Cessay, Yandah. Bronx African American History Project. By Jane Kani Edward. Fordham University Project, February, 2009
Interviewee: Yandeh Ceesay
Interviewer: Dr. Jane Kani Edward
Date of Interview: February 10, 2009
Summarized by Sheina Ledesma
Yandeh Ceesay is an undergraduate student at Fordham University. She was born in 1989 in the West African nation of Gambia. When she was a year old her father left the family and moved to the Bronx. A year later, in 1991, her father was able to send for Yandeh and her mother, and they both moved from Gambia to the Bronx as well. When Yandeh first arrived she lived with her parents in an eight-floor apartment building on Fordham Road. She attended a pre-school located on the Grand Concourse named St. Francis Day School.
During the early years of her childhood, Yandeh’s neighbors routinely babysat her while her father and mother worked. Most of these neighbors who were also of Gambian descent, proved to be a great support system for her and her family. At the time, her father was a nurse at Union Hospital in the Bronx. Her mother initially began working as a jewelry vendor on East Fordham Road however, after a few months she enrolled in an accounting program.
While still in elementary school, Yandeh and her family moved to a Northeastern section of the Bronx called Allerton. Once in high school, Yandeh’s parents decided to send her to a private all-girls high school in Throg’s Neck. It was there that Yandeh began to associate with girls who were of Caribbean and Hispanic descent. Prior to that she had socialized with predominantly Gambian children. She enjoyed her time at the school and noted that it was especially close-knit because of its small size.
As a child, Yandeh was aware of the cultural differences between her and the other girls in her school. Her mother was strict and expected her to stick to their cultural traditions rather than the American trends that Yandeh observed her classmates followed. Yandeh and her family always remained connected with their Gambian roots. They often attended some activities organized by the Gambian Society in their neighborhood where they enjoyed holiday parties and other social gatherings. Growing up Muslim also had an influence on Yandeh as a child. Her father regularly brought her and her siblings to a mosque in Mt. Vernon for Friday prayers. This mosque was comprised of mostly Middle Eastern Muslims however, and so her father eventually brought the children to a Gambian Islamic Sunday school where the children could feel more comfortable. Yandeh expressed that the greatest difference between Gambian Muslims and other Muslims, is the language and the influence African culture has on their worship. She explained that the Islam Gambians follow is much more relaxed than that of Middle Easterns. For example, women wearing head coverings is not compulsory.
Once finished with high school, Yandeh decided that she wanted to attend a University that was close to her family. For this reason she chose to attend Fordham University. At first, it was difficult for Yandeh to adjust to college life, especially since she had decided to live on campus and had to adjust to living separate from her family. However, Yandeh quickly readjusted to her new schedule and began to make friends through school clubs like the African Diaspora Group and the black student union, ASILI, on campus.
Yandeh has three younger siblings, ages fourteen, eight, and four. Her mother recently finished the construction of a new home in Gambia and is planning on moving there permanently with her two youngest children. Yandeh mentioned that saving up to build a new home in Gambia is a goal many Gambian Americans share however, her father does not plan on returning with her mother. Yandeh visits her Gambian relatives every other year but is also not relocating with her mother.
Keywords: Gambia, the Bronx, Fordham Road, St. Francis Day School, the Grand Concourse, Union Hospital, Allerton, Throg’s Neck, Islam, Muslims, Fordham University, African Diaspora Group, ASILI, Mt. Vernon, the Gambian Society