What makes America great? Conversations in Union Square, Portrait 2: Andrew
Andrew: late 30s, shaved head and a goatee, is a London-born Ghanaian — tall, powerful looking, broadshouldered, with an exuberant, gap toothed smile — who became a US citizen in 2010.
At Andrew’s invitation, I am at his apartment for the Super Bowl, eating Haitian Creole goat from a Union Square restaurant, drinking red wine, and enjoying Andrew’s enthusiasm whenever he jumps up from the couch to yell in exasperation or triumph. Opposite his large screen TV, two framed black and white photos, of scenes from Boston and New York City, hang on the wall over his leather sectional couch. Andrew has lived in Boston since 2007 and is a Patriots fan.
Andrew assesses business loans at one of the area’s regional banks. Over the last ten years, he has made his way from smaller banks to bigger ones, his salary gradually increasing along the way.
On his shoulder is a tattoo of some script in Twi, a major Ghanaian language, surrounded by a thick circle. Taken together, they mean ‘Only God completes me.’ Andrew is not a steady churchgoer, but does sometimes go the Catholic mass at St. Catherine’s, a parish just west of Union Square.
Andrew’s Ghanaian father was a sniper in the British Royal Army, so Andrew was born in London. When he was three, his parents split up, and his mother took him back to Accra, the capital city of Ghana, where she largely abandoned him.
“In West Africa. West…Africa!
“It was very difficult. Being a child, not knowing where your parents are.”
He goes quiet.
I decide not to pry.
I ask him if there was anything he loved about being a kid in Accra.
“Oh…running around the streets, doing some shit. Nothing specific.
“I’m sure I got up to some shenanigans.” He laughs.
When he was 13, his father’s girlfriend at the time, who Andrew calls Auntie Nana, decided to put together the paperwork to get him off the streets of Accra and back to London.
It was a deep culture shock to arrive in a London primary school. Uniforms. Accents. The weather. The city.
“London. Too much to do. We used to take Tube rides everywhere to go exploring.
“My primary school was very close to MI6. We used to go over there and hassle the people coming out of the building. ‘You’re a spy! You’re a spy!’” He laughs. “They hated us.”
While Andrew was in primary school his father left him in the care of another “auntie” and moved without him to America, to Worcester, MA, the second largest city in the state after Boston. Andrew went to Worcester for vacations and, after he finished school, moved there to be with his father.
“In African families, you go where the father is. So it seemed like the thing to do.”
Andrew’s first step was to go to night school in downtown Worcester, with eight other students, to earn his GED. Then, a local community college. Then, the University of Lowell, just north of Boston. And then, more recently, while working full time at the bank, he went through a three year program at Curry College to get his MBA.
“This is a great country.
“Is it perfect? No. No rational person would say that. But there’s no perfect place anywhere else. Here, there’s more benefits than losses.
“I feel free here.
“Recently, I have felt differently. Right after the election, for the first time in my life, I felt physically threatened.
“I don’t feel the world is crumbling down. But Trump has given a voice to racism and bigotry. It had been around, but now they have somebody to speak their voice.
“But what makes America great is all the people out there protesting against the policies being put forward by this guy.
“Donald J. Trump.” He laughs. “Put that down on the record. Donald…J…Trump.”
The game arrives at half time, the Patriots are way down, and Andrew is discouraged. We get second helpings of Creole goat and red wine, and then keep talking about America.
“I love that I can say what I want here. I don’t have to say things I don’t believe in. Don’t have to go along to get along. I can disagree.
“I find myself at odds with people with a herd mentality, who stick to the status quo.
“I don’t try to appease anybody. I speak my mind.
“That gets me in a lot of trouble sometimes.
“But I’m a man of my own. My own thought process.”
Andrew considers himself mostly liberal, but independent. For example, he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
“Imagine living in a small town out in the middle of nowhere. Would you want the sheriff to be the only person who has a gun?”
I ask him whether anything else he loves about America is coming to mind.
“I like McDonalds,” he laughs. “I don’t eat a lot of it. But if I was lost anywhere in the world, and I found a McDonalds, I’d feel like I was in America, have some sense of home.
“Coca Cola too.
“Overall, I like this country a lot.
“I think people have good principles.”
– “What do you love most about your life now?”
“I’m free. I can go anywhere. Do anything. I don’t have to report to anyone, ask permission. I can do whatever I want.
“I love my girlfriend.
“That I finished graduate school!! I don’t ever have to do college again.”
I ask him what it was like to become an American citizen.
“It. Felt. Great.
“September 17, 2010!!
“Me, mon, I became a classique Americano…. Shit. Is. On!”
– “What do you most want to accomplish in the future?”
“So many things….
“I want to have my own business. Or find a way to work from home. I want more independence. But it’s tough.
“I want to have a family. Not married! I’m not risking my money that way. But I want to have kids.
“I will be *tough* on them. Tough! And they’ll thank me later.” He grins again.
As the game goes on, and the Patriots start making their historic comeback, Andrew can’t stay in his seat. He is up on his feet, pacing back and forth watching the TV, yelling at the top of his lungs whenever they make a good play.
As soon as the game is over, he starts making multiple phone calls, animatedly hashing over the game with old friends from the University of Lowell.
I thank him for the Creole goat and wine, and head out. As I drive home, people are shouting ‘Go Pats!’ out of the windows of their cars. Andrew is as excited as any of them.
Union Square, Somerville, MA, across the river from Boston, is known for being home to the first American flag — flown by General Washington on January 1, 1776 — and for being home to a rich mix of immigrants, old and new.
A formerly grubby, economically depressed neighborhood, Union Square has quietly, slowly attracted small gems of restaurants and bars, along with new trees and benches and a farmer’s market, without losing the old multicultural markets, bars and restaurants it’s known for — Latino, Indian, Irish, Korean, Italian, Nepalese, Chinese, Haitian, Portuguese, Brazilian.