Success in America
Abdoul Karim Traoré was intent on being a good provider. When his grain-and-beans shop went under in the Ivory Coast, he made a huge decision, immigrating to New York in 1993 while leaving his pregnant wife behind. "It was the only possibility he had for a better life," said his wife, Hadidjatou Karamoko Traoré.
Like many other illegal immigrants from West Africa, he first worked as a supermarket deliveryman. Next he became a dishwasher. But five years ago he hit the big time, becoming a banquet cook at Windows on the World, a steady job that provided health insurance and other benefits. Each day he rose at 3 a.m. to deliver USA Today before reporting to work at the restaurant. There, he took regular breaks for his daily Muslim prayers.
His wife immigrated in 1997, but because of visa complications, their daughter, Djenebou, now 8, has not been able to come. In New York, the couple had two more children, Souleymane, 3, and Hassan, 1, and with his earnings, Mr. Traoré took a bold leap toward the middle class, putting down a large down payment on a three-family house in the Bronx.
At Windows on the World, a United Nations of 450 workers from dozens of countries, Mr. Traoré, 40, was elected a union shop steward. Although he was one of the few Africans there, other workers, impressed by his intelligence and forcefulness, looked to him to present their case to management. "Everybody liked him," his wife said. "He was respected."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 19, 2001.