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February 20th, 2013
04:34 PM ET

Little Senegal in the Big Apple: Harlem's West African heart

By Vladimir Duthiers and Adeline Chen, CNN

Harlem, New York (CNN) - At the heart of West Harlem, West Africa is buzzing.

Nestled inside one of the world's most diverse cities, over the years the thriving neighborhood of Harlem has become the hub of New York's African American community.

At the start of the 20th century, throngs of African Americans migrated from the southern United States into the big city, lured by the jobs and opportunities of urban life.

But in the last 30 years or so, another group of people decided to call Harlem home. Scores of immigrants from several francophone West African countries moved to the borough to start a new life. At the center of it all, a vibrant Senegalese community has created a new home away from home, adding their culture, fashion and tastes to Harlem's diverse mix.

Known as Little Senegal, or Le Petit Senegal, the strip of blocks around West 116th Street is packed with inviting restaurants and colorful shops, powerful reminders of life back in the homeland.

"We're the ones who built Harlem," says El Hadji Fey, vice president of the Senegalese Association of America. "When we got here, all the stores you see over here, it was absolutely nothing. We bought a lot of stores here, a lot of Senegalese businesses right here.

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