The tragic Bronx fire that took ten lives, including nine children, has brought to light the practice of polygamy by Muslim immigrants in the U.S. “In Tragedy, Glimpsing Oft-Overlooked Newcomers” Lives,” by Michael Powell and Nina Bernstein in the New York Times, with thanks to PRCS:
Before the fire that took five of his children, Moussa Magassa was an early godfather for this tiny but swiftly growing Malian community. He would greet newcomers with a handshake and a meal, and perhaps some cash and help filing legal papers and shipping goods back to Mali.
Mr. Magassa had two wives, Manthia and Aisse. It is not clear when they arrived in this country, but some of their children were born here. Only two of Mr. Magassa’s seven children with Manthia lived through the fire. But all of his four children with Aisse, who lived a floor apart from Manthia, survived.
Polygamy is common in Mali and throughout West Africa. But it is illegal in the United States, and it can bar immigrants from gaining permanent legal residency or citizenship. Many West Africans are uncomfortable talking about the practice with an outsider, particularly so soon after the tragic fire.
But many West Africans say that Mr. Magassa’s arrangement is a subterranean feature of life here, particularly for older men who can afford it. At a spacious African hair-braiding salon on 125th Street, Aminata Dia, the Senegalese owner, consulted with her husband before talking about the practice to a reporter. She said men traditionally bring the first wife first, but of late many prefer to bring the youngest.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Ms. Dia said. “It’s our religion that allows men to have four wives. But two wives in the same house, it’s not so common “” usually they have one wife abroad and one here.”
A fierce argument erupted about whether this was too volatile an issue to talk about with an outsider. “All women suffer from polygamy, but our religion says we should not speak,” said an employee, Aminata Fatou, 29. “One can’t do away with that.”
Countered Ms. Dia: “If every woman shuts her mouth, she is complicit. I”m against polygamy “” it’s bad for the woman, the man and the children.”
Then she added a coda: “If you leave your country, you have to come with the good things, not bring the bad things with you.”
Ms. Dia, I couldn’t agree more.