melting into the current-day North American pop-culture. This pop-culture is mostly expressed through popular films, music, and other media products, that often form the basis for a materialist, hyper-consumptionist mode of existence. They are also rapidly assimilating into the bland, culturally unexciting and undynamic, so-called Canadian "mainstream." It could be argued that the Polish-Canadian fragment-culture is not persisting.
Partially based on an English-language draft of a presentation read at the conference, Transatlantic Encounters (Lodz, Poland: University of Lodz), September 28-30, 2008.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.