Promoting Poland at New York’s Lycée Français

At the Spring Fair there were booths representing various countries – Germany, Belgium, Turkey and Albania. The Polish one was the most spectacular. In the photo (from left): Agnieszka Dybanowska and Dominika Latkowska (Photo by Anna Arciszewska via Nowy Dziennik)

“When one lives in exile – as I call it – then patriotic feelings wake up with triple force. Especially when kids are starting to grow up. I don’t know if I would be wearing folk costumes if I lived in Poland. I would probably think it was cheesy. Here I wear them with pride,” says Dominika Latkowska, mother of 14-year-old Kaya and organizer of a Polish booth at the Spring Fair at a Manhattan school.

There are two Polish-speaking teachers at the Lycée Français on the Upper East Side and students come from various ethnic backgrounds. Among them are children from some 10 Polish-American families who decided to organize a Polish booth during the Spring Fair, a fun-fulled event highlighting the diversity of the school with food and cultural booths specific to individual countries, country-themed activities, workshops, games and regional food.

The Polish booth, serving Polish cuisine and presenting colorful folk costumes and dances, turned out to be the most spectacular.

“Many people in America, even those who are educated, don’t know where Poland is. Once a woman asked me if it was in South America. That’s why we need to take every opportunity to promote our country. In this way we also show our children how important it is to maintain the memory of our home country,” said Dominika Latkowska.

Latkowska was the driving force behind organizing the Polish booth at the Spring Fair and encouraged other Polish parents to join her. Together they wanted to prove that one can be an ambassador of Poland everywhere.

Magdalena Rosz, a mother of two boys, admits that teaching children her native language wasn’t an easy endeavor, especially as their father comes from France and speaks to them in his own language. “This morning they were having a fierce discussion about what national clothing they should wear – Polish or French. So we decided to mix them. During summer vacation we also [alternate time in] in Poland and in France. This year we are going to Malbork, Poland, to see the famous historic castle. I want them to know that a beautiful “chateau” can also be found in Poland, not only in France,” says Rosz.

Ewa and George are also raising their four sons in a Polish-French home. The youngest, Danielek, is 3 months old and the oldest, Gabrys, is 7 years old. Their mother left Poland when she was 11. At first she lived in Germany, then went to college in Paris, where she met her husband. Ewa never stopped speaking Polish and now she is teaching her mother language to her sons. The kids were born in New York, but have three passports: American, Polish and French. They attended the school fair dressed in the colors of Poland: white and red T-shirts with “Polska” written on them.

Born in the U.S., but Polish at heart, is Agnieszka Dybanowska, a mother of two girls with the older one having just started attending Lycée Français. “We decided with my husband that we wanted her to become familiar with other nationalities as soon as possible. In Anabelka’s class there are kids from Belgium, China, one boy from Japan and a girl from Dubai. During events like that the children can learn about other cultures from which their peers hail, they can try different foods, deserts characteristic to foreign cuisines. This is an invaluable history lesson,” says Agnieszka Dybanowska, who is grateful to her parents for making sure that she learned fluent Polish. “They taught me to love the country they were born in and now I am passing that on to my girls,” she added.

Members of the Wianek folk group performed during the Spring Fair. (Photo by Anna Arciszewska via Nowy Dziennk)

At the Spring Fair at Lycée Français there were booths representing various countries – Germany, Belgium, Turkey and Albania. The Polish one was the most spectacular. Its guests had a chance to try not only traditional Polish cuisine but also listen to Polish music and watch a performance by folk group Wianek who presented traditional Polish dances and taught children the basic steps of the most popular dance, Polonez. Children were also able to take part in an art workshop by a Polish-American artist from New York, Artur Skowron.

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