People of all ages filled a Long Beach art gallery on Saturday to celebrate 30 years of a free Poland.
The fifth annual Polish Day in LA Festival was held in the Hellada Gallery, which is actually split into two separate spaces, with one containing wire-wrapped jewelry and the other displaying many artists’ works on the open studio’s white walls.
White and red flags were proudly displayed throughout the gallery, and many attendees waved small versions in support. People also danced to the Oberek and the Polonez, they ate pierogi, gołąbki and pączki, and they drank Żywiec, a polish beer.
The event was a place where Polish people could meet new Polish people and speak their native language.
”It’s great, I didn’t expect so many Polish people to come here,” said Bartlomiej Waszak, a Polish migrant who lives in Woodland Hills. “Just being able to speak with people in my language with people who came to the U.S.” [is wonderful].
Gallery owner Marek Dzida, who has hosted the Polish Day event for the past five years, displayed posters showcasing remarkable people in Polish history. The event also had 15 Polish vendors, including the Polam Federal Credit Union and the Polish National Alliance.
The event also included Polish dance classes that taught dances that are popular throughout the European country, such as the Polonez and the Oberek.
Polish Day in LA served food catered by the Polka Restaurant in Los Angeles, which is one of three Polish restaurants in Southern California. Polka owner Michal Budny said a top seller at the festival was the potato and cheese pierogi garnished with marinated grilled onions. Budny additionally sold gołąbki (stuffed cabbage) and kielbasa (polish sausage).
“The benefit of coming to Polish Day in LA every year is that a lot of new people are coming in and now they know we exist,” Budny said.
The event also had desserts from Edward Hoffman, a doughnut maker at the Polish Retirement Foundation Szarotka. He provided pączki, Polish doughnuts that are glazed and contain powidła, a plum filling.
Dzida’s wife, who owns the jewelry portion of the art gallery, transformed her space into a mini bar where Polish beers, wine, other alcoholic beverages and soda were sold.
A Polish tongue-twister contest was also held for non-Polish speakers, with the winner being the person who pronounced Polish phrases the best.
An annual beauty contest was additionally held toward the end of the event when Miss Polonia California 2019 was crowned. Dzida, who hosted the competition, started by asking the two participants who entered, ”What is your favorite city in Poland and why?”
The contest was tallied by a show of hands from the audience. Małgorzata Jaroszek had chosen Warsaw, the capital of Poland, as her favorite place before being crowned Miss Polonia California 2019.
Hoffman, the pączki doughnuts maker, did a special dance number at the conclusion of the festival, showing off for guests who missed the dance class.
The event is usually hosted down the entire block of Linden Avenue during the East End 2nd Saturday Art Walk. This year the event was condensed to the interior and exterior of the Hellada Gallery, which disappointed some.
“I was a little disappointed that the event was so small this year,” said Marta Konarska, a Polish international student who has attended for multiple years. “I wanted to show my friends Polish culture and I was expecting more vendors outside. Other than that it was fun.”
Though the event was smaller than usual, many people turned out throughout the day. Dzida says he hopes to collaborate with the East End 2nd Saturday Art Walk committee to put on a bigger show next year.
“I think if we close the street for the Polish event, it would be quite empty,” he said. “So it will have to be a year-long process to build it up. So maybe next year I am thinking about that and I will see who is interested.”