Profile: Senegalese in Bed-Stuy (part II of three-part series)

One thing that makes Bed-Stuy’s Senegalese community different from Harlem’s is that there are many more Senegalese living in Harlem — thousands, compared to hundreds. The large numbers of Senegalese emigrants in Harlem allows them to form a tighter community, keeping businesses within their circle, as anyone can see while walking through 116th street, which is locally known as “Little Dakar.”

Perhaps more than their counterparts in Harlem, Bed-Stuy’s Senegalese are remaking themselves into Brooklynites, as they follow their dreams through studying and working.

But they also maintain aspects of their Senegalese identity by continuing certain traditions from their home country. For example, family life is extremely important in Senegal, and Senegalese families stay close in Brooklyn, including their extended family members. This practice helps connected them to the people and places of Senegal, a beautiful country with much to offer.

However, after living in the neighborhood for thirty or more years, Senegalese families also adopt many American customs. Younger generations of Senegalese do not see themselves as a tight-knit Senegalese community. They mix with other Africans, as well as Americans of all ethnicities. As far as personal appearance, the younger Senegalese often dress in typical clothes of a Brooklynite.

“My family, we try to live how we want to,” said Ibrahima Samb, 19. “Everybody got their own style. Some continue the African style and some like to pick up on the American style.”

Samb, a nursing student at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College was born and raised in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Six years ago, he came to join his family in Bed-Stuy. His father works for the United Nations, his mother, a hairdresser, and his brothers and sisters are all studying and working. While he is pursuing his degree, Samb works part-time at Clinton Hill’s Le Grand Dakar, an acclaimed African restaurant.

Everyone in Samb’s family observes the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Even though Samb wasn’t surrounded by other Muslims fasting as they would in Senegal, it was not hard to do the fast, he said.

Culinary traditions also remain for many Senegalese, who continue to follow their dietary habits of eating with the whole family, from communal bowls of rice and fish.

The extraverted personality that many Senegalese have has been helpful to them in adjusting to life in Bed-Stuy. “Once I learned English it was very easy for me to make friends,” said Samb, whose first languages were Wolof and French. “Everybody knew me in my [high] school. Senegalese people, wherever we go, people know us. That’s because we’re nice to people, we’re friendlier.”

On Christmas, Samb’s family attended a Senegalese party in Harlem, enjoying the holiday even though they do not observe it religiously. Events like these are important for maintaining connections amongst Senegalese in the diaspora, so that the community can hold onto its roots even as younger generations make Brooklyn their home.

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