Meet the People of Hamtramck, Michigan, in Gdynia
How was the American dream fulfilled in the suburbs of Detroit? The Emigration Museum in Gdynia tells the stories of 30 Polish emigrants in Hamtramck.
The artist photographer Tomek Zerek and researcher Dr. Anna Muller spent several weeks in a small town in the state of Michigan, an unique enclave of Polish diaspora, which according to them is a microcosm of social change in the world of western culture. People of Polish origin made up the majority of the city’s citizens, and moreover were actively participating in its cultural, political and social life. The most significant role was played by Polish emigrants coming to the USA at the beginning of the 20th century. Within only 10 years (1910-1920), an agricultural settlement inhabited mostly by Germans was turned into a vivid industrial town. The driving force behind this dynamic development was a car factory owned by the Dodge Brothers. Almost all the workers of the company were Poles. Over the years, Hamtramck became an excellent example of Polish-American culture.
What about the Poles in Hamtramck today? The answer will be presented at an exhibition in Gdynia featuring 70 photos accompanied by recordings of conversations with 30 people, namely war veterans, labour emigrants and political refugees. The stories from three generations of Poles builds a universal tale about emigration that applies to every latitude.
The photographer Tomek Zerek said:
Hamtramck has something of the jewellery box about it, because, when we get out of the car, doors open up which lead us to unseen living spaces, people and cultures – fragments of worlds brought over in suitcases, heads and hearts. Hamtramck claims that it is one of the five most diverse societies on Earth. I don't know if that's true but there are umpteen nationalities here and several religions.
The researcher Anna Muller added:
The history of this city is incredibly rich. Several times a day I would be working out chapters for a potential book in my head. This diaspora is completely different, different to the one in Chicago, for instance. The Hamtramck community was built by workers, and was a very poor, badly educated community, but one which led to the formation of trades unions in the region. In other words, it built relations between workers and management and affected the face of American capitalism in a place where it was undergoing intense development.
Faces of the Polish Diaspora: People of Hamtramck is the first temporary exhibition organised by the Emigration Museum. The director of the museum, Karolina Grabowicz-Matyjas, said:
Knowledge about the Polish diaspora in Chicago and Detroit is rather common, but not many people knew about this town on the American map, where several decades ago our countrymen made up a huge majority. It’s a real phenomenon and worth talking about.
The exhibition is on display from 5th December 2015 and has already been presented at the Historical Museum in Hamtramck, the American partner in the project.
Faces of the Polish Diaspora: People of Hamtramck
1 Polska St
Sources: Emigration Museum in Gdynia, Polish Press Agency, compiled by PW, translated by ND, 3 Dec 2015