Thatâ€™s Maciej Goraj in a recording studio on the cityâ€™s northwest side about a mile from his home. He and other Polish artists are taping a CD to accompany a poetry reading they did recently in west suburban Wood Dale.
Goraj has lived in Chicago for 20 years. When he left Poland on March 16, 1989, he was on top. Film star, handsome leading man, winner of coveted Polish acting awards, on the cover of Polandâ€™s celebrity mags, known from his breakout movie, Dark River, for the longest death scene in Polish cinemaâ€¦
Poland, however, was at rock bottom, approaching the end of Communism. The ascendency of Solidarity and the presidency of Lech Walesa was just over the horizon but Goraj didnâ€™t see it coming. What he saw were food-less shelves, 600% inflation, and a car too expensive for even a marquee actor to afford.
AUDIO: So he decided to leave and try his hand in the United States [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/decision-to-leave-Poland.mp3]
He came to Chicago, on paper as a tourist, thinking heâ€™d parlay his acting into wealth. He spoke French, Russian and practiced Bel Canto, but one thing was missing. English. Still, his dream was to break into film in America and use that to transform Polish cinema.
AUDIO: He’d take almost any survivor job to get him there [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/study-English-and-make-movie.mp3]
AUDIO: Somewhat autobiographical [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/the-movie-about-him.mp3]
So he took classes, and played through utter humiliation. Hereâ€™s Maciej Goraj, the young Polish actor.
Then thereâ€™s Maciej Goraj in class at Truman College.
AUDIO: His most difficult performance ever [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Truman-speeches.mp3]
He kept at it, and did some Polish theater in town. There was Strindbergâ€™s Miss Julie, an experimental performance in Polish and English. Heâ€™d rehearse wherever he could.
AUDIO: Even in the grocery store [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Dominick.mp3]
After a while, he became like most actors in America, trying but failing to survive off acting, and instead taking on whatever job would pay the bills. Heâ€™s had a non-talking part in the 2004 movie Runaway Divas that was shot in Chicago and been an extra in the Untouchables. He’s in a Polish short film, Last Dance, that’s just been posted on the Spiritual TV web site.
There have been retrospectives of his film career back in Poland. Heâ€™s been back to Poland to visit three times, but has never considered staying. He had abandon his wife and kids, and he’s remarried. His wife, Hannah, has helped him get through a lot. She immigrated to Chicago before Goraj, but recalled meeting way back when, in Warsaw, when they were young, single, and Goraj was an immediate sensation.
AUDIO: Hannah recalls their meeting [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Hannah.mp3]
For Goraj, his dream goes beyond acting and beyond America. Heâ€™s become a financial adviser and a master teacher of reiki, spiritual healing. Most of his clients are Polish.
AUDIO: Yet these are the best years of his life [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/best-thing-in-life.mp3]
He reflects on how his life has changed.
AUDIO: Yet these are the best years of his life [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/reflects.mp3]
Yet heâ€™s not about to leave Poland behind. Itâ€™s his inspiration for poetry, for music, and for bringing it all together in a recording studio.
AUDIO: Recording studio collaboration [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/recording-like-coming-into-US.mp3]
With Chicago as his base, and the Polish community enveloping him, Maciej Goraj hopes still to attain his bigger dream, of transforming Polish cinema.
AUDIO: For Goraj, patriotism is international [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/patriotism-is-international.mp3]
AUDIO: His evening mantra [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/mantra.mp3]
ENCORE of the studio collaboration [audio:http://immigrantconnect.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/encore.mp3]
[with thanks to Mira Szabla, Mira Zaniewski, Janusz Klis, Andy Balawender and Andy Dylewski]