A few months ago, I was sitting in Nando’s with two of my Mitchell fellows getting ready to have my first ever experience at the “Afro-“ Portuguese chain restaurant, when I heard a familiar song—“La Guinee Sore” by Fode Baro, also known as King of zouk in West Africa and one of the most popular artists in Guinea. At first, I thought I was imagining in my head, but no, really in the middle of Dublin City, a song by Fode Baro was actually playing in Sousou (one of my native languages). As a Guinean-American in Dublin, of all places, hearing a song in a public restaurant in one of my native languages, you must have imagined how excited I got.
Although it may be part of Nando’s strategy to play only Afro-beat/songs from Africa in their restaurants anywhere in the world, I still could not tame my excitement of hearing a familiar (non-English) language in a new found country. When I was preparing myself to come to Ireland, I had zero expectation of interacting with someone from Guinea or any Mande People (ethnic groups from Guinea, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Mali), especially after spending 13 years between the Bronx and Harlem and fusing with a diverse immigrant population who spoke similar languages as me. Granted I still haven’t met single a Guinean-Irish, however, over the last few months, learning, connecting and working with African immigrants in Ireland through my work with AkidwA and Wezesha (two Irish NGOs working on im/migrant issues) have been an intriguing experience. Particularly, planning a conference with 10 other EU partners to discuss im/migration and integration in Ireland.
Over the past 3 months, I have been corresponding with various stakeholders in Dublin from the Dublin City Council to the Justice Department, to the Human Rights Council, to the European Migrant Network, to convene Irish community in discussing some of the stigmas held against im/migrants and integration efforts for the newcomers. The conference, taking place on January 25th will be at Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and will engage Irish/Dublin leaders including head of IHREC Emily Logan, Dublin City Councilor Ciarran Cuffe, Secretary of Gender Equality at Justice Department Carol Baxter, and Head of European Migrant Network Ireland, Emma Quinn. Even though there were moments of setbacks (i.e. securing all the major speakers, high attendance, and last minutes unforeseen tasks), it has been a great learning experience to hear about the various im/migration stories (those that are often similar to mine), speak in a familiar language (Francophone French), and connecting spirituality with a Kenya-Bengali Muslim colleague.
Though I looked forward to working with an Irish non-profit organization focused on im/migrant issues such as AkiDwA, I did not expect to quickly pull together a diverse group of stakeholders to discuss an important topic relating to im/migrant integration in Ireland and other EU nations. The experience has proven to provide a sense of connection to Ireland I did not anticipate—giving me a familiar space somehow (though very little) similar to NYC, as I am surrounded and fueled by the experience and stories of newcomers, like me, in Ireland trying to find comfort in their new home.