Senegal : Little Senegal Brings West Africa To Manhattan


Well-Known Member
Oct 25, 2005
Again our media uses Black History Month for its programming, why can't regular people in the community.

Again I dont here this African say "I dont understand" when he came to America and I am happy that his family and his wealth are doing good and always on the increase. He understand there are problems but still finding ways to move beyond that with vision.

What I highlighted in red is the best thing I have read all day.

Black History Month: Little Senegal Brings West Africa To Manhattan

February 22, 2006

As "Black History Month" continues on NY1, we turn our focus to a community in Manhattan dominated by immigrants from West Africa. And as our Rebecca Spitz tells us, Little Senegal is making a big impact on the newly arrived and those who've come to call New York home.

Papa Tall smiles as he walks on 116th Street because he is home. Not only does he know everyone, he is everyone, having lived much the same immigrant experience as countless numbers before him, selling products made in his native Senegal.

"I was a street peddler for a long time, then I used to set up shop - tables - on 125th Street selling African art/crafts and so on,” says Papa Tall. “And then after a while I stopped and went into cab driving. From that I went on to be a security guard, and back to cab driving, and back to school at the same time."

Now he's a teacher and a doctoral student at CUNY, but that's a long way from where he started.

Papa Tall was born in Senegal, and in the early 1990s moved to Harlem, like many West African immigrants before him. He says Harlem was full of possibilities, but there were problems too, like language barriers, and cultural and religious differences.

“In order for us to overcome these obstacles we just get together, create our own ethnic niche where we live our own culture, and we don't feel that far away from home," he says.

Little Senegal, as it's known outside of Harlem, stretches along 116th Street from Eighth Avenue all the way to Lexington Avenue. The businesses are almost exclusively African-owned, but have a distinct New York City feel.

“We have Americans, we have French, we have Italians, we have a variety of people,” says Houleye Sy, the owner of Sokhna Restaurant. “We even have Chinese and Japanese people who come in here, so we have to adapt it to the New York way."

Sokhna Restaurant is a business Sy says is crowded every day because people crave her Senegalese food, wanting to feel as if they're still home.

Business is also good around the corner at a barber shop where the owner is serious about succeeding in New York.

"Everywhere you go - to Africa, the United States - you've got to work hard to make it. Have a vision in life," says Muhammed Fall.

It’s that vision, according to Papa Tall, that's driving the Senegalese immigration.

"More than the money, it's the possibility, the opportunities that are opened to every single one of us that lands here and is willing to sacrifice themselves to reach that goal," he says.

But once that goal is reached, do these immigrants stay? Yes, but there are always some reservations.

"The Senegalese community is large here, and my family goes back and forth, so I'm good," says Fall.

“I wish I could split my time between here and there, but since I'm here I'm doing the best of it,” says Hy. “New York is wonderful - it's the place to be."

Not only for Papa Tall, but for his wife, and their children - born here as American citizens. All are paving the way for larger Senegalese presence that continues to grow.

“Just based on what we see on the streets and the dynamic on the street, you can tell that this is really, really getting big,” says Papa Tall.

It’s a trend that makes him beam with pride.

- Rebecca Spitz
Little Senegal: Africa in Harlem
by Marième O. Daff

Malcolm X Boulevard, America's Dakar!

Most French people discovered the existence of this little enclave in the heart of Harlem where a large African community lives thanks to Rachid Bouchareb's latest film Little Senegal. Alloune, a retired Senegalese man played by the Burkinabè actor Sotigui Kouyaté, comes to New York to find his family's descendants brought here as slaves. Turning up on his illegal taxi driver nephew's doorstep in this "revisited" Harlem, Alloune discovers a world where his African brothers and American cousins live side-by-side without actually mixing. This is a daily reality in this part of New York where the African population has grown considerably.

The neighbourhood is known as "Little Senegal" as it is mainly Senegalese immigrants who have settled there. Although a recent and as yet poorly documented immigration, it's nonetheless a big talking point. According to the Senegalese journalist Dame Babou, "no one really knows their number. Some say 10 000, 15 000 or 25 000 in New York alone. I reckon that there are a lot more than that! It's impossible to know with all the illegal immigrants. What is certain is that it's a predominant group that represents more than half the African immigrants here."

For most New Yorkers, this new wave of immigration is incarnated by the street-sellers seen everywhere in Manhattan's shopping areas. They sell false Rolex watches, tee shirts, or umbrellas. But what do people really know about them, beyond this reductive stereotype? Not a lot, unless they adventure into their "territory" in west Harlem.

Little Senegal is indeed quite another world. Strolling along 116th West Street in the humid New York summer heat is like being in the centre of Dakar, or even the popular Médina district. Men and women brighten up the sidewalks with their brightly coloured boubous. Wolof can be heard everywhere (or occasionally a bit of French), melodiously drowned out by the sounds of Youssou N'Dour emanating from nearly every shop. Loads of hairdresser's with garish signs are dotted along the street. At a crossing, touts hassle you gently, like in Paris' Château d'Eau or Stasbourg St Denis, "Come in, we do beautiful plaits - at half the price".

But when spicy smells start tickling your taste buds, you really feel at home. The neighbourhood has no less than half-a-dozen restaurants offering a wide range of West African specialities. One of the most popular is "Africa", where exiles with nostalgic palates meet up for a good Thiebou Dieune, Senegal's national dish. The restaurant opened in 1994 and quickly became a favourite in the community. "The dishes are quite simply excellent", explains Mustapha Sylla, one of "Africa's" regulars. But there is more to it than that. "It's like being in Dakar, or with the family here. More than just a restaurant, it's a meeting place for the community too. Various small community groups put their notices up here, for concerts, parties, and the like. There are sometimes respects for the dead too. It helps us to stay informed about what's going on and to help too if needs be".

Mutual aid and hospitality - "teranga" in Wolof - remains a fundamental value for the Senegalese in America. They have brought their "daïra" tradition with them, a system of weekly or monthly contributions whose funds are used in the event of an emergency. When someone dies, for example, these groups pay the cost of repatriating the body and also financially provide for the deceased's family.

This scenario is all the more tragic when the body brought home is riddled with bullets… Little Senegal is Harlem, after all, and does not escape the ambient violence. Taxi drivers are particularly vulnerable to this violence. The phenomenon directly affects the community, therefore, many of whom work in this profession. Their poor English and the fact that they don't know the neighbourhoods they drive around very well makes them easy targets.

To date, 41 Senegalese taxi drivers have been killed in the streets of New York.

It's hardly surprising that Harlem's other black populations are greatly mistrusted in this climate. Very few Little Senegal residents frequent them and vice-versa. There is a two-way feeling of racism and the divide is difficult to breach. Some do make the effort, however, albeit timidly, notably a few "back to the roots" black Americans seeking to reappropriate their African roots. They can sometimes be seen eating at "Africa" - they almost overdo their enthusiasm! The same people can be seen buying cloth, craftwork, or music at Harlem's African market - on a quick, imaginary journey. After all, Little Senegal already offers a real taste of Africa.


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