Father Adam Kotas
Immigrant Experience in Chicago
After immigrating to Chicago as a child, I grew up in an inner-city immigrant neighborhood; my mom who went to enroll me at the local Catholic school was told it wasn’t for me because we couldn’t pay the tuition. I went to an inner-city school where they had a bilingual program for children like myself who didn’t speak English thus I was in a class with all recently arrived immigrant children from Poland. Alongside my classroom we had classrooms for the recently arrived immigrant children from Mexico and other Latin American counties. The classes in English were mostly for the African American students who went to the school. It was a beautiful cultural experience where I got to mingle with children who looked different than me but had the same aspirations and longings and issues as I did. We may not have been able to communicate verbally but in the lunchroom or on the playground we all could speak the language of love as we played together, a language I try to speak every day and a language I know we can all speak; it’s the language of understanding and compassion and non-judgment, knowing that at our core we are all human beings with the same blood running in each of us. All of us, no matter our backgrounds, have the same Father who loves us the same.
I lived in a basement apartment in Chicago with my parents and my brother, we found our furniture on the alley that people threw out and little by little we even got a television and microwave. The apartment had almost no windows and no air conditioning, so the brutal hot and humid Chicago summers were ones to be remembered. My parents worked two jobs to make ends meet as they were paid very little and were taken advantage of as recently arrived immigrants with no English. It wasn’t the American people who took advantage of my parents but rather the more established Polish immigrants who had been in Chicago for some time and had businesses and spoke English who cheated them out of money taking advantage of their vulnerable status. My father many times was not paid at his work and my mom working as a cleaning lady many times was told she broke something or some other lie and worked for free. One horrible experience for my mother was working at an Embassy Suites hotel where the supervisor, a lady from Poland, would enter the rooms before she cleaned them and would steal the tips. The immigrant life is one I know in and out, which is why I have a heart for immigrants because I know their pain, I have lived it.
My next-door neighbors in my inner-city neighborhood in Chicago was a family from Mexico, and my best friend from the time I was a child grew up next to me also living in a basement apartment. I didn’t speak Spanish and he didn’t speak Polish and neither of us spoke English but we had one thing in common: our faith; we were both Catholic and what united us was the Blessed Mother Mary; I knew I was ok when I saw a picture on their wall of our lady of Guadalupe, and he would later tell me he knew he was ok in my basement apartment when he saw the Black Madonna of Czestochowa on our wall, the picture my grandma gave me as I was leaving our small Polish town. We had a common momma! We all have a common momma! Our momma Mary.