AP NEWS

Polish-American community celebrates traditions at Spring Branch festival

May 5, 2019

The sights, smells and sounds of Poland permeated the bi-annual Houston Polish Festival this weekend.

The three-day celebration of all things Polish included live music, folk dances, food and a colorful mosaic of arts, crafts and clothing at the Polish Roman Catholic Church Our Lady of Czestochowa in Spring Branch.

The festival is the only large-scale celebration of Polish culture in Texas, according to the event’s organizer, Damian Reichert. About 50,000 people of Polish descent live in the region, he said, and the festival will see between 5,000 to 8,000 visitors

Festival-goers soaked in the atmosphere as they gobbled up pierogis and golabki (cabbage rolls), sampled Polish beers and watched traditional dance performances.

“We would like people to see our traditions, taste some of our food and just have a great time,” said Reichert, who immigrated from Poland more than 25 years ago. “We are proud of where we are from: from the kings in Poland to the first and second world wars…and we are a hard-working people that fought hard for freedom.”

Our Lady of Czestochowa Roman Catholic Parish was established in the mid-1980s to serve as a spiritual and cultural sanctuary to Polish immigrants seeking asylum in the wake of the Solidarity movement in Communist Poland. The church remains steeped in Polish traditions and the festival is one way that it shares that heritage.

Jim Mazurkiewicz of the Polish American Council of Texas, a non-profit which works to preserve Polish culture, likes to remind native Texans that the San Jacinto River is named after a medieval Polish saint, Jacek Odrow?…ż; or that the oldest Polish parish in the United States is in Texas.

The Polish-American community of Houston, said Mazurkiewicz, is not yet as vast as that of Chicago or New York City, but it’s getting close. This weekend’s festival, coinciding with Polish Constitution Day on May 3, is similar in cultural spirit to Mexican-American’s observance of Cinco De Mayo, he said.

“It’s a celebration of American Polish culture and its contribution (to the United States) because we are tied together,” Mazurkiewicz said.

This was James Smock’s 10th Houston Polish Festival. Smock, 66, is a third-generation Polish-American from Spring Branch who speaks with a strong Texas drawl, says his Polish familial lines are always just below the surface.

“I like the camaraderie, the fellowship of the people and I see it all the time,” he said. “The Polish people are a good people and they want to hold onto to their traditions.”

Many of those who attended wore their Polish-American ties literally on their sleeves.

Maria Rozek, a member of Our Lady of Czestochowa and of one of the dance groups featured over the weekend, immigrated from Poland to the U.S. when she was 14, and now, at 65, still feels at home when she wears the richly and intricately embroidered dress of folk dance in performance. The Polish spirit, she said, is a celebratory one.

“We love to party, we like a lot of food like Italians, we dance, we sing, we are devoutly Catholic and we have beautiful costumes…,” she said. “It is important to keep our culture alive just as it is for all ethnic groups. You need to know where you came from and that should be important to everyone.”

Marysia Czuprynowski, 73, came to Houston from Poland more than 40 years ago and speaks with a still-resonant Polish enunciation; wearing a vibrant, colorful traditional dress as she walked through the event’s various attractions, the festival is like her Fourth of July.

“I am Polish… from Poland and I will always be Polish in my heart,” she said.

The Houston Polish Festival is held twice each year, in September and in May. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/2H16FWp

yorozco@hcnonline.com