The dark side of Dyngus Day
As floats pass by, buildings remain abandoned in Historic Polonia
I remember when the school nurse in my elementary school pronounced my last name as 'ya-nin-ski.' I remember hating pierogies the first time I encountered the tiny pockets of dough, fried in butter and covered with onions.
Like many Buffalonians, some of my ancestors came from Poland.
Dyngus Day is a time when the red and white flags fly. Polka music fills the air and pierogies sizzle in fryers. Like the Buffalo Irish on St. Patrick's Day or the Buffalo Italians during the Italian Festival, Buffalo Poles spend the Monday after Easter celebrating their ancestral heritage, as well as a major part of Buffalo's history.
After St. Stanislaus Parish was founded in 1873, a pocket of Buffalo's east side, Historic Polonia, became home to the second largest Polish-American colony, according to forgottenbuffalo.com.
Dyngus Day holds a special place in the heart of Buffalo Poles. It rejuvenates Buffalonians' appreciation of their Polish roots. The streets come alive with parade floats, the smell of cooking kielbasa and the sound of the pussy willows hitting someone on the leg.
Just as streets branching off Abbott Road in South Buffalo have secondary street signs written in Celtic, entering Buffalo's Historic Polonia on the east side is like entering another country. Streets boast names like Paderewski Drive, Stanislaus Street. and Sobieski Street, and historic churches like Saint Adalbert Basilica and St. Stanislaus Church peek out over Polonia's rooftops.
Although Buffalo Poles embrace the day of celebration, Dyngus Day has a dark side.
While walking through the Dyngus Day festivities on April 21, I couldn't help but be bothered by the state of ruin and abandonment of many of Polonia's historic buildings. As parade floats pass by enthusiastic onlookers, building after building in Polonia remains deserted and decaying.
Symbolic of Polonia's modern state is Buffalo's once bustling Central Terminal - an art deco masterpiece long since abandoned. The Terminal dominates the skyline of Polonia and can be seen from miles away.
During the annual Dyngus Day Parade, beginning from Corpus Christi Church and ending at Memorial Drive, walkers threw candy and beads to onlookers. As I watched Polish dancers, local unions and politicians pass by, I began seeing Dyngus Day as an incomplete celebration of Buffalo's Polish heritage.
Dyngus Day idealizes Buffalo's Polish roots and celebrates the once vibrant community of Polonia while ignoring the utter economic depression gripping the community. Middle-class white people flock to Polonia to drink beer and dance to polka, leaving garbage and poverty in the streets when the night comes to a close.
As a Buffalo Pole, I will always love Dyngus Day and the opportunity to embrace my Polish heritage. But I think Dyngus Day could do much more to truly celebrate Buffalo's cultural heritage. Rather than spending a few hours in Polonia just to watch a parade, onlookers could instead participate in a revitalization of the community - somehow. Community clean-ups or moving businesses into Polonia are potential ways to improve the area.
It is important to embrace one's cultural heritage but any heritage holiday that only celebrates the past without acknowledging the present or looking to the future does one-third of the work. Truly embracing one's heritage cannot be a one-day event, but it should be a meaningful effort to revitalize that heritage in the modern world.
We should all want to do our babcie proud and work to make their historic community the vibrant cultural gem it once was.