By Kinisha Correia
Akwaaba means welcome. It’s a Ghanaian word that Tanya Sam declares several times during our interview. Not only does she obviously love the word itself, but everything about her personality also reverberates its essence. She is effervescent, bubbly, quick and smart. Her energy is celebratory and all-embracing.
Tanya, who is known most for her stint on Real Housewives of Atlanta, is very proud of her Ghanaian roots.
As she shares, her father migrated from Ghana to Canada to study medicine, and met her British mother there. They fell in love, got married and had two girls.
Tanya says her upbringing joyfully embraced the family’s inherent multiculturalism, and growing up in Toronto only reinforced the dynamism of their mixed identity. “I feel fortunate to have grown up in Canada. It’s truly a melting pot of cultures,” Tanya reflects.
“I grew up going back and forth from Canada, to Ghana, to London. My mixed upbringing was the perfect combination of African roots, British roots and a Canadian home base.”
Her father, she says, is the eldest of 12 siblings, and in Ghanaian culture that means he was responsible for his younger siblings’ upbringing. “From a young age, I had a lot of aunts and uncles around, and lots of Ghanaian foods and traditions.” She also visited her grandparents back home in Ghana often.
Tanya notes that she is cognizant of the privilege that rests at the heart of who she is.
First, her father was educated and even though he experienced racism as the first Black man to live in rural Alberta where he attended medical school, he had come from a fortunate family of civil servants in Ghana. Growing up as a doctor’s daughter, Tanya’s socio-economic status afforded her safe haven from many systemic social and economic hardships.
Next, having spent her formative years in Canada gave Tanya a foundation that didn’t include the racial divide her American counterparts experienced. As a younger country, Canada, Tanya explains, isn’t burdened by a history of mass slavery like the USA.
Which brings us to her final point of privilege – her parents are first generation immigrants from their lineages’ home countries. This means that unlike most Black folks in the Americas, none of her African ancestors endured the trauma of the slave trade.
“It’s something I am grateful for. It’s a piece of me that’s intact and whole that others simply don’t have because of years of oppression and slavery that stole that for so many,” Tanya reasons.
“From my science background, I’ve learned about the concept of epigenetics, which explores the imprint of generational trauma carried from one generation to another. A lot of us carry this and we don’t even realize… We’re functional, we’re successful, we go to work, we take care of our families, we’re planted in this soil. But, there’s still a longing that we don’t even realize,” she explains.
Tanya says Black Americans have conveyed to her a strong feeling of homecoming when they set foot in Africa. It’s also something she says she has heard them say when they’ve landed in the West Indies and see that Black people are running countries, parliaments and businesses. “There is power in seeing that, and I think it feeds the soul. It’s a gift; it’s healing.”
Still, there’s something special about landing in Ghana, specifically. After all, the coast of Ghana is the port where most Africans were shackled onto slave ships. When you go there, Tanya says, you can feel the weight of what happened.
Whether officially or not, Tanya is undoubtedly a cultural ambassador for Ghana. Over the summer she spent five weeks there visiting her Dad who she hadn’t seen since the pandemic. During her stay, she flooded her Instagram feed with Ghanaian experiences – food, culture, fashion, people, places and spaces. It was a beautiful rendition of this same homecoming she speaks of, as she intentionally welcomed the diaspora on a digital exploration of their roots. The depiction was convincing… Ghana isn’t the primitive place we’ve been schooled to believe. It’s a brilliant society worth visiting, vacationing and investing in.
A production called Making of a Mogul also brought Tanya to Ghana. “Making of a Mogul is an entrepreneurship series I host that features incredibly successful Black and Brown entrepreneurs around the world,” she explains. The project was founded by a Ghanian producer and will be released soon on a major platform.
This gig falls right in line with the rest of Tanya’s work. She’s in the business of empowering minority and women entrepreneurs. Over the past seven years she has been amassing entrepreneurial success stories through accelerator programs, access to capital, mentorship and business education opportunities that she has created alongside her fiance in their jointly founded TechSquare Labs venture. “I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and tech. I work with underrepresented founders who are not able to raise money and build businesses at the same rate as their White male counterparts.”
There’s something firm and strong about Tanya. She’s confident. She’s eloquent. She knows her shit, and she projects a deep pride in every facet of who she is. Whether it be through passing on business acumen or culture, Tanya greets life fully and wants to show people they too can do the same.
And so, as an ode to her spirit, we end with a note on ‘celebration’.
On Real Housewives of Atlanta, Tanya championed Caribbean culture by taking the cast to carnivals in both Trinidad and Toronto. As she told us, she’s a diehard lover of soca music, and it’s something that’s in her veins. “My parents always loved to party and love to dance as most Africans and West Indians do. So, we would always play mass – from kiddie carnival all the way up.”
That’s the one major similarity Tanya sees between Caribbean and African culture – a commitment to celebration. “Both love to party, get together, eat and have a good time. They are also both so welcoming. I believe it’s all tied into the pride we have for our native lands,” she beams.
Indeed, Tanya’s very essence reverberates all of it – a welcoming pride, a joy and celebration.