Winona, Minnesota proudly claims the distinction of being the Kashubian Capital of America. The Kashubophile Polish linguist and sociologist, Stefan Ramult, awarded it this title in his 1899 book, Statystyka ludnosci kaszubskiej (Statistics of the Kashubian Population), by including this communication from Hieronim Derdowski, editor of Winona’s Polish-language newspaper Wiarus (p.243):
"Winona is a city of 20,000 inhabitants, between which there are a thousand pure Poles and four thousand Kashubs). Although other cities have more Kashubian elements in their walls, Winona is the capital of Kashubian America. This is where the ancient Kashubian customs, such as "roses" (requests) for weddings, "empty nights" with the bodies of the dead, the procession before the "body" in Holy Communion, the "apostle", and various church ceremonies. We have a beautiful church built two years ago at the expense of a hundred thousand dollars in Romanesque style." Most Kashubians live in a suburb, called the "Fourth ward", and this ward covers one quarter of the city. They are a powerhouse here: they choose their three city councilors, their alderman, sometimes have up to seven policemen, their own fire department, etc. In recent times, industry has developed in our district. Meat markets in the fourth ward are almost all in Kashubian hands, more than a dozen "salons" (bars), several grocery stores, furniture trade, several ready-to-wear garments and shoe shops, tailor's shops, etc. The main source of income is three giant sawmills employing up to two thousand workers. It is rare to find such an urban Kashubian settlement in America, where we can connect to our farms. Not far from Winona, there is a pure Kashubian satellite settlement in Pine Creek..."
Working largely on the basis of this communication from Derdowski, Ramult estimates the dispersal of Kashubians around the world at 130,700, including 90, 700 in the United States, 25,000 in Canada, and 15,000 in Brazil. Even though Winona's population of 4,000 Kashubians was less than the Kashubian populations of Illinois (30,000) and Wisconsin (30,000), and New York (7.000), it is significant that he agreed with Derdowski's identification of Winona as the Kashubian Capital of America.
But just how Kashubian did the immigrants consider themselves in 1900? As soon as they had arrived, Winonans had referred to them as “Polaks” and “Polanders.” The Kashubians’ neighborhood was originally known as “Warsaw.” After the parish of Saint Stanislaus Kostka was established in 1871, it was staffed with priests who spoke “pure Polish,” not Kashubian. The parish school educated its students in “pure Polish,” and Derdowski prided himself on having taught his Kashubian readers “pure Polish.” As Polish immigration from all three partitions of Poland picked up speed after 1870, the concept of Polonia as a Polish nation within America became more and more popular. Instead of the grinding poverty which had forced Kashubians to seek a better life in America, they could now embrace nearly a millenium of glorious Polish history and high culture extending from Mieszko the First to Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Their Kashubian accents and vocabulary still remained, but in all other respects Winona’s Kashubian immigrants had become essentially Polish.
This “Polonization” of Winona’s Kashubian community was unavoidable. Nor, despite the Kashubians’ resistance to Polonization in the old country, was it a bad thing in the new country. Derdowski himself had stated, even before emigrating to the United States, that “there is no Kashubia without Poland and no Poland without Kashubia.” Though he Kashubia’s first published poet, Derdowski yet recognized that the Kashubians themselves had never constituted a nation by themselves, and never would. Therefore he believed that the Kashubians’ destiny was as a part of a reunited Polish nation. Like the rest of Polonia's intelligentsia, he placed the highest priority upon working toward Polish reunification. In changing over from an isolated Kashubian settlement to an important outpost of American Polonia, Winona’s Kashubian Polish community was following the trajectory set out by its greatest and most famous member, Hieronim Derdowski.