Mexicans in Poland
Whenever I was questioned in the past, I admitted a desire to visit Budapest and Prague, but never, that I can remember, did I say, “Oh, yeah, I want to go to Warsaw.” To me, in fact, a visit to Poland had the same appeal as an excursion to Siberia in the middle of winter. Thus it was with great trepidation that I got off the plane at the Frederick Chopin airport very early on a rainy November day in 2005. My first week here it rained. And the second week it rained too. And when it stopped raining, it started to snow. This was to be the coldest winter the country had experienced in thirty years, I was perversely informed by every well-intentioned Pole I met. I wasted no time flying back to Mexico, where it took me three days to defrost. I didn’t know it at the time, but a tiny Polish seed was already germinating in me. I came back to Poland in 2006 hoping for the weather to have improved and decided to stay because the second time around I fell in love with the country.
It is the inevitable question whenever people find out I was born in California and spent my childhood in Mexico (my mother is Mexican). Why Poland, of all places? Sometimes, just to tease, I put on a deadpan expression and say that I’m here because of the weather. It usually takes people several seconds to realize I’m not being serious. Then, of course, there is the language. As hard as I have labored to learn the rudiments of a tongue that puts four consonants together, then rhapsodizes about the poetry of such linguistic assaults, I am afraid I still sound retarded when trying to put two sentences together in Polish.
With this in mind, I set out to find out how other Mexicans are faring here, what brought them to Poland, and how they cope with the language and the weather. And what better opportunity to do this than the fiesta organized on 15 September by the Mexican Embassy to celebrate the 199th anniversary of the independence of Mexico? Mexicans from all corners of Poland showed up at the Marriott for the Grito de Independencia. It was with great delight that I met my compatriots, themselves here from all corners of Mexico.
Interestingly enough, in 90 percent of the cases people came here to follow their heart, which, in 8 out of 10 instances was stolen by a Polish woman. Indeed, Mexican men are quite susceptible to beauty, and Polish women score high on that department. Of course some Mexican women have also come here to follow a man and I met not less than four who are happily married to very handsome Polish men, but the overwhelming majority amongst couples continues to be Mexican man with Polish woman.
I met Lourdes Estrada four months ago. She has been in the country for at least two decades, owns an art gallery in Konstancyn, and even though her 22 year old son is “very Polish,” she still considers herself “more Mexican than tequila.” As if to prove this, she arrived to the Grito fiesta wearing her charro outfit. Her musician brother plays the guitarrón—a very large guitar—with Mariachi Amigos. He has a Polish wife.
Tossing shyness to one side, I began making the rounds of the ballroom, then made a bee-line toward the first group of Mexicans I spotted.
“Are you guys Mexican?” I asked.
“Of course, and you?” replied Ivan García.
“At least half —my mother is Mexican. Could you tell me what brought you to Poland?”
“My family. I have a Polish wife”
“How long have you been here?”
“Approximately 15 months.”
“Do you plan to establish yourself here indefinitely or do you plan to return to Mexico someday?”
“We plan to stay here and vacation in Mexico. I am originally from Guerrero, and even though I miss my country, Poland is an excellent place to live, with a whole lot of future. In fact, I left Mexico 12 years ago, more or less definitively. Before coming here with my wife, I spent 11 years in New York. We live in Cracow now, where I oversee the Mexican restaurant at the Radisson Blue.”
“Do you speak Polish?”
“Hell, no. What a difficult language!”
Next I talked to Julia Barboza de Sztyler. This is what she had to say.
“My Polish husband brought me to Poland. I came here a little over ten years ago, in April 1999. We own a business importing and distributing Mexican products. I am originally from Manzanillo, Colima, a very quiet port town. My wish since the beginning has been to return to my country. I truly hope to return someday. Ten years ago in Mexico you didn’t hear so much talk about violence. Of course in Mexico City, which is one of the largest cities in the world, there has always been violence because this is something that always happens in large metropolis.”
“It truly is a shame that my country, which I love because it has many beautiful places and is populated by beautiful people, has to suffer the consequences of lack of education and because of its television programs, which are definitely low-level, and yet the government condones all this. Indeed, governors could ban showing so much violence on television and they don’t do it. The only result of so much violence is more violence. Regrettably, these programs have undue influence over Mexican children and teenagers.”
“I remember the last time I was in Mexico, three years ago. I was traveling by bus. Seemingly without being bothered by the fact that children were traveling in the bus, the conductor screened a very violent film. I asked him if he had a different film and he replied that this was what “the bosses” had given him. What can we expect of children who grow up without education or good example and on top of it victimized by so much violence?”
Jorge Nava, a young man from Hidalgo, also came to Poland to follow his heart.
“I came to Poland because my wife is Polish, and also because I like to live in Europe. I have been three months here, basically studying Polish. I have a Business Major, with an MBA in International Business. My wife studied Spanish Philology and specializes in Marketing. We met at the airport in Mexico City when I accompanied a friend to pick her up. She had gone to Mexico to work for Coca Cola. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew that I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life.”
“We plan to stay in Poland for the next five to seven years, and after that, to wherever life takes us. Mi wife loves Mexico, but for the time being there is no possibility to be there [too much violence]. We can say that the situation influenced my decision to come to Poland. Even more so than violence, what made me leave Mexico was the insecurity —a feeling that you have to protect yourself from everything and everybody. I want my children to grow up in a place where social differences don’t matter. I want my children to grow up believing that we all are human beings and we all deserve to be respected.”
As an interesting parenthesis, I then had the opportunity to attend Paulina and Jorge’s religious wedding ceremony in Bydgoszcz, a Polish-Mexican affair complete with a mariachi band, piñata, tequila, and Mexican candy. The food, of course, was 100 percent Polish, and quite plentiful, if I may add.
I then turned my attention to Damian Trejo. Here’s an excerpt of what he told me.
“My wife Justyna and I met in the US. From there, we moved to Mexico, where our first daughter was born in 2003. After one year there, we decided to come to Poland. We spent eight months in Silesia. There, I worked in a restaurant. I graduated from Gastronomy School in Mexico and right now I work as Chef in a restaurant in Cracow. My wife is a journalist. Dominika, our second daughter, was born 18 months ago. We’ve been here five years, and I already became a Polish citizen.”
“We don’t know for sure if we will stay here, but we don’t want to return to Mexico to live, just for vacations. It truly saddens me the situation there. All the violence, the insecurity and economic instability were the factors that prompted my decision not to go back. It causes me a lot of anguish to know that my loved ones are exposed to that situation on a daily basis and I don’t want that for my family. Cracow is a very safe city. I am happy there with my family. Personally, I received a lot of support from the people around me. Granted, I was initially quite frustrated because of the language, but now that I speak Polish I’m very pleased with myself. As for the weather, I love it. If it were up to me, it could be 10 below zero and snowing all year-round.
Two other ladies, Melissa, a psychologist, and Yeni Armendariz, a businesswoman, are married to Polish men. While Yeni met her future husband in Mexico, Melissa met hers while vacationing in Italy. Yeni and her husband have three boys and make it a point to always speak Spanish in their house. Melissa has a three year old girl.
Other Mexicans in Poland include Raphael Steger, Ambassador of Mexico, and Luis Gerardo González Villarreal, Director for Eastern Europe and Poland of CEMEX Industries (Cementos Mexicanos).
By America Martin