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Executive's journey from the beet fields

HB Reads' 2011 book centers on child of migrant workers becoming IBM executive.

November 03, 2010|By Michael Miller, michael.miller@latimes.com

Elva Treviño Hart is coming to Huntington Beach next year, not just as an author, but as an ambassador.

The former migrant worker's 1999 autobiography, "Barefoot Heart," tells the story of her journey from the beet fields to a career as an affluent computer executive. This fall, HB Reads, a program that encourages people around Surf City to read the same book every winter, chose Hart's memoir as its selection for 2011.

When Hart arrives in March to talk to Huntington Beach high school students, it won't be the first time she's addressed a large crowd about her experiences. Sometimes, she gets invited to talk to migrant groups and encourages them to work for the future. Other times, she visits high schools and universities on the other end of the economic spectrum — and there, her message is one of empathy.

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"We go to the grocery store and buy an orange or an apple, and we don't realize it takes a human hand to bring an orange from a tree to the grocery store," Hart said. "And that person has a wife and children and hopes and dreams and a home and people they care about. So I want to dissolve that disconnect a little bit."

The events centered around "Barefoot Heart" are scheduled to begin Feb. 2, with a children's event at the library, and end March 24, when Hart visits Surf City in person to talk to high school students and others.

The HB Reads program started in 2008 as a project of the Human Relations Task Force, a city-backed coalition that formed in the mid-1990s to encourage diversity after a spate of hate crimes in Huntington Beach. This year, the Huntington Beach Public Library, which has often hosted HB Reads events in the past, officially assumed oversight of the program from the Task Force.

Each of the first three years, a committee chose a book that had a strong human-rights theme and also spotlighted a lifestyle less comfortable than Orange County's. HB Reads selections have touched on: Afghanistan (Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea"), rural Alaska (George Guthridge's "The Kids from Nowhere") and Sudan ("They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky," written by three refugees who escaped the country's civil war).

In choosing the 2011 selection, the committee had one set goal: to feature a female author for the first time. After narrowing down a list of titles, the committee opted for Hart's book because of its uplifting storyline, Provencher said.

"It's a good story, starting off with parents who believe in education, and ending up [with the protagonist] working for IBM," he said. "It's quite a life, quite a challenge. Most people's parents would be pretty proud if they did something like that."

Hart, a Virginia resident, also said she considers her novel a testament to perseverance. During an appearance, she said, a woman once asked her how she made the jump from being a child of migrant workers to a graduate student at Stanford.

"I said, 'You don't make that jump,'" Hart said. "'It's a thousand steps.'"

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