First Generation American Project: Drinks & Dialogue with Joanna Slusky
By: Ania Jablonowski
What I love about interviewing first generation Americans is discovering the different, non-traditional ways of how their families settled into the United States. For someone like Dr. Joanna Slusky, O.D., the experience of moving to America and finally calling it home took some time and created some lasting memories.
Well before Dr. Joanna started her own eye care practice, Halsted Eye Boutique, she had to learn the English language and acclimate to the US. This was not an easy feat, considering the fact that she moved back and forth from Poland to Chicago several times at a very young age.
The idea of moving to America excited Dr. Joanna when she first found out about it from her mom when she was six years old. The lure of American products – before the days of social media transparency and a glimpse into other cultures – had her beaming with joy. “My aunt lived in Chicago with her husband she kept sending me all these different toys and clothes, and everything was beautiful and perfect. I remember I had this big bear. It was Teddy Ruxpin, and it moved and it talked, and it played songs.” These artifacts, and of course the notion of Disney World, could make any child ready for a new journey in a foreign land.
Dr. Joanna and her mother made their first move when she was in first grade. “I knew nothing. I knew how to say house, door, book, different things like that. I picked up pretty quickly, but I just had a huge accent.” She laughs, “I was this little blonde girl walking around speaking different things, but with a huge accent. Eventually, I lost the accent after maybe five, six months.” What makes her story unique is going back to Poland shortly thereafter, and starting the process over again.
She continues, “When I went back to Poland, everybody that I knew out there was like, ‘Where were you? What happened to you? We thought you got kidnapped.’ My friends were just surprised.” She stayed through second grade and one day, Dr. Joanna and her best friend decided that they were done with Poland and wanted to head back to America at about seven years old. “My friend’s her father lived in America, and my aunt was still in America, so we ran away from home. We took the train and the bus, we made it to another town. I was wearing cowboy boots, and she was wearing a little Super Girl outfit.” We laugh hysterically at her story, as she almost made is back to the States. “Finally, somebody stopped us. A conductor at a train station, was asked us, ‘Where are your moms?’ and we replied, ‘Oh no. We’re going to America. We’re fine.’” The girls didn’t quite realize their American dream at that moment and were safely sent back home.
For the next few years, Dr. Joanna got into the routine of settling back into school in Chicago, then back in Poland. After four times of moving, her family settled in permanently. I asked her what it was like from a lingual standpoint to have to learn and re-learn English again. We joked that it was a Lingual Rat Race. “Everybody was always telling me that I have a different accent. In America, I always had a Polish accent, and I kept going back and forth, and then I would go back to Poland, and people would say, ‘So, we see you have an American accent now.’ In America, it was a negative perception. In Poland, it was cool at that time because everybody wanted to come to America,” she says.
In sixth grade, Dr. Joanna was able to call Park Ridge her home. Since she was gone for two years during her last move, she did not have any friends that she kept in touch with and had to start all over again. “People weren’t really accepting me. They weren’t really talking to me. Within a matter of a week, finally, this really, really sweet Puerto Rican girl named Esme, the only Hispanic girl in school, basically adopted me as her little sister. Esme, also a first generation American, grew up with a strong cultural background and taught Dr. Joanna how to cook all of the traditional meals, dance salsa, and even speak some Spanish. The two are still good friends to this day.
Throughout high school, most of Dr. Joanna’s friends were American of Italian, Greek, or Russian descent. She says, “We didn’t have that big of a Polish circle. Therefore, I think I had just adopted to those other cultures and found a little bit of theirs in my own, and inhibited theirs.
She maintained the Polish language at home with her mother, cooked Polish dishes, and preserved the culture. However, her lunches did not consist of pierogi and kapusta. “They wanted to Americanize me, so I always got a normal sandwich that looked good and healthy, and nothing that I ever took to school was Polish food.” She mentions this during our interview with Gino Bartucci, our Italian-American friend who recalled brining giant Italian subs with a side of sardines.
After graduating high school, Dr. Joanna started working fulltime at her aunt’s furniture store, Vogue, and tended to all of the business responsibilities from sales, to managing the office, to interior decorating, and everything in between. “It gave me a whole different perspective on a private business, on ownership.” At that time, she was also attending a community college and was inspired by an acquaintance to pursue a career in eye health. She transferred schools and moved forward with bigger dreams.
Dr. Joanna Slusky attended Northwestern University, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Illinois College of Optometry. Her academic merits include the Tomb and Key Honor Fraternity, and Beta Sigma Kappa International Honor Society academic honor recognition.
She then opened Halsted Eye Boutique, providing comprehensive eye examinations. Dr. Joanna has a special interest in pediatric vision care, and the management of the anterior segment of adult eyes. Ocular allergy, dry eye, and specialty contact lens care are the emphasis of her vision and ocular health care in our community. Dr. Joanna has been recognized by the leaders of the contact lens industry for her recommendations for the best vision care options for her patients.
Dr. Joanna welcomes new patients, whether insured or uninsured. "With dedication, dignity, and knowledge, I look forward to serving you and your family’s vision care needs as your eye care specialist. You are more than a patient in our practice; you are part of our family."
To connect with Dr. Joanna Slusky and learn more about Halsted Eye Boutique, stop by Halsted Eye Boutique located at 2852 N. Halsted Avenue in Lakeview or visit www.halstedeyeboutique.com