Each of them risked death repeatedly, both from illness and from marauding armies, en route to resettlement in the United States.
Knowing what the authors have endured in their still-young lives, it was hard not to be moved when Ajak and Benson Deng visited Huntington Beach High School on March 11 and spoke to affectionate crowds of hundreds. The Lost Boys who resettled in San Diego a decade ago still have difficulty making ends meet and assimilating into American culture, but for a day, at least, their arrival in Surf City felt like a storybook ending.
It felt that way, too, for Huntington Beach, which founded the Human Relations Task Force in 1996 to help mend the city’s reputation as one of the white-power bastions of the United States. Earlier that year, a Native American man had been stabbed nearly to death near the Huntington Beach Pier; two years before, a black man had been fatally shot on Beach Boulevard.
In 2008, the task force launched HB Reads to further encourage multicultural understanding. The program has spotlighted books on Central Asia, the Arctic and, now, one of Africa’s most ravaged countries.
If Huntington Beach was once a city known for intolerance, it didn’t look that way when dozens of students lined up to have the Lost Boys autograph their books.
Further, this year’s program spotlighted some of the heroes in Surf City’s own backyard. Like Barbara English and Anshul Mittal, who founded the grass-roots group Orange County for Darfur and work without pay to rally for Sudan’s genocide victims. Like the Operation Save Darfur Club at Huntington Beach High, which supports a refugee school on the Chad-Darfur border. Like Ralph Bauer, the former mayor whose German parents fled Hitler and who started the initial push for the task force.
Huntington Beach has had dark days in the past for cultural understanding, and some of those wounds may still be raw.
But the last six weeks have shown Surf City’s community spirit at its best, and we wish the HB Reads committee an equally successful program in 2011.