My hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio has a strong German heritage. Many of the family names you hear in Cincinnati are German, and there is even one elementary school still conducted partly in German. We have a few German-American associations that promote our German heritage and one section of Cincinnati is still named Over-the-Rhine, harking back to when the city was settled and a river divided it.
But if you drive four hours northeast, the German heritage gives way to a different ethnic group. You’ll find a rich Polish and Czech heritage in Cleveland, Ohio. In fact, there’s a section of the city there known as Slavic Village.
I’d already delved into Polish food at Sokolowski’s (which is in the Tremont neighborhood, not the Slavic Village area). So I was eager to explore the Slavic Village area where I expected to see signs in Polish and even hear some Polish being spoken. I was not disappointed, though a bitterly cold snowstorm kept us from wandering very far. Still, within a couple blocks of the Red Chimney Restaurant where we ate breakfast with hundreds of locals, we found everything we’d hoped for.
There were signs in Polish and a very prominent picture of Pope John Paul II in someone’s window.
Slavic emblems were tacked to the sides of buildings and displayed in windows. Signs offering Polish food were the norm.
Then we spied St. Stanislaus Church; a beautiful Catholic cathedral in the middle of what is becoming a very run-down neighborhood. We were covered in snow and ready to get back on the roads before they got worse, but first I wanted to peek inside. So I opened the door and discovered that the 10:00 mass was being conducted in Polish. I was so awed that we had to stay.
We aren’t Catholic and don’t know a word of Polish, but felt such calm and reverence there. The mass was beautiful and the church was completely packed. Over a hundred people filled the pews. Some young, more old, and a few children being brought up in the old traditional ways. If I’d wondered at all whether the Polish tradition of Slavic Village had fallen by the wayside, I was answered here. Hundreds of voices sang and prayed together; people who’d weathered the snow to come to the 10:00 mass in Polish. The Slavic heritage of Cleveland seemed alive and well.
A few hours later, we headed south again, leaving Cleveland and its Slavic roots for our German Cincinnati again. I felt lucky to live in an area of the U.S. that still embraces its cultural heritage. This summer we may go to Europe and explore the real thing, but there is enough German and Polish heritage here in Ohio to tide us over til then.
What type of cultural roots can we find in your hometown?