African American Studies
INTERVIEWER: Mark Naison, Jane Edward
INTERVIEWEE: Mary Boadu
SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell
Mary Boadu was born in Koumase, the Ashanti region of Ghana in 1988. At the time of the interview, was a student at Columbia University. When she was three years old, Mary’s mother got the chance to work in a nursing home in the United States, and she left her family in Ghana. Mary was raised by her father and cousins until 1995, when her father got the opportunity to join her mother in the States. Mary’s mother was pregnant when she left Ghana, and she gave birth to a girl in the States. Mary stayed in Ghana for a few more years, even though both her parents were then living in the States. She was raised by her grandparents, uncles, and aunts. Growing up, Mary spoke English and Twi at home. Mary joined her parents in the Bronx in March 1999.
While living with her family on Morris Ave, she attended CIS 166, a Bronx public school. Her heavy accent marked her as different and she was often ridiculed by her African-American and Latino classmates. Mary found the homework more difficult than at her school in Ghana, and her father, an educated mechanical engineer, frequently helped her. She was also helped by a Ghanaian teacher who taught at the school and took Mary under her wing. Mary’s parents are devout Catholics, and she recalls that the Catholic community was at the center of her family’s social life during those years. Her family still adhered to a traditional Ghanaian way of life, making traditional food, listening to Ghanaian gospel music, and frequently speaking Twi at home.
After 8th grade, Mary attended Governor’s Academy, a boarding school in Byfield, MA, through a “City Prep” program. This was obviously a very different atmosphere than CIS 166 because of differences between the racial and economic demographics at each institution. Mary had difficulty fitting in and was frequently homesick at first, but eventually found her niche at the boarding school. Upon graduation she was accepted to Columbia University. Through Columbia she did tutoring work in the South Bronx and volunteers with diabetic children in Harlem.
Mary mentions many differences between Ghanain and American life: the close-knit family life, the adherence to the Church community, differences between funeral and wedding rituals, liturgical practices, food, music, etc. Mary believes that she may have a religious vocation and may become a nun. She has plans to go back to Ghana, perhaps to live. She has not returned to Ghana since she moved to the Bronx in 1999. At the close of the interview she mentions the difficulties of immigrating for Africans, especially in the wake of 9/11. She mentions that there has been a recent influx of West African and Islamic immigrants in recent years, and that the Islamic and Christian African communities more or less remain separate in New York, much the same as in Ghana. Nevertheless, the Ghanaian immigrants tend to treat education very seriously, and their presence in Bronx public schools tends to increase the performance of the school as a whole.
Boadu, Mary. October 11, 2008. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Boadu, Mary Part 1.mp3 (44891 kB)
Boadu, Mary Part 2.mp3 (48170 kB)