The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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When my grandmother, Maureen Ciano, was a child her family lived in Hollis Queens, New York. Around this time is when the neighborhood began to shift from predominantly while to predominantly black. This was also around the time of the Civil Rights Movement. This memory represents the first time she truly learned about racism. The picture is of Maureen years later in a school where she treated everyone equally without regard to the color of their skin of religion.

            “Okay everyone! Time to start getting ready, everyone will be here soon!” Mom shouted. It was the middle of the summer and all of the neighborhood kids were coming over for lunch with their mothers.

            “Girls, please go upstairs and get ready, boys please set up some chairs on the side lawn. Thank you!” Mom shouted again.

            “Guys, let’s play house today with Linda. That’s always so much fun when we do that.” Maureen urged.

            “Okay Maureen, but you have to be the baby because you’re the youngest.” BJ replied. The girls played for hours.

            “Elizabeth, you should really think about moving,” Muriel implored. “It’s not safe for our children here anymore.”

            “What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked

            “The realtors are walking around and telling us that the property values of our homes are going down because the negroes are moving into Hollis.” Muriel almost whispered.

            “Well I’m not worried about the property value; this house works just fine for our family and I don’t plan on moving until I see that real trouble is being caused.” Elizabeth eloquently replied. Muriel shrugged and went back to eating her bacon sandwich and watching the kids play.

            “Ed?! What are you doing home so early?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “We would have met you if only we had known.”

            “It’s okay, I wanted to surprise you and the kids today,” he replied, kissing his wife on the forehead. All eight of his children came running, practically tackling their father upon seeing him home so early.

            After he had said hello to all of his children, Muriel wasted no time getting back into her antics.

            “Eddie, we saw them in the supermarket. They were touching the fruits and vegetables,” she again whispered.

            “Muriel, who are you talking about this time?” Eddie asked seemingly already exasperated with the conversation.

            “The news is true, they’re really coming to Hollis Queens.”

            “Muriel, please. Who are you talking about?”

            “The negroes, Eddie! They were touching the fruits and vegetables in the supermarket.”

            “Oh well Muriel, who cares if they were touching the fruits and vegetables? They’re humans just like the rest of us, aren’t they? It just so happens that they have a different pigmentation to their skin than we do.”

            “Think what you think, but we’re moving. I’m not risking the safety of my children and my property value.” Muriel hissed. Not long after, many of the families in the neighborhood adopted the same ideology and left, making the Sitler’s the very last white family in Hollis Queens in 1961.

Hunkering Down in Hollis

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1950s
Hollis Queens, New York

When my grandmother, Maureen Ciano, was a child her family lived in Hollis Queens, New York. Around this time is when the neighborhood began to shift from predominantly while to predominantly black. This was also around the time of the Civil Rights Movement. This memory represents the first time she truly learned about racism. The picture is of Maureen years later in a school where she treated everyone equally without regard to the color of their skin of religion.

Decade: 1950s
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Recorded by Jacquelyn Ciano on December 10, 2017
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