Continuously making headlines over the past few weeks, Mali, the francophone West African country, doesn’t seem that far away when we think of the Malian population that exists within the borders of the United States.
As a nation of immigrants, it comes as no surprise that we have our very own Malian community. According to the latest Census, there are approximately 8000 Malian Americans, most immigrating to the United States in the 1970s to the mid-1990s.In search for economic progression and educational improvement, as a result of the coup on education in the 90s, they primarily settled in New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, and Baltimore.
According to the New York Times in 2007, “… precious few attain achieve citizenship: About 85 Malians a year, and as few as 19, since 1996. Only a handful have been granted asylum, typically women seeking refuge from genital cutting, which is widespread in West Africa.”
The largest Malian American population is in New York City, consisting of about 20,000 people, mostly in the Bronx where approximately 8,000 reside.
Aside from their love for bouille (a traditional pudding) or their passion for Mande music, above all else, what truly distinguishes a Malian household is the sighting of the national Malian Flag (often next to the American flag), a symbolic representation of the pan-African unity movement, green to symbolize hope,gold to honor represent Mali’s significant natural resource, and red to honor the blood shed against colonization.
You may have interacted with the Malian community without even knowing it: you may have worshiped with them (the majority of the population is Muslim). You may have eaten their food, or you may have seen the Malian community celebrating on September 22, the Malian Independence Day. Many of this is encouraged by the Malian Cultural Center, which aims to promote the education and smooth transition of Malians into the American society. They also provide opportunities to further their French educational ties,for example, through the French Heritage Language Program in cooperation with the French American Cultural Exchange organization.
The opportunities for Malians in the United States is increasing with the (slow but continuous) presence of the population in the American society; after all, it renders yet another opportunity for cultural expansion within the nation, and what better place to do it other than in New York City?