African American Studies
INTERVIEWER: Karima Zerrou
INTERVIEWEE: Mamadou Baye
SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell
Note: This interview was originally conducted in French and translated into English.
Mamadou Baye is a private car/limo service driver who lives on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. She was born in Guinea and raised on the Ivory Coast by a Guinean father and a mother from the Ivory Coast. After leaving school, she broke into the transportation business when she was 18 years old, driving cars in Abdijan and San Pedro. Inspired by the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and the perception that it would be easy to make money in America, she left Abdijan for the USA when she was 28. She chose to emigrate to New York City because she knew that it was a diverse place, and she also had friends there.
Arriving on a tourist visa, Baye stayed at a hotel for five days before temporarily moving in with a friend of her sister’s in Eastchester, outside the Bronx. After 3 weeks she found an apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. At this point she was living off the money she had made as a driver back in Africa, and she did not know if she was going to stay in New York because she spoke absolutely no English. She learned some English from a friend she met in New York, who was also from the Ivory Coast. She secured a weekend job at a gas station, which paid $200 a weekend. After four months she was offered a full-time position at the gas station, which she held for 5 years. This gave her an income of $450 dollars a week. Because of rent increases in Park Slope, Baye moved to Eastern Parkway, where she lives today. It was 6 years until she was able to visit her family back in Africa. In order to make more money, she decided to become a driver in New York. She bought a car, worked for two months, and then sold it back because she did not like the job. Instead, she worked for the GAP for 5 months. After this period, she came back to the transportation industry, hiring out her services with a Sedan. At first she worked for companies, but then realized that she would not have to pay percentages back on her income if she worked privately. She has been independently employed for four years now. At one point, Baye was Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s driver in New York. She also had several other celebrity clients. Nowadays her clients include “all the stars” on Long Island, and she offers VIP transportation to a diverse clientele.
Mamadou Baye is of the Peul (Fula) people, an ethnic minority spread throughout West, Central, and North Africa. The people has its own language and is about “99 percent” Muslim. Once a month Baye meets with members of the New York Peul (Fula) community in a restaurant, usually in Brooklyn. She also attends religious services with Peul people. The prayers are originally in Arabic and sometimes translated into English or Peul. Baye claims that the African groups she encounters most often in New York are Senegalese, Mauritanians, Guineans, and Ivorians. The perception of America has been very different from the reality: it is sometimes very hard to get by, both financially and socially. Yet Baye has few regrets. For now, she plans to stay in New York as a driver, and perhaps to bring her family over to the States.
Baye, Mamadou. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Baye, Mamadou Part 1.mp3 (44650 kB)
Baye, Mamadou Part 2.mp3 (4186 kB)