Last night at Gracie Mansion, the iconic NYC Mayors’ residence, the African community gathered to celebrate an event titled African Heritage. It wasn’t the first time. A similar event was organized by the Mayor’s office in 2018, and it was so real; so great. People left with their heads swelled. As for the 2019 African Heritage celebrated last night, the experience is still undergoing a superfluous check.

Apart from a few events here and there organized under the umbrella of United Nations events, or some within the neighborhood block and various NYC diaspora communities, the NYC Mayor’s office African Heritage event is becoming prestigious; a vehicle that brings the African community leaders together.

It’s fostering cultural pride and bringing young Africans including those that weren’t born on the continent to the core. It’s also appearing to be a space where African diaspora, but particularly African immigrants feel that they are recognized, and that their voices and contributions within the broad spectrum of the City matter.

And so people enjoy this, and make it a point to put other business aside and attend if invited. They don’t attend casually either, but in their various traditional outfits, and the in the spirit of joy and thankfulness to NYC leadership, they share and celebrate their heritage and culture – all that make them different, unique, and valued.

Last night event started with food, drink, and music, followed by very brief speeches from the First Lady, the Mayor, and the awardee who received the Mayor’s proclamation.

A traditional African celebration would feature a communal gathering where everyone -hosts and guests – come together to celebrate, and it looks like many people were indeed able to experience this with the Mayor last night.

It also appears that the event operated on a decent budget. The portable toilets were just as great as those used in Africa, Haiti, construction sites, and crowded festivals. It’s so amazing for dignitaries and leaders to have to use them.

After the brief speeches was time for everybody to go. A man with a very special voice; so deep to get the job done; who appeared to have been very well scripted for this role, helped in ensuring that people respect time and protocol. He took the microphone at about 8PM, and in his best professional voice-over started announcing “…please make your way to the exist”.

According to an African proverb, in Swahili, it says

“Mgeni njoo, Mwenyeji Apone,”

meaning: the host/hostess is letting the guests come so that they (the host/hostess) may benefit from their coming. An Egyptians proverb says

“listen or examine what is said, and not him who speaks.”

In African culture, you don’t tell your guest to leave, and if you must do, you need effective diplomacy.

To be fair, a gathering similar to this on African soil wouldn’t feature random guests, but only the cronies and the network of the elected officials who invited them. The press may not even be allowed, and if at all, must be “carefully” screened and selected. But then, their ways of getting their numbers and building coalitions, when needed, they know best.

Africans in New York are grateful for an event like this regardless – the free food and drinks and the music, and more importantly, the recognition that a community of Africans are here in NYC for good. And for how the celebration went down, perhaps this is a lesson 101 on assimilation?

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