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Celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month: Irek Banaczyk

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image of student in graduation cap and gownWhen Irek Banaczyk was nine, he and his family emigrated from Poland to New York in pursuit of a better life. It was a time of excitement when he and his family members joined their mother in Manhattan, where she had been living for five years. Though his parents’ transition to American life wasn’t easy, they diligently worked toward their goal of providing a better life for their family. Now a recent graduate of UT Austin’s School of Social Work,  Banaczyk is grateful for the sacrifices they made to help him get a quality education.

Time for a change…“My mother informed me that, ‘At times we had to wait in line for bread and milk for four hours, and sometimes the supplies would run out just as you got to the front of the line.’ Poverty and lack of social mobility were my mother’s primary reasons for leaving Poland. She wanted her children to have better opportunities than she did.”

Challenges of assimilation… “Initially my parents stuck close to their Polish expatriate friends, but over time as they worked excessive hours, they had less time to foster their social connections. The stress took a significant toll on my parents’ lives, manifesting frequent discord. They became isolated and overwhelmed and two years after living in New York, my father received treatment for ulcers.”

The land of opportunity… “My father is now deceased, but my mother admits that America is truly the ‘Land of Opportunity.’ Neither of my parents attended college, yet my mother, grounded in the Protestant work ethic, worked hard, owned two small businesses, and purchased two small properties outside of Austin. In America, one can truly become the person that one chooses—and my family never lost touch with that.”

Lessons of resilience… “I recently learned that while they lived in Poland, just after my mother became pregnant with me, she and my father were too poor to rent their own apartment, so they rented an attic from another family. They lived there for six months until my mother was too pregnant to climb the ladder that led up to the attic. They carried two buckets up and down the ladder each day: one for water and one for excrement. I think how my parents’ lives had changed over the years, and how much better my life was from theirs due to their sacrifices.”

Banaczyk’s Activities: Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Pre-Grad Intern; Spring 2017 IE Kuhn Scholar; Student Assistant, UT Center for Students in Recovery; Research Associate (summer 2017), Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault