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Living History

I started working at the Department of Social Services in 1984 processing energy assistance and food Stamps. There were around 300 people, White. Black, Hispanic and Indian, and both genders of all different religions – Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus. We all seemed to get along on the surface but were not integrated within the office or socially.. Our office was renovated in 1989 with new carpeting and new computers. At the same time began the work to integrate the office and enhance race relations. We were all assigned different units. We were assigned seats to vary the ethnicity of the groups. Co-workers were assigned seats next to each other by Black, White, Hispanic or Indian. This was to encourage us to get to know each other better, and we did. Prior to this time, different ethnicities in my office did not mingle. We kept our distance from each other. The forced integration was successful in that we learned to be comfortable with each other, we learned a lot from each other and enjoyed each other’s company. We talked with each other about all the normal things – weddings, new houses or cars, family issues. Some of us became friends but only at work. We exchanged birthday and Christmas presents among our unit – going out for dinner to celebrate these events with our office colleagues. In our group there was a Black Muslim, Hispanic Catholic, Hindu Indian and a White Greek Catholic. Quite an interesting medley! We all ate our lunches together and talked about growing up and current events. We came from totally different backgrounds but aspired to the same dreams. Unfortunately, somehow, it didn’t take long in the later years for everybody to start segregating themselves in the lunchroom. The Blacks ate together so did the Hispanics and Whites all congregated in their own groups. I don’t know why this happened but maybe it was because each group was more comfortable within their own culture or race. This happened 24 years ago and I wonder what my old workplace is like now. Just from this experience it seems that it’s going to take many more years and more effort for all of us to be totally integrated. [Would this be accurate: But I take hope in the new found comfort we felt with people each of us had once thought were so different.]