Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Late 20th Century Immigrants in South-Eastern Michigan on Identity, Bilingualism, and Benefit

Late 20th Century Immigrants in South-Eastern Michigan on Identity, Bilingualism, and Benefit

Agata Borowiecki

Identity has been a theme in the modern world for decades, from colonialism, through the Civil Rights movement, LGBTQ+ rights movement, and the immigrant crises. For those who have moved to the United States in recent years, their identity has changed and shifted, which has been influenced by how they experience and live a bilingual lifestyle. This paper investigates why late 20th century Polish immigrants maintain their mother language and speak it in public and if they see bilingualism as an identity or a benefit in the United States? To answer this question, the paper focuses on the experiences of Polish immigrants in southeastern Michigan. The paper includes information from Polish news sources in America, as well as personal and phone interview data. Information on identity, bilingualism, and linguistic capital include academic journals as well as these interviews. In white-coded immigrant communities like that of the late 20th century Polish wave of immigrants, there is value from bilingualism in the United States including economic, social, cultural and possibly even personal and health benefits. Further research may look into other immigrant communities in southeastern Michigan (and beyond) such as the Arab and Latino communities.

April 16, 2020 - Posted by | abstract


  1. The difference between seeing bilingualism as an identity or a benefit had never occurred to me. There seem to be a lot of benefits for bilingual Polish immigrants in SE Michigan from your list, and I do wonder how this would translate to other immigrant communities.

    Comment by Shannon Yee | April 22, 2020 | Reply

  2. What an interesting topic! I’ve noticed this within the Polish-American communities in Hamtramck and have always been curious as to how and why the language is sustained multi-generationally, especially in instances where younger generations move further out into the suburbs or otherwise abroad yet still actively maintain their linguistic ties. I’m intrigued by your mention of potential health benefits as well.

    Comment by Juliette André | April 28, 2020 | Reply

  3. I think bilingualism as a benefit definitely needs a larger discussion of race, which you mentioned. Further research in the Detroit area on non-white ethnic communities would be interesting and needed (especially since I believe metro-Detroit has the largest Arab community in the U.S.). This paper definitely speaks to me and my life. My mom came to the U.S. with her family from what was then Yugoslavia in the early 70’s and grew up in Hamtramck. My dad immigrated in the 80’s before the breakup of Yugoslavia. For them and for me, language and Balkan communities were an important part of identity. In my experience, I would say that my mom would view bilingualism as more of a benefit and that my dad has stronger feelings towards bilingualism as identity. Does referring to health benefits mean mental health? Many immigrants, especially people like my parents who left most of their family, have recurring feelings of displacement. Language helps them connect with other immigrants who are here.

    Comment by Nicole Markovic | April 28, 2020 | Reply

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