A recent article published in the Smithsonian Magazine focuses on Ghanaian immigrants in New York City, specifically in the Bronx. The authors, Sue Halpern and Bill McKibben, were taken to eat traditional Ghanaian food such as fufu, ground plantain pounded into a thick doughy ball and served in soup, and banku, fermented corn, served with okra soup, and to meet local leaders in this community.
'“We’re an invisible community,” says [Felix] Sarpong, a dean at a local high school who’s also a music promoter—indeed, a promoter of anything that will bring attention to his fellow Ghanaians. “The American mainstream, they simply don’t recognize this culture. This culture needs more spotlight. Ghanaians are so loving, so helpful, so kind. They’re just invisible."'
Approximately 20,000 Ghanian immigrants make up this community, one of the largest ethnic communities in the Bronx. There are restaurants that serve traditional food, a movie house named after the town Agogo in the Ashanti region, the Adum African Market, and an area called "Little Accra." There are numerous barbershops and hair salons and Ghanaian high-life music can be heard playing throughout the community. Twenty years ago this area was a predominantly of Jewish neighborhood, but now its almost completely Ghanaian. Many of these immigrants arrived in the US, and subsequently the Bronx, in the 1980s and 1990s.
For those who are doing well, work in the US will often end in a move back to Ghana. Says Bronx resident Danso Abrese: "'...In three years, when I’m 62 and have my pension, I’ll go home. I came here to work, and when the work is over I’ll go.”' Felix Sarpong’s parents, who spent forty years here in the US, have already gone back to Ghana.
Unfortunately not everyone fares as well. Even with high degrees and education, some recent immigrants have been forced to abandon their skills and resort to driving cabs or working in hotels. Its a very stressful time for many, with little time to relax, and especially tough on older adults and children. '“...Lots of people back home, they have this idea of the American dream, and they sell everything to come. When they get here, it’s heartbreaking for them”' said Samuel Asamoah.
However, this is a tight knit and interwoven community, with many lending their skills to help others in the community and abroad. The three Boakye siblings, Kwaku, Kwabena, and their sister Maame, all embody this. After following their parents to the US 17 years ago, where their father worked as a radiologist, brothers, Kwaku and Kwabena both went to medical school and have founded the Gold Coast Medical Foundation. This organization sends equipment and supplies to hospitals in developing countries and also sponsors medical trips to areas struck by natural disasters. They also lend aid to their current community, setting up a network throughout the Bronx that provides immigrants with basic health information.
Their sister, Maame, began training as psychologist but then earned a culinary degree from the Art Institute of New York City. After working on nutrition at an HIV/AIDS clinic she serendipitously met the celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson after he recently opened his restaurant, the Red Rooster in Harlem. Since then she's been working alongside Samuelsson and serving up Ghanaian dishes to mainstream NY, working on fulfilling her dream of making "Ghanaian food known worldwide."