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Rep. Berrios Visits Poland to Learn Roots of Her Expanded District

By Victoria Johnson | February 5, 2013 2:40pm

KOSCIUSZKO PARK — It's fitting that state Rep. Toni Berrios would visit the grave of Revolutionary War hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko during her trip to Poland, seeing as how her Chicago office recently moved to the neighborhood named for him.

Berrios spent a week in Poland from Jan. 17-24 visiting with dignitaries and seeing historical sites, as a way to better connect with her new Polish-American constituents. 

During her trip, she even attended the funeral of Jadwiga Kaczyńska, the mother of the late Polish president Lech Kaczyński, who was killed in a 2010 plane crash, and his twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczyński, a former prime minister.

Berrios' Chicago office moved to Kosciuszko Park, the little neighborhood that straddles Logan Square and Avondale, after redistricting pushed her district farther northwest.

"The new 39th District expands well into the [Polish-American] community, so that just nudged me a little more that I got to that country and learned more about that country," she said.

Like Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) before her, Berrios discovered there wasn't much difference between her Puerto Rican heritage and the Polish culture.

"I found so many similarities," she said. "Family as a priority, a strong work ethic and keeping your heritage alive."

The trip was also an important one for Berrios because she supported a resolution urging Congress to pass the Visa Waiver Program reform bill, which would make visiting the U.S. less onerous for Polish nationals.

"It would open the doors for more people in Poland to come to the United States and see their families, especially here in Chicago," Berrios said.

The bill was introduced Monday by U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Aaron Schock (R-IL), and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

Berrios presented a copy of her resolution to a Polish lawmaker at his office in Krakow after getting the chance sit in on parliament in Warsaw and observe its government in action, something she found enlightening.

"They have turned around their economy so much from the communist days that it is just inspiring to see that country and how well they're doing, and how they're keeping their culture alive," she said.

She wasn't the only one being inspired, added Dan Pogorzelski, executive director of the Greater Avondale Chamber of Commerce and champion of all things Polish in Chicago.

"Meeting with these women in parliament," he said of her speaking with female politicians, "you could see where they were inspired by her in a certain sense."