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Concerning The Literacy Of Polonia

July 2024
1min read

In W. S. Kuniczak’s “Polonia: The Face of Poland in America” (April/May, 1978), the implication was made that most Polish immigrants to this country in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries were illiterate—certainly in English, and also in the several dialects of their native Poland. Colonel Francis C. Kajencki of El Paso, Texas, disputes the latter point. “They were mostly unskilled, true,” he writes. “But not illiterate. … A report of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service shows that, for the years 1899—1909, in which specific nationalities are identified, 65 per cent of the Poles were literate (based on a recorded total of 742,753 Polish immigrants, age 14 and over). The Polish literacy rate exceeded that of some other European groups, such as the Russians, Italians, Portuguese, and Yugoslavians. The relatively high Polish literacy rate is, indeed, a tribute to the peasants themselves, for they attained the educational basics under the most adverse conditions, when Poland lay torn among three partitioning powers that showed little concern for the well-being of a subjugated people.”

We agree—and stand corrected. The misimplication, we should say, came out of the adaptation of material in author Kuniczak’s recently published book, My Name Is Million: An Illustrated History of the Poles in America ; the responsibility was ours, not his. It is interesting to note, too, that in his book Kuniczak points out that while there are perhaps fewer than five hundred thousand Polish-Americans today who are literate in the old language, they support three major daily and several weekly and biweekly Polish-language newspapers. Literacy in Polonia is not only a fact, it appears, but a tradition.

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