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Trinidadian soca dance set the stage on fire.

Diversity and Disability Awareness Day 2009
by  Patrick Chandler
Issue Date: 11/2009

Staff show off what makes District 7 the most diverse district in the state.

Onnce again, Caltrans staff organized a very successful, enjoyable, and enlightening Diversity and Disability Awareness Day program on Wednesday, September 30. With over 600 people in attendance, the “good vibes” from the event caused some of the executive and rank-and-file staff jump out of their seats and dance to music and dances from around the world.

Originally, Diversity and Disability Awareness Day began as a day to focus on the various cultures represented throughout the district. In the past two years, Diversity and Disability Awareness Day recognizes disabled employees in our workforce, and celebrates Caltrans cultural and physical diversity.

“Today, we acknowledge and celebrate the diversity that makes each one of us unique – and at the same time, we share similarities,” said District 7 Chief Deputy Raja Mitwasi to start the day’s event. “We are each a part of a circle, in which all of us are seen as equal.”

Each committee displayed what they believed would be a brief glimpse into their culture's food, language, and history. With many of the dances and performances by Caltrans employees, one was left marveling at just how talented the folks are in District 7.

Bahar Bakhtar, a senior transportation engineer in Program Management, performed a traditional dance representative of many of the different cultures in Iran.

Peter Lin, a senior transportation engineer in ITS, representing the Taiwan and China committee, performed Mayim or Water Dance, a traditionally Jewish Water Dance.

The Taiwan and China committee also had a special appearance by a lion, which was led by trainer and Electrical Transportation Engineer H.K. Anamth. Under the lion costume was Transportation Engineer Charlie Wu and Biologist Newton Wong.

It did not stop there for the Taiwan and China committee. Transportation Engineer Joann Chiu, who studied dance in her early years, and Senior Transportation Engineer Tiffany Hong performed an ancient Chinese fan dance.

In support of the Chilao Maintenance Yard workers, the Taiwan and China committee helped to gather over $160 from people at the event.

After a sultry dance by a duo of Trinidadian soca dancers, EEO Manager Gwiin Correa, Senior Delineator Labell Washington, Public Affairs Officer Marcia Graves, and many other staff took part in dances to represent the Descendants of Africa.

Speaking of keeping people moving, Mitwasi enthusiastically jumped up take part in a brief limbo contest. Deputy District Director of Administration Duncan McIntosh could not contain the dancing bug either. McIntosh was definitely a willing participant and entertainer at the same time.

Some of the committees invited instructors to teach some of the cultural dances.

The Armenian committee invited Tom Bozigian, an Armenian dance and cultural instructor, who encouraged the audience to participate in the Shalako and Kochari, which are traditional Armenian dances.

“This was a brief glimpse into the Armenian culture,” said Assistant Project Manager Shahe Terjimanian. “This event gave people the opportunity to experience our dances, culture, and language.”

The Bangladesh Committee invited a dancer who performed many of the popular dances to Bangladeshi folk music. “We wanted to show people our culture, lifestyle, religion, and several different aspects of our culture,” said Senior Traffic Engineer Sheik Moinuddin.

The Disability Advisory Council (DAC) coordinated with the Los Angeles Braille Institute to recruit professional actress and singer Carmen Apelgren, who is blind, to sing “Crazy” by Patsy Cline and “Ain't Misbehavin” by Fats Waller.

“The DAC works together to ensure that the needs of the disabled are met,” said DAC Chair John Dinsmore, a maintenance claims officer. “We also try to resolve issues in the building [District Office], keep people active, and gain new members.”

“Many people are proud to share their culture and their uniqueness, but at the end of the day, it’s about our commonality,” said Correa. “There is only one race and that is human race; everything else is culture.

“District 7 is great, all of the people like doing this kind of stuff, and they pulled it off,” said Equal Employment Opportunity Officer James Deno. “They [Caltrans staff] are a lot of fun to work with.”

“The community we serve and represent is very diverse and it is important for Caltrans to mirror that diversity,” said former District Director Doug Failing. “Diversity helps us provide best solutions because the staff reflects and understands the community.”

Through fundraising events and a donation of time from each of the Caltrans employees involved in this event, the (free) food, invited entertainers, and other incidentals made this a spectacular event.

Even the deputies took part in all of the fun.  Duncan McIntosh shows he has more than just administrative abilities. The tamer and his lion.  Caltrans engineers show their skill beyond the office as they perform a Chinese Fan Dance. Carmen Apelgren, a representative from the Braille Institute.