African American Studies
INTERVIEWER: Mark Naison, Jane Edward
INTERVIEWEE: Sonia Bonsu
SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell
Sonia Bonsu was born in the Bronx on March 16, 1977. She attended public school in the Bronx, then the Calhoun School in Manhattan, and Harvard University as an undergraduate. She then attended law school at Fordham University, and she is currently the Director of Annual Giving at the Calhoun School. She was raised by both her parents, who were Ghanaian immigrants (Ashanti people). Her father had come to the Bronx in 1969 on a student visa for a job and brought his wife with him shortly thereafter. He worked as a taxi driver and his wife worked as a living assistant in a nursing home. Sonia was brought up as a Christian along with 3 sisters, and her parents’ first language was Twi. The children never spoke Twi fluently, and Sonia’s parents learned English from their jobs, their friends, etc. Sonia attended PS 106 in the Bronx until sixth grade. Her classmates were predominately Caribbean and Puerto Rican. After being accepted by the “Prep for Prep” program Sonia qualified for a full scholarship at the Calhoun School on the Upper West Side. There her classmates were almost exclusively white, and she at first had some difficulty fitting in. Yet she participated in forensics, and at one point was the 18th best speaker in the nation in the speech event of “oratorical declamation.” She was accepted at Harvard, which she found to be quite diverse after her experiences at Calhoun. She subsequently attended Fordham Law because she wanted some more time to weigh her options and had heard that holding a law degree presented a variety of opportunities.
While she was growing up, Sonia’s parents worked around the clock to support the family. Her father would rent a cab to drive every day and would work from 8 AM until 10 PM. Her mother would work the night shift at the nursing home, from 11 PM until 7 AM. The Bonsu children had a traditional Ghanaian upbringing organized around the values of education and religion. The children were encouraged to study and remain close to the family. For the most part, they were not encouraged to become involved in the life of non-Ghanaian communities. Social events included weddings and funerals, which featured traditional Ghanaian rites, food, and music. Yet her upbringing was not extraordinarily strict or exclusive either: her parents encouraged her to succeed and also supported her independence. There were no strictures on what kinds of people she could associate with, marry, etc. This is partially because Sonia is the third of four daughters, and her parents have “softened” as time has gone by.
According to Sonia, the Ghanaian community in the Bronx is well-integrated, and it incorporates African traditions with an American way of life. While her parents’ generation was concerned with making enough money in America in order to buy and maintain a home back in Ghana, members of Sonia’s generation are not so fast to return to Africa. Ghanaians tend to invest more readily in American institutions and businesses now, and have succeeded in carving out a social and economic niche for themselves on American soil. In 2002, after taking the Bar exam, Sonia traveled to Ghana to visit her extended family and met many of them for the first time.
Bonsu, Sonia. September 27, 2008. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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