Joanna grew up on a vegetable farm in Zamosc, Poland where her mother and father also raised chickens and pigs. Following in the footsteps of her grandmother, aunts, and uncles, the family emigrated to the U.S. in 1995, settling in Northeast Minneapolis, which has a rich history of immigrants. Like many others, her family came to the U.S. for a better life. Starting her education in kindergarten, Joanna spoke only Polish, but quickly learned English and was soon translating for her parents at grocery stores, doctor visits and even parent/teacher conferences.
My name is Joanna. I was born in Zamosc, Poland. I came to Minnesota, US, when I was five. I remember a few things about Poland before I came over. Our home was owned by my grandma, and she left it to my parents — when she left for America. And so we lived in there and we had a brick, two story house. My parents had chickens and a pig, and they had a farm in the back. They had vegetables and all sorts of stuff they were growing. I helping them in the garden. There was a big willow tree in the yard that was my favorite — it had a swing on it.
I remember when we left for America, our family drove us to the airport. My grandma and her brother came to Minnesota, I’m not sure why – but, one family (came to America) at a time, so it was first my uncle on my mom’s side, his family. So he went there, he moved there with his family, and then a couple years later, my aunt and her family moved. And then a couple years after, it was me and my family, so we sold the house and moved.
It was my dad, my mom, my two sisters. That was it. I don’t know why my my grandma picked Minnesota, specifically. I know that it was mainly because of the economy, and there wasn’t much work. My mom was a teacher, but my dad did some kind of construction in Poland and there wasn’t much work for him. [It was] 1995 when we came. The extended family dropped us off at the airport. The flight over was pretty traumatizing. It was strange, and I remember the first part, it was a Polish airline, but then we had to switch, and when we switched, everyone spoke a different language. I had never heard a different language before. So to me, I was shocked. I pressed the call button by accident and the flight attendant came over and she yelled at me in a foreign language and that freaked me out. I cried, so…
Then my grandma and my mom’s family met us at the airport. They had rented out a house in Northeast Minneapolis for us. My sisters were held back a year, because they went to school in Poland, but I went to kindergarten right away and didn’t know any English. I cried a lot, every single day remember, I cried. My sisters were struggling themselves with English so they couldn’t help me, but there was a girl in the eighth grade that spoke Polish. They would call her over and mentor me.