African American Studies
Mariama is a native of Guinea in West Africa and was born into a relatively privileged family. She has 7 siblings and her father had 2 wives, which caused family tensions in her childhood. When she was 12 she moved to Senegal to get a better education, and at age 17 she moved to New York. Though it is common for Africans to move to Europe in search of a better life, she initially went to the US to visit her sister who was a model and decided to stay after falling in love with her husband in New York. She settled into a one-bedroom apartment with her husband and her sister’s family. She recognizes that she was disillusioned, expecting America to be a land of wealth, before moving there.
She was able to stay in the US after getting married to a white citizen of Polish ancestry, though she still does not have “papers” to stay here permanently. She remembers them falling in love only one week after meeting, and says that although she couldn’t speak English they both spoke the “language of love.” Their relationship eventually turned sour when he became obsessed with controlling her life, and he eventually left her though she doesn’t mention why.
She recalls him leaving her, and she had to fend for herself with only $20. She managed to get a job at a French restaurant but was fired in 3 days. She prayed to God for a miracle, and her cousin from Norway called her with a job offer immediately after, making up to $2000 a week at a store called Eredi Pisano. Her husband’s father died that week, and she fell into depression after they never got back together. She would cry at the park every day for 18 months and contemplate suicide. After her sister divorced, she had to support her sister financially. However, they would tell their family they were doing well in America and send them money to not raise suspicion.
She eventually enrolled in make-up school that cost $20,000. Her friend paid for half of it. She worked at Marc Company and quickly rose the ranks, because her African identify was thought to be “exotic” – though she was fired after 2 years. Afterwards though, she was compensated with $100,000 through a court case, which she cannot talk about. She no longer wanted to work for someone and start a foundation called “Girls to the Maxx” and “There is no limit” to empower women and to “educate people on the issues of poverty, disease, and also to develop trade between developing countries and the rest of the world.” She received support from people in the fashion industry, world-class chefs, and even celebrities.
She dreams of becoming very important in Hollywood one day, and she wants to help her home country of Guinea by becoming the Minister of Public Relations. Her foundation aims to help Guinean women start their own businesses, educate children in Guinea, and help Guinean immigrants in New York.
Camara, Mariama. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Camara, Mariama Part 1.mp3 (9772 kB)
Camara, Mariama Part 2.mp3 (13391 kB)
Camara, Mariama Part 3.mp3 (8589 kB)
Camara, Mariama Part 4.mp3 (47349 kB)