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Identity Formation among Established and Recent Polish Communities around Utica, NY

A joint research project of Jagiellonian University and the Department of Sociology/Anthropology of Utica College, NY, USA, supported by Joseph P. Furgal Fund

Project coordinators: Paulina Niechciał, PhD; Jessica F. Brown, PhD

Project executive: Margarita C. Molina

Project timeline: from June 2016

The study aims to identify elements of ethnocultural identity (ex. religion, language, cuisine) of members of Polish communities around Utica, as well as identify and explain factors that influence this identity construction. Contemporarily Polish Americans comprise one of the largest ethnic groups in Oneida County. Early Polish movement into this region began in the 1880s, attracted mainly by work opportunities in the textile mills, and slowed at the beginning of the 1920s. The next wave of Poles began arriving as refugees of World War II. Following that, a population of Poles who came to Utica and surrounding towns in a few last decades. 
The focus of the study is a comparison between an established community, those people originating from families describing themselves as Poles or Polish Americans, born and raised in the Unites States, and a recent community, Poles who came from Poland as adults in recent decades. The study will contribute to in-depth understanding the processes of identity construction of cultural minorities in multicultural context of Upstate New York, as well as documentation of contemporary history of local Polish community. It will result in an academic publication, as well as a publication documenting the researched population.

It is a study in the frames of interpretivist sociology. We will use a life story, semi-structured interview technique to gather the experience of interviewees concerning their belonging to the Polish communities. The researched population is a Polish community living in Utica and close surroundings. We will interview its members who have been living in the area not less than 15 years. We will use purposive sampling contrasting cases, seeking for participants of both recent and established communities of Polish origins. At the beginning, we will use a snowball sampling technique based on contacts established by Paulina Niechciał during her visit in Utica in 2014. Additionally, we will conduct a participant observation in events organized by different local institutions connected to the Polish communities. Transcribed narratives as well as other documents collected during the fieldwork will be analyzed using qualitative analytic procedures.

More about the project in: P. Niechciał, J. Singer Brown, Polish Community in the Utica Area. A Joint Research Project of JU and Utica College, "NJUsletter", vol. 59, 2016, p. 17-18.