Connecticut’s Immigrant Day At The Capitol
The beautiful Old Judiciary Room of Connecticut’s State Capitol rang with applause and celebration on Wednesday, April 17th, 2019 as Connecticut Immigrant and Refugee Coalition and civic leaders from across the state hosted the 22nd Annual Connecticut Immigrant Day. This occasion brought together Americans whose families came from every part of the world, in the celebration of our common heritage as a land of immigrants and a people of one principle: e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.”
Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz (in photo), the granddaughter of Polish and Greek immigrants, greeting all those in attendance, said that in a moment when all Americans come together to celebrate the shared immigrant story, “nothing makes me feel more red, white, and blue.” Connecticut’s Attorney General William Tong, the son of Chinese immigrants, called for our society not to forget the too-often “invisible” immigrants working and sacrificing for their family, to ensure that the next generation may succeed. Also, in attendance were US Senator Richard Blumenthal, Secretary of State Denise Merrill, State Senator Saud Anwar, State Representatives Derek Slap and Tom Delnicki, and former Mayor of New Britain Lucian Pawlak.
The ceremony praised the achievements of all the immigrant communities that have built our state, and brought forward as special honorees 19 exemplary community leaders who immigrated from 16 different countries to the United States. The awards, presented by former State Representative Demetrios Giannaros, Steven Hernandez of the State’s Commission on Equity And Opportunity, and immigration attorney Dana Bucin, celebrated some of Connecticut’s greatest philanthropists and scientists, educators and doctors, community leaders and diplomats, and most notably two women who survived the horrors of the Second World War.
Ms. Zdzislawa Lempicka, an immigrant from Poland, as a 16-year-old girl courageously fought against the Nazis in the Warsaw Uprising, and Ms. Ada Ustjanauskas, an immigrant from Lithuania, survived the Holocaust to give testament to the world that must never be forgotten. Both women, through their strength and bravery, endured and persevered through the destruction of war, and built new lives and became leaders in their new home in Connecticut. Through their actions they have given life to our state’s motto, “He who transplants, sustains.”
CIRC is the statewide coalition of nonprofit organizations that support and advocate for immigrants and refugees in Connecticut and celebrate the immigrant roots that make Connecticut a beautiful and vibrant community of diverse origins and cultures. CIRC’s coalition includes the following:
The American Place at the Hartford Public Library, Asian Pacific American Coalition, Catholic Charities Migration Services, Commission on Equity and Opportunity, Community Renewal Team, CT Coalition of Mutual Assistance Association, Inc., CURET Center for Urban Research, Education, and Training, Goodwin College, Hellenic Society of Paideia, Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services, Jewish Federation Association of CT, Jewish Family Service of Greater Hartford, Milan Cultural India Association, Pakistani, American Association of CT, Polish American Foundation of CT, University of Connecticut Health Center, and the World Affairs Council.
This year’s honorees included: Fatma Wahda Antar from Egypt, Darek Barcikowski and Zdzislawa Lempicka from Poland, Peter I Barzach from Ukraine, Andrei Brel from Belarus, Michael Chambers from Jamaica, Asma Farid from Pakistan, Peter Theoharis Isoifides from Greece, Min Jung Kim from Korea, Georges Annan Kingsley from the Ivory Coast, Dr. Mohamed Reza Mansoor from Sri Lanka, Dr. Ezequiel Martin Menendez from Argentina, Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan from India, Emanuela Palmares from Brazil, Carla Squatrito from Italy, Sorin Todeasa and Abby Weiner from Romania, Ada Ustjanauskas from Lithuania, and Dr. Meera S. Viswanathan from India.
(In photo: Darek Barcikowski and Zdzislawa Lempicka)
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Zdzislawa Kakiet was 11 years old on September 1, 1939 when Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland. But a child, she participated in packing parcels to be sent to the families of prisoners of war taken by the Soviet Army, which also invaded Poland two weeks and two days after the German invasion.
On August 1, 1944, at the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, Zdzislawa, now 16, joined the Polish Home Army (the underground) and was assigned the role of a courier. For the next two months, she took part in some of the bloodiest battles, traversing the city through enemy controlled streets, bombed-out buildings, as well as the city underground sewage canals, smuggling weapons and gathering intelligence. She was severely wounded in the face, received medical care and 63 stitches aid without anesthesia in a field hospital that was under enemy fire, and took additional shrapnel while on the operating table. Only after the war did reconstructive surgery in England restore her nose and repair her war-damaged face.
For all her suffering, the greatest pain and fear she acknowledges is the loss of so many of her brothers-at-arms, and the heartbreak of surrender, after 63 days of intense fighting. The Germans proceeded to reduce to rubble what was left of Warsaw, a city that counted 1.3 million inhabitants in 1939. Zdzislawa, along with most of the insurgents, were transported in cattle cars to German prisoner-of-war camps. Her captors were cruel, but she was grateful she did not end up in a concentration camp.
Liberated by the American Army in 1945, Zdzislawa sought to find her brother in another German camp. Failing to find him, she decided to join the Polish 2nd Army Corps in Italy, where she completed her high school education. In 1946, along with the 2nd Corps, she left for England. She did establish contact with her mother in Poland, who warned her not to return to Poland as the NKVD and Communist Secret Police were arresting and executing Polish Home Army fighters. In 1948, she was discharged from the army. The same year she met and married Richard Lempicki, who was captured by the invading Red army in 1939, survived Soviet prisoner-of-war camp and made it out of Russia with the Polish 2nd Army Corps, going through Iran, Palestine and Italy.
In 1951, the Communist government in Poland stripped Zdzislawa of her Polish Citizenship, declaring her “stateless.” In 1956 she emigrated to the United States and settled in Connecticut, established a business, and became a US citizen in 1962. She stayed true to her service orientation and pursued a parallel career in community volunteer organizations. She was a co-founder of the Polish Scouting Organization in New Britain and in the ensuing decades devoted herself to educating and mentoring young people. She also participated in several other community organizations. As she described it, this avocation allowed her to “continue searching for the meaning of life, a life that is good, true, honorable, righteous, deep, and serene, and experiencing what is best in life.”
Recently, the Polish government has restored her citizenship and awarded her with the “Cross of Valour” for “deeds of valour and courage on the field of battle.”
Darek Barcikowski immigrated to the United States with his family in 1987 at the age of 9 from Kielce, Poland. He attended St. Mary’s Elementary School in Boston and was later accepted to the prestigious Boston Latin School. Upon graduating from Boston Latin School, Darek attended the George Washington University in Washington, DC and Northeastern University in Boston. He also earned a certificate in entrepreneurship from Boston University.
Darek was the first in his family to learn English and in 1992 the family opened a Polish deli where Darek, as a 14-year-old handled accounting, payroll and ordering. The family business grew to include two delis, two restaurants and a catering business with which Darek was involved in some capacity for many years.
Upon graduating from college, Darek followed his entrepreneurial upbringing and opened his own business when he launched White Eagle Media in 2003 and started publishing Polish newspapers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Today, White Eagle Media is the largest Polish language publisher in the country with newspapers in 8 states. Besides being involved in the newspaper, Darek has been a lifelong advocate for the Polish community and has served in various capacities for numerous non-profit organizations including as board member at the Boys and Girls Club, national director at the Polish American Congress and executive director at the Polish American Advisory Council. In 2011 Darek fell 70 votes short in his race for City Council. He credits his family for deciding to immigrate to the United States, for giving him the opportunity to own his own business, and run for public office, which would have been impossible at the time they left their native Poland.
In 2015 he moved to Hartford, Connecticut after accepting the nomination to serve as the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Poland in Connecticut. At the time Darek also relocated White Eagle Media from Boston to New Britain and opened a physical location for the honorary consulate, which is a volunteer position. As honorary consul, Darek has supported the local Polish community in Connecticut; 10% of the state’s population is of Polish descent. He will be serving as the 2019 Grand Marshal of the Pulaski Day Parade in New York, which will be led by the State of Connecticut for the very first time in the parade’s 82-year history. Darek is also serving as the chairman of the 2019 Little Poland Festival in New Britain which attracts over 20,000 to the city’s Polish neighborhood. Darek is active in numerous organizations, including the Polish National Home of Hartford, the World Affairs Council of Connecticut, and is a board member of the Global Business Council of the MetroHartford Alliance.
Darek is a frequent lecturer on the Polish American community in the United States, and on Polish American Relations. Most recently he led a panel on Polish and US relations with Polish diplomats and ministers in Miami and in March will be a keynote speaker at the Catholic University in Lublin, Poland on cultivating Polish culture and language within diaspora communities outside of Poland.
Submitted by Asha J. Lassen
Polish American Foundation of CT