A tall woman with a mahogany braid that falls below her waist, Ewa Romaniuk-Calkowska perches on the couch, ready to share the journey from her birthplace Poland to her new hometown of Winchester, MA. She and her husband came here as an adventure, he on an internship at Princeton in computer science and she having just earned a PhD at the Warsaw School of Economics. They both liked the Boston area and found jobs here, first renting and then buying a home on Pond Street. They have three daughters. The adventure has now lasted well over 11 years, with dual citizenship for the entire family, and another advanced degree for Ewa, an MBA from Boston College.
Immediately, Ewa felt an affinity with Winchester. Living here felt good, reminding her of her childhood home in Parczew, Poland. She had grown up in a small town, green and rural, with family nearby and close friendships. She saw the beauty of Winchester’s tree-lined streets and from new acquaintances heard a familiar ring in their stories about shared experiences and family gatherings.
Ewa found a possible advantage in being an immigrant, a clarity of vision. She has enthusiasm for Winchester’s strengths rather than a passive acceptance, insight from an angle that sees opportunity, and a view of possible improvement rather than an attitude, of “well, that’s how it’s always been.”
As an educated white European immigrant who came by choice rather than necessity, she believes that she has not experienced the discrimination and even trauma others have. Perhaps she has found Winchester more welcoming and open, as she recognizes the privilege race and education accrue.
Challenges To Be Met
Yet, there are challenges to be met.
Retaining her self-identity was one. A choice: to shorten her name to fit the space allowed on a driver’s license by choosing her maiden name Romaniuk. Another choice: to retain the feminine “-a” gender of Polish in her surname. She and her daughters are Calkowskas.
Another challenge was settling in with two cultures and two languages. Fitting in as Americans without losing her heritage was a struggle she shared with other friends. Some chose to speak only English, believing that confusion and slowed educational achievement would result in not completely assuming an American identity. Ewa knew this would be a hard balance to maintain yet did not want her children to lose access to their Polish language and heritage. And the balance does require effort and has had good results, with her daughters doing well and the oldest winning an English Department prize in high school.
Ewa believes in the richness of knowing more than one language. She finds that one becomes increasingly aware of precision in describing experiences, expressing meaning, and being aware of emotional connotations.
A further challenge is the distance from her family with long flights and infrequent vacations. Her children are not growing up with their cousins and spending time with their grandparents. That soft hammock of support needs to be built. And she is doing just that.Winchester is, thus, both harder and easier. Although she no longer has the support circle of family and friends, an advantage may lie in not having to follow the expectations of her town of origin, people thinking they know who you are.
There are those small moments of outsider awareness. Ewa, generous in spirit, recognizes that it is human to find patterns, to categorize, to stereotype particularly in a town of “whiteness” with a nearly non-existent, invisible immigrant population. As a young woman with an elementary school child standing in the midst of slightly older women, one asks, “Are you the nanny?” There are these occasional small micro-aggressions to absorb.
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Watch this space each Friday this March for another of our five Women’s History Month 2019 honoree.