Vieux Cisse, an immigrant from Senegal in 1997, lived in Los Angeles, California for a year with a friend before moving to Madison for a new life at the age of 35. Cisse studied in Senegal and the Gambia for his education. Cisse used to work for a company in the Gambia and after work one day, his boss told him that he could get a job in America, and Cisse got a Visa and came to the U.S. When he first came to the U.S., he stayed with a family friend in California, before getting a job in Madison.
Cisse’s liked living in Madison because it was quiet, offered a good job, and didn’t have many people. He remembers that when he first arrived in the late 90s, downtown didn’t have as many tall buildings as it does now. Cisse’s favorite restaurant in those days was a Jamaican/ African restaurant called Manko at the UW campus, but the restaurant closed. “They really knew how to cook,” he says.
When Cisse first moved to Madison, he says fewer than 10 West African people worked with him at Oscar Mayer, and the rest of his workers were white and Latino. Although Cisse loves the city Madison, there have been times when he felt like the city didn’t welcome him.
“When I moved here, people were really nice and good, but there were some who acted like they don’t like black people. One time, a coworker and I were not on speaking terms and he told me, ‘Go back to your country,’” said Cisse. Cisse says he and the other worker were “Kooya,” which roughly means not to be on speaking terms with someone in the Mandinka language. He could have reported the coworker to the higher ups, but Cisse felt like the coworker didn’t mean it and “it was just an incident.”
The West African community in Madison has expanded a lot since 1998 when there were only a few Africans.
“The West African community has gotten very big since the time I moved here because before, there were many Africans, but they didn’t have their families here. Now everyone has family and kids with them in Madison,” says Cisse.
Even Cisse came to America without his family, since his siblings all had jobs and didn’t want to start their lives all over in a new country, so they stayed behind in Senegal.
“I know a lot of people who come here, especially since the education system is very good. Before there were many Senegalese people and not a lot of Gambians, only a few Gambians and they mostly lived in Sun Prairie, but now there are a lot of Gambians. If you go to Darbo and North Port, the homes there are of Gambians,” says Cisse.
Cisse also stated that even though many West Africans live in Madison, a lot of them have lived in another state before settling Madison. Cisse thinks the reason for the increase in West African American population is “for the Gambians, many people came due to political issues, for Senegal, people moved due to political and economical reasons. For many countries in Africa, people move to the U.S. because of war, but there isn’t a war in West Africa.”
Now Cisse lives on the Northside with his wife, whom he married in 1998 in Seattle, Washington before moving to Madison, and kids. His kids are in middle school and high school. Every Summer, Cisse goes to Wisconsin Dells during the summer with his family to spend time together.
I Am Madison is funded by Madison Community Foundation as part of its Year of Giving.