African American Studies
Interviewee: Nana Atta-Mensah
Interviewer: Dr. Jane Edwards
Date of Interview: May 16, 2007
Summarized by Alice Stryker
Nana Atta-Mensah migrated to the Bronx in 1979. He was from Ghana originally, then moved to Germany for 10 years, then moved back to Ghana and from there immigrated to the United States. When he initially moved to the Bronx he was working as a gas station attendant. In 2005, however, he went back to school at Lehman College and got degrees in Accounting and African American Studies. With these degrees, he now operates a small business on Gun Hill Road.
He also discusses the history of his tribe, the Ashanti. He discusses the language the group speaks and the way the tribes govern themselves. One of the features of their way of governing is that there are chiefs and Obaping governing the small communities and Kings and Queens governing the larger community. This tradition has carried over into the Bronx. Atta-Mensah discusses the Kings and Queens that are in the Bronx and the other 4 burrows of New York. He in fact, was once chosen as the King of the Bronx. He discusses the way these people are elected in the 5 burrows and what their responsibilities are.
The religion of the Ashanti community living in the Bronx is for the most part Christian, however he points out that there are also many Muslim Ashanti living in the Bronx as well. They hold religious services in their own languages with their own priests. He is part of the Church of Pentecost.
The neighborhood he currently lives in is very diverse. He says that all of the groups, for the most part, coexist peacefully. There is, however, tension between the African community in the Bronx and the African American community. He says that the African Americans would make fun of the Africans because of the differences in cultures, like food, dress, music, education, etc. Many children born in America to African parents resent their African heritage and express no desire to learn their parents’ language or culture. This is all out of fear of being harassed by African American students.
Atta-Mensah then discusses his business. He did not have a difficult time starting his business because of a course he took on operating a small business while at Lehman College. However, the process was still difficult, as a story about attempting to get a loan demonstrates.
He says there are many reasons Africans move to the US. In the 1960’s, for example, Africa was a very tumultuous place and many wanted to escape from the violence. Others came for economic reasons. He hopes to go back to Ghana after earning a masters degree. With this degree, he believes he can help rebuild his country.
He discusses the way Africans living in the Bronx are able to continue cooking and drinking the same things they did in Ghana. For example, some restaurants carry African dishes and even African beer and wines. There are even celebrations for Ghana’s independence day. Though much of their cultural practices have been preserved in the Bronx, gender roles and practices are completely different in the United States. This requires immigrants to do some adjusting.
Attah-Mensah, Nana. May 16, 2007. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Attah-Mensah, Nana.mp3 (44359 kB)