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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

My cultural legacy

page 247

My cultural legacy

In 2004, my six-year-old daughter Zosia went to school dressed in her Polish costume for a multicultural day. She was so happy, and felt beautiful and different. She was different because she knew she had something in her that wasn't the same as the other children in her class.

Zosia has a Polish background, and knows that her babcia (granny) and dziadziu (granddad) came from Poland, a country on the other side of the world. Zosia stood up in front of her class and said "dzień dobry" (good morning). She showed off her beautiful costume and felt very special. I sat there watching her and thought to myself, if only your dziadziu could see you. What a wonderful legacy.

My two beautiful children Zosia (6) and Tomek (4) attend Polish school once a week after normal school and are part of the Orlęta dance group in Lower Hutt. They love these two activities and look forward to them each week. Painting pisanki (Easter eggs) and floating wianki (garlands) with candles on Świętego Jana (St John's Eve) are special favourites at Polish school. The annual Polish festival in Petone Settlers' Museum is another exciting day – dressing in costume, dancing, eating lots of yummy food and seeing all their Polish friends.

The children who attend Polish school and perform in the Orlęta dance group all have the same background – a Polish ancestry. I am sure that the children feel privileged, and attend with passion and enthusiasm. Zosia and Tomek are lucky to have a loving babcia. They have a great time making faworki (puff cakes) with her – they think they are a great help. When I put Tomek to bed at night, he reminds me we have to say "w imię Ojca" (in the name of the Father) which is the sign of the cross in Polish, a special gift that babcia taught him.

My parents raised me as a Polish-Kiwi girl. I attended Polish Saturday school in my younger years, then the Polish Youth Club and Polish dance group Lublin. Polish was always spoken at my parents' home. This helped me when I left school. My profession was a travel agent and customers from the Polish community often came to me to book their travel arrangements because they could speak Polish, be understood and life would be a little easier for them not having to battle their way around English.

Night after night, day after day, I see my mother writing the history of page 248her upbringing, describing the heartache of being a young girl having to live through the atrocities of war, the suffering from cruel and brutal people, a father being murdered, and a family of four girls and a young mother forced to survive alone. How did they get through it? Surely it could only be love, determination and sheer guts. Would I survive? Would my soul survive? My parents had a passion which was passed to me and to my children, and I am very grateful.

Danusia Trask with her children Tomek (left) and Zosia (right) dressed in Polish national costume

Danusia Trask with her children Tomek (left) and Zosia (right) dressed in Polish national costume