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THE POLISH CLEANING LADY'S DAUGHTER African American Cultural Center/Paul Robeson Theatre
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Mar 11, 2024, 14:24
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Through March 24
THE POLISH CLEANING LADY’S DAUGHTER African American Cultural Center/Paul Robeson Theatre

Buffalo is known for great architecture and the mansions along Delaware Avenue from the days when the Queen City was one of the richest in the world.
I’ve long been suspicious of that image since wages paid to the workers in the steel mills and the grain mills and on the railroads might have been kind of low.
We had our share of poor neighborhoods in those days and today, with many completely surrounding or flanking the giant industrial complexes.
I was in the Old First Ward the other day, houses flanking “Silo City,” riven by what were once rail lines and rail yard workers, serving the grain industry and the lake docks.
Sometimes, those rail lines cut off neighborhoods, like Lovejoy’s “Iron Island,” a community filled in the old days with blue-collar workers working in the innumerable industrial sites, with all access under rail bridges.
That’s where Paula Wachowiak grew up and in her "The Polish Cleaning Lady’s Daughter,” it was a mismatch between the neighborhood and the young girl.
This is a one-woman show in the Paul Robeson Theatre, potentially a mismatch but the row of African Americans two rows in front of me had heads nodding about this portrayal of life in a poverty-ridden Lovejoy home made worse when Wachowiak’s father died when she was young.
She was left as one of four children with a mom who was a cleaning lady to keep her family going.
That’s in a family home Dad had just paid off when he died.
Wachowiak moved into control of nuns in St. Agnes School and their social and educational attitudes were those of the community in which they worked.
That’s even though she considered herself a questioning and informed person.
In this show, she makes it clear she was her self-image, of a deliberately non-reader who wasn’t into going to college although she did.
It took time and reconsideration, shaped by her first husband who forced her to read and think what was in those books and it wasn’t what she had believed before.
From that re-shaped worldview, she moved on to writing poetry, movie scripts and this play.
It’s a plea to change the neighborhood, the physical image and the mental image.
That’s what Wachowiak pleads for, breaking away from the attitudes of the neighborhood she grew up in and the similar neighborhoods many other people grew up in and working together to make the larger community better.
Iron Island is often a troubled community, with so many of the jobs the residents relied on gone and the confining rail lines not all in use.
However, Wachowiak’s message remains clear, improving the Lovejoy neighborhood by improving the minds of the residents away from those she portrays of her parents and the parents of her friends in a neighborhood.
It was a community where Wachowiak says her ethnicity has been overwhelmed by an Italian migration with snide views of the former residents.
It’s all why you should be heading off to the Robeson to see “The Polish Cleaning Lady’s Daughter.”

A.W.

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