Ex-pats celebrate with music and food from their African homeland
Africans from across the city celebrated Ghanaian culture at the 7th annual Afro Cultural Parade and Festival in Crotona Park on Aug. 13. The Bronx’s Ghanaian community has grown rapidly in recent years, to become a major destination for that West African country’s diaspora.
The National Ghana Parade Council organized the event, along with the National Council of Ghanaians Association, African Friends of United States Incorporated and Aduana Kuo of North America.
The theme of this year’s event was “youth empowerment,” with an emphasis on creating opportunities for young people to become community leaders through mentorships and job opportunities.
African artists performed a traditional Durbar procession, and native fabrics and foods were sold, lending the afternoon a Ghanaian feel.
Dressed in colorful kente clothing, feathers and gold, Mott Haven resident Katherine Cudjoe, president of the National Ghana Parade Council, led the procession into the park as they drummed and chanted Ghanaian folk songs. She was joined by Prince Sampson Afriyie, the group’s founder.
What started as a loose gathering of community members soon became a colorful display of the country’s culture.
“It’s important for us to share Ghanaian culture, and provide a cross cultural experience in the Bronx,” said Ana Kwa Dwamena, 25, a National Ghana Parade Council volunteer.
John Quansah, a health inspector for the state and a reggae musician, was one of the performers. Quanash grew up in Ghana, left high school in 1991 to emigrate to the Bronx, and has made a home for himself in Baychester ever since.
But entertaining the crowd with his music was just part of what Quanash had in mind. He had also come to urge his fellow ex-pats to take advantage of their opportunities.
“I am trying to get our people economic empowerment by owning a piece of the American dream, which is real estate,” said Quansah. “I want our people to stop renting and start owning.”
New York City has the largest number of immigrants and second-generation residents from Ghana in the country, according to a 2014 report by the Migration Policy Institute. The heaviest wave of immigration began in the 1980s as the result of the country’s growing economic and political instability. Many have since settled in Melrose, Highbridge, and Claremont. As of 2014, there were 35,000 Ghanaians in the five boroughs.
In 2010, Bronx borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., announced the creation of the African Advisory Council, to help identify emerging issues for Africans in the borough.
“Most Ghanaians reside in the Bronx,” said Cudjoe. “This is our home.” Ghanaian-owned grocery stores, variety shops, travel agencies, and restaurants are prominent along the Grand Concourse and throughout the South Bronx.
“Nowhere in the world will you have 24-hour Ghanaian restaurants,” said Quansah. “Only in the Bronx you can find that.”
Accompanying the excitement over the opportunity to join the middle class in their new homeland, however, many Ghanaians feel a sense of nostalgia for the unique customs of their homeland that was palpable at Crotona Park.
“Some of us see our family member once every 10 years,” said Aramatu Ahmed, 50, a Kingsbridge resident. “We are remembering our forefathers in Africa, and incorporating our culture into our daily life in America.”