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Student view: Embracing my Polish American identity

October 16, 2023 - Maria Bieciuk

Maria Bieciuk is a fourth-year student from Shelby Township, Michigan majoring in international relations in James Madison College with minors in business and European studies. Throughout her time at MSU, she has gained experience in the legal profession as a summer pre-law intern and held the position of Polonia affairs intern at the Polish Institute of Culture & Research at Orchard Lake. Concurrently, she is an American Corner intern at the U.S. Department of State while expanding upon her worldview by engaging in education abroad at Corvinus University of Budapest. Bieciuk is an active member of Empowering Women In Law and The Red Glasses Movement.

Maria Bieciuk 


From an early age, the answer to who I am was significantly influenced by my parents who are immigrants from Poland. It was through my mama that I truly learned how important the formation and promotion of my Polish identity truly is. Being a first-generation Polish American saturated in the Polish bubble within Metro Detroit, not only shaped my cultural identity, but also my path.

I attended thirteen years of Polish language school and learned everything from Polish culture and history to grammar and language. I’ve remained involved in the community and am engaged with my Polish church, Polish organizations, cultural events, speaking engagements, as well as recitations that are set to promote Polish culture and heritage. What this boils down to is that my life became eating, sleeping and breathing being Polish.

My identity as a Polish American did not stop within the diaspora. Rather, it followed me to Zoom lectures during COVID and the halls of James Madison College. Through the coursework and guidance of my professors, it was further reinforced that my background could transfer into my career. Professors Benitez, Borcila, Aronoff and Garnett have been instrumental in nurturing my interest in Central Eastern Europe and have consistently encouraged me to incorporate my Polish identity into my academic pursuits. Ultimately, inspiring me to pursue a concentration in this field.

Presently, in my position as Polonia Affairs Intern at the Polish Institute of Culture & Research at Orchard Lake, I get to couple my passion with professional development. I've had the incredible opportunity to immerse myself in the promotion and preservation of Polish culture and heritage.

The Institute prides itself on being a beacon of the Polish diaspora in the state of Michigan. In the time I have held my position, I have been involved in various significant events that have both celebrated and fostered Polish heritage and history. Most recently, I assisted with the dedication of the General Haller statue and the installation of headstones for the Blue Army Soldiers. These soldiers could not fight for America in World War I as they did not possess citizenship, so they fought for Poland on the front lines. Destitute, they returned to the States to live out their lives. My role also encompasses helping facilitate the visits of Polish government officials which allows me to foster meaningful connections and enhance my understanding of my Polish American identity and its cultural significance. 

With October being Polish Heritage Month, it is important to shed light on the contributions of past and future Poles. From their arrival in Jamestown in 1608 to my generation and generations to come, Poles have made significant contributions to the fields of education, art, science, business, government, technology, sports, culinary arts and much more. Michigan is home to many vibrant communities with Polish roots as our state has the third-largest Polish population in the United States with over 850,000 Polish Americans. Acknowledgement of Polish American achievements, heritage, history, culture and legacy is worth celebrating this month and always.

The future of Polish heritage in the United States not only starts with my parents, but with me and the hundreds of thousands of young Poles who are proud to be Polish Americans. The future of young Polonia is strong when everyone is welcomed and given a seat at the table.