Bonita Wajler-Melonio recently visited the home economics classes of CVMS teacher Roseanne Volpini. She arrived in traditional dress, sharing, “I am the first generation in all of my extended family to be born here,” she said.
Enjoying both her culture, and that of their father, Donald Melonio, are their two children, Priya, who attends CVMS, and Syrena, a third-grader.
“We actively teach our children about Polish traditions and culture, belief system, and way of life,” said Wajler-Melonio, adding that she maintains all of the holiday traditions, some of which she shared with the classes of CVMS during her visit.
“Both my husband and I grew up in homes and communities where there were strong cultural and ethnic roots. It was not unusual to visit a friend's home to find another language being spoken or to see their traditions being celebrated. We have close friends as well as business relationships with people from all over the world. So, for us and to our girls, having our ethnic way of life is part of who we are,” she said.
Sharing that they emphasize to their children an openness to other cultures, languages, and ways of life, “We recognize that people may use language differently, may communicate differently, as well as carry themselves in a way that is an ingrained part of who and what they are. It is a good thing,” she stressed.
Both Wajler-Melonio and her husband attended a university and graduate school where she said the international student population was very high. “We absolutely had an appreciation of the diversity,” she said, adding that they pass that view along to their children through traveling with them and friendships formed.
As a multi-cultural family, she said her husband’s family is from Italy, and that the family does the same with teaching their daughters about his background.
“For example, on Christmas Eve, we have both sides of our families come to our house to celebrate both the Polish and the Italian Christmas Eve celebrations. There is food, music, homemade wine, and desserts that are both Polish and Italian,” she said, adding that it is a celebration shared with many relatives.
Wajler-Melonio’s family hails from Lublin, Poland, a city which she describes as large and beautiful, with many universities, art, theatre, and a long history, adding that it has one of the oldest preserved Medieval Royal Residence Castles in Poland; Lublin Castle, built in the first half of the 13th century.
Her paternal grandfather, killed during the "Katyn Massacre” while serving as a high-ranking officer in the Polish Army during World War II, Wajler-Melonio said her father and his family became part of the Polish Underground Resistance Movement during Poland's Occupation. Resisting, they were arrested and taken to forced labor camps in Poland and Germany.
“As a young teen, my father, along with all other Poles, endured this "life,” she said, witnessing the bombing and destruction of his homeland, the horrific atrocities of war.
Surviving, her father came to the US in his early 30s, and several years later began his own business, achieving what they called the American Dream, said Wajler-Melonio.
Sharing that after a search of more than 10 years, not long ago, she found relatives in Poland believed by her family to have been lost or killed as a result of the war. One internet contact with whom she exchanged photos included one of her father taken in Germany when he was 25 years old.
“I was so very shocked and overjoyed,” she said.
To date, having now discovered that she has more than 200 relatives throughout Poland, “My parents, after 70 years, were able to fly to Poland and meet and reacquaint with family,” she said, adding that next summer, she, her husband, and their daughters plan to do the same.
Sharing that they emphasize loyalty, education, and pride, “Even though we have encountered prejudice, we have stood eye to eye with that kind of base ignorance," said Wajler-Melonio, adding, “Our culture teaches us, and we carry ourselves with, dignity.”
Photo by Kathleen Palumbo, Town Crier correspondent
Canfield Village Middle School students recently celebrated a visitor with insight into her Polish heritage. Having taken the time to prepare dishes of foods from her homeland, the students were in for a treat as Bonita Wajler-Melonio presented her Polish roots to the home economics classes at CVMS.