he Guinean immigrant community in New York City has been the center point for two high profile legal cases: Nafissatou Diallo, the Sofitel hotel maid that accused former IMF financial chief Dominique-Strauss Khan of sexual assault; and the senselessly murdered 23-year-old Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by NYPD police officers in 1999. Despite the press coverage, very few New Yorkers understand anything about the community. Like most immigrants, their lives are not sensational and tragic, but consumed with their efforts to achieve political and economic freedom.
One of the first waves of Guinean immigration to the U.S. began in the early 1960’s, when 150 top Guinean students received full scholarships to attend universities in the United States and France. In the late 1980’s, the migration of Guineans to New York City exploded, with most moving to the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Moussa Dabo came to New York in 1988 to study. He earned a masters degree in mathematical finance from Columbia University and is now a PhD candidate in Statistics, who works as the CEO of the diamond retail business he inherited from his father, Taty Vision Stones Inc. “I arrived in New York in 1988 with the only intention to receive an education,” He says. He believes the younger Guinean generations living in New York have a different mentality, focusing primarily on making money and sending remittances to support the families they left behind.
Alpha Amadou Diallo, a graduate student in sustainable development and social justice at SIT Graduate Institute, came from a poor family. He describes the development of his political identity. “I am from Labe and came to this country in 1997 as a poor person that did not speak a word of English. I left Guinea as an individual and was identified as a Fulani then entered into the United States as an outsider and became known as an African.” It was after receiving a full scholarship to high school that, he says, “I discovered my black identity, political and social consciousness.”
The Fulani ethnic group is one of three dominant tribes out of two dozen in Guinea. The “Fula” are the ethnic majority among New York City Guineans. Alpha Diallo’s entrepreneurial goal is to establish an African credit union that provides financial services and education to African communities in New York.
Some immigrants experience the dark side of pursuing the American dream, when they miss what they believe is their window of opportunity for financial success due to their advancing age and lack of education. Without it, many immigrants are vulnerable, relying on remedial jobs to support themselves and fulfill their cultural obligation to send money back home on a monthly basis.
Ibrahim Camara, ethnically Sousou, came to New York in 1995 as a skilled tailor who had lived in Paris for over 20 years. He currently earns a living as a security guard. After being in this country for over 16 years, he describes in broken English “I came to this country too late. Did not get a chance to go to school and my father did not encourage it because my father’s mentality was only go to Arabic school to learn how to pray.”
With Guinea now classified as a newly democratic nation after decades of dictatorship, the expectations of Guineans in the country and abroad remain high to rapidly transform the country’s political and economic landscape. The newly elected President, Alpha Condé, is a long time opposition leader who won the first democratic election in 2010 against Cellou Dalein Diallo, a former prime minister of the second Guinean President Lansana Conté.
After almost two years of Conde’s presidency, the same challenges are still facing the country’s poor, who are dreaming about having electricity, water, healthcare and education. Skepticism has returned to the hearts of many, as so many of the youth emigrate and Guineans abroad are left with no incentives to return home.