New Jersey’s deep-rooted Polish community shares culture throughout the state.
Wandering through the busy streets of New York City allows individuals to expose themselves to a variety of cultures, whether it stem from traditional American eateries, or a few stops in iconic culture hubs, including both Little Italy and Chinatown. However, how often is it that such a cultural existence like that can be found right in the State of New Jersey?
Bergen County is home to almost one million of New Jersey’s residents alone, making it the highest populated county in all of the state, according to the United States Census Bureau. Within the 233 square miles that make up the county, individuals can expose themselves to a vast variety of different experiences, whether it be hiking the trails of the Ramapo County Reservation, the shopping overwhelm in Paramus, or experiencing hometown charm in places like Ridgewood. In the most southern tip of the county, however, is a little taste of New Jersey’s piece of Poland, creating a culture hub for residents to dive right into Polish culture in their backyards.
The Borough of Wallington is a tight-knit community located right in Bergen County. Driving around the small town, one can instantly gather a sense of Polish culture throughout the mere square mile it consists of. Open your car windows, and the smell of traditional Polish food and baked goods fills the sidewalks. Pull over, and experience Polish culture amongst a variety of small businesses and restaurants, who stride on embracing a piece of Poland within the community.
To date, Wallington is the home of around 11-thousand people, of which, one-third of its residents are of Polish descent. Mark Tomko, who currently serves as mayor of Wallington, is proud of his surrounding community. Since a young age, he has lived in the small borough, and has served as a leading member of public service in the community.
“This town is built on a lot of pride and tradition over the years, it’s a very close-knit community, and I’m proud of it,” says Mayor Tomko, “I’m proud serving as mayor for all these years, even as a councilman.”
The years of history that Tomko consistently reflects on stretches back to 1895, when the establishment of Wallington officially took place, according to Anthony Godomski, Historian for the Borough . From there, the historic fire department, which is still in existence in the borough to this day, was established. A later achievement for the borough included the development of their own water supply, due to complaints of water quality from the Hackensack Water Company back in 1899.
During the early years of the 1900s, the development of bridges and public transportation continued to draw residents to Wallington, allowing those to have access to work in major corporations surrounding the area, including Garfield Manufacturing, Prescott, and the American Lumber Yard. Godomski further explains that this attracted many immigrants, especially of Polish descent. However, this led to a dispute between social classes shortly after, eventually leading those of lower class status to start their own businesses, some of which are still open to this day.
Residents like Zenon Banas, owner of Banas Bakery in Wallington, have held their spot on Wallington Avenue for generations, starting with his father who opened up the bakery when Zenon was a small child.
“Wallington, for a long time, has been a Polish community, says Banas, “A lot of people, who even live far away from Wallington, come here to buy their Polish products that they cannot get in American supermarkets.”
Banas Bakery is not the only site that spreads the Polish culture, as over a dozen local businesses follow in their footsteps in a variety of ways, including several restaurants, grocery stores, churches and banquet halls.
Sebastian Stopka, along with his mother, Maggie, opened Tatra Haus in November of 2018, a Polish Highlander restaurant located on Main Avenue. Stopka, similar to other local business owners, opened the doors to the restaurant to continue to spread the Polish culture to the community.
“Our main purpose was to actually create a little piece of Poland, not only to show our area, but the surrounding areas, that we can still preserve the culture of Poland,” says Stopka.
“If you look at Wallington on a map, it is almost in the shape of a heart, almost of a heart. This community has a lot of heart, and our heart welcomes to you.”Mark Tomko
Mayor of Wallington
The culture of Poland, even after a century, only continues to grow in the Borough of Wallington. As generations pass by, the Polish culture continues to be spread to the town and beyond.
About This Project
The following project was part of a collaboration of stories from Montclair State University, located in Montclair, New Jersey. This project consisted of the works from several classes from The School of Communication and Media, focusing on different aspects of Immigration, and the many perspectives that may not be considered as often as they should.
Zachary Anderson is a Senior Journalism Major from Montclair State University. During his senior year, Zachary took part in the #FocusImmigration project, collaborating with fellow students in a variety of projects. After graduation, Zachary plans to work as a Marketing Manager for a non-profit in Sussex County, with hopes to eventually work freelance as a Public Relations Digital Producer.