Chicago cultures come together for Mexico-Poland World Cup match: ‘It’s all love at the end of the day’
The two countries — which account for two of Chicago’s largest immigrant populations — squared off in a historic match in Qatar Tuesday.
Simone’s in Pilsen was divided into two sections early on Tuesday as a monumental World Cup match was about to get underway — one for fans of Mexico, the other for fans of Poland.
The bar at 960 W. 18th St. was hoping to make room for the opposing fan bases for the morning’s FIFA World Cup game, considering the two countries that were going head to head account for two of Chicago’s largest immigrant populations.
But early on, Ania Pniwska, 41, was the lone supporter of Poland.
“I cleared my schedule for this,” she said, watching Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, the team’s all-time leading goal scorer, singing the country’s national anthem on the TV. “All our hopes are on him.”
Pniwska, who is from Szczecin, Poland, proudly repped a shirt that read “POLSKA.” The 41-year-old moved to Pilsen around 15 years ago. The neighborhood was historically a haven for Polish immigrants but in recent decades has become home to many more Mexican immigrants as has the city as a whole.
Today, there are more than 200,000 residents of Chicago who were born in Mexico, according to an analysis of 2020 census data by demographer Rob Paral.
There are about 32,000 residents who were born in Poland, the third most in Chicago after the 35,000 from China. The city has long had one of the largest Polish populations outside of Poland. In 2000, there were around 70,000 residents born in Poland.
Adriana Kenning, 44, sat on the other side of the bar wearing a Mexico jersey she bought in her hometown of Tijuana, Mexico.
“I’m so happy to have found this,” she said, looking at the crowd of supporters wearing green around her. “To have a place like this in the community, I feel like I’m at home.”
At other bars around the city, fans of both clubs sat at the same tables.
Greg and Oralia Niewiadomski are married — but were rooting for opposite teams at A.J. Hudson’s Public House, 3801 N. Ashland, in Lake View.
“Both of my parents were born in Poland, and my wife’s parents were born in Mexico,” Greg said. “This is a big deal for us.”
He added: “Obviously we’re very competitive about it. But it’s all love at the end of the day.”
Could that rivalry cause friction between the Irving Park couple who have been married for two years?
“When Mexico wins anything I’m very obnoxious, and he gets upset,” Oralia Niewiadomski said. “I love sports. I love soccer. It’s a huge deal. In Chicago there’s a lot of Mexican and Polish immigrants,” she said.
“We work hard, and we have the same values. At the end of the day, we understand each other, and I love that,” she said.
Poland fan Daniel Kwak, 24, said the game was a big deal because he knows so many people of Mexican heritage.
“When the two clash it’s another level of competitiveness,” said Kwak, of Burbank, who had placed bets with a few of his coworkers.
Jacek Strumilo took off work to watch the game at Play Book Sports Bar, 6913 N. Milwaukee in Niles, an established Polish-American sports hub. He said his team should have won by scoring a late penalty kick, but it was blocked by legendary Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Still, he was impressed by the strong showing of Mexico fans at the bar.
“This neighborhood is a more Polish neighborhood than a Hispanic one, but props to these guys for coming out and supporting them. It’s awesome,” Strumilo said.
Another fan of Poland from Burbank, Kamil Kukulak, was outnumbered watching the game with friends and co-workers at The Embassy, 1435 W. Taylor St.
“It’s a huge platform,” Kukulak said of Poland playing on the world stage. “And to share it with the Mexican community is huge. To see the fusion of cultures is great.”
Lea este artículo en español en La Voz Chicago, la sección bilingüe del Sun-Times.
Across the table was co-worker Chris Cupp, 30, a Bridgeport resident whose mom is from Mexico.
“It’s cool to see this in Chicago because there are big Polish and Mexican communities, and everybody comes together,” he said.
Indeed, as the game went back and forth, the atmosphere remained friendly. And when it ended in a 0-0 tie, it pretty much put the kibosh on any friction breaking out.
“This is good for us,” Kukulak said.
Agreed Cupp: “Neither side has to pick up the bill.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides. David Struett is a Sun-Times staff reporter.