I talked to a Nigerian who came to Poland eight years ago to establish his own company because at the time “Poland was a new market, exploding with opportunities.” Here he married a Polish woman. Three years ago, when they went on holiday to Africa, this man refused to take his wife to his village. When I asked him why, he merely shrugged and said nothing. This couple have a child together, which leads me to believe the marriage survived despite the slight this man inflicted on his wife. Were I, in the mood to make conjectures, I could say that discrimination goes both ways: ten years ago blacks were harassed on the streets of Warsaw, but this changed because Poles are too busy making money now. More recently, a black man refused to take his white wife to the village where he was born. Quid pro quo.
Another Nigerian, soccer player Emmanuel Olisadebe, was granted Polish citizenship by the president, as was Brazilian Roger Guerreiro. Both athletes have played brilliantly for the Polish soccer team. Despite this new trend for assimilating outstanding players into Polish sports—half the table tennis team is Chinese—or the magnanimous way in which the government grants temporary student visas to youngsters, the immigration process is still a nightmare for the regular foreigner, with the wall of bureaucracy working as a shield against people like me, a more or less inoffensive woman who came here to follow her heart, then decided to stay because her heart likes it here.
In an interesting paradox, since it joined the European Union, Poland has seen the largest exodus of able workers in modern history. The intelligent and the able are emigrating in droves to the UK and Ireland, to Sweden and the Netherlands, in the hopes of finding better work opportunities there. Not less than two million Poles have left the country so far, most of them permanently, causing a media frenzy all across Europe. Workers all over the European Union felt threatened by “the Polish plumber.”
Because books are not enough to know a culture, people are taking advantage of cheaper air travel and the all too reviled globalization to truly become citizens of the world despite the ranting of religious autocrats and xenophobic state figures, retrogrades who fail to see what a wonderful thing diversity is. Thankfully, this is not the problem of the younger generation. Poles are adventurous travelers, and they have taken to roaming the world now that the collapse of borders and a still healthy economy allow for the kind of freedom their parents only dreamt about. And when they return from these travels, they begin to dream about their next adventure. By accepting differences and embracing diversity, it is they who act as counterpart to the xenophobia of the ultra conservative and the elderly. It is they who are shaping this jewel of a country, with its juxtaposition of breathtaking landscapes and monstrous architecture, into the fascinating melting pot of cultures that it is becoming.
Text by: América L. Martín