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An Ethnic Fest to Counter Hate

A program of food, music, dance and drama is offered by the Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force.


When the number of hate crimes dropped in Orange County three years ago, county officials credited community task forces such as the one in Huntington Beach. That city continues its work this weekend with a multicultural event, "This Land Is Our Land," which celebrates the city's diversity.

Festivities begin at 2 p.m. today at the city library and cultural center. They feature five performance groups of Jewish, Vietnamese, Latino, Cambodian and African heritages that will showcase traditional dance, music and drama.

"Events like these are important, because it's our way of bringing cultural understanding to the community," said Phoebe Kassenoff, spokeswoman for the Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force, which is presenting the event.

"In years past, Huntington Beach was a pretty homogenous community as was the rest of Orange County," Kassenoff said. "Now we're lucky to have whole new ethnic communities here. There are a lot of prejudices that people have about cultural diversity. So we try to bring people together so they learn that diversity isn't something unfamiliar."

The event and task force were spurred by a series of hate crimes in the city, including a 1994 incident in which a Huntington Beach man was fatally shot outside a restaurant in the city in a racially motivated attack. Two years later, a Native American man survived a near-fatal stabbing near the Huntington Beach Pier by an attacker who had tattoos of swastikas and other racist markings.

The Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force was created to prevent such crimes and promote ethnic harmony. Composed of about 35 volunteers, the task force is launching its first large-scale cultural production this weekend.

The community activism has paid off, Kassenoff says.

Main Street in Huntington Beach is dotted with new ethnic restaurants, including Peruvian, Vietnamese, Indian and Hawaiian. The festival will feature hors d'oeuvres from the ethnic restaurants.

Highlighting the festival is speaker Mel Mermelstein, a local businessman, author and Holocaust survivor; a Latino thespian group called Chusma, which will perform satirical sketches of Latino issues; Cambodian classical dancer Sophiline Cheam and her dance troupe Dance Celeste; an African American narrated musical with the Orange County Gospel Music Workshop Choir; and the Anderson Tiger Dancers, who will present traditional Vietnamese songs and dances.

"Our dance is just representing a small part of the Vietnamese culture, but it's enriching for the students to share the beauty of their heritages," said Lauren Vu, a fourth-grade teacher at Anderson Elementary School in Garden Grove who is directing the Anderson Tiger Dancers.

Twelve of her students will be dressed in ao dai (traditional flowing Vietnamese outfits) and cone hats. "This event is the first time my students will get to see an African American choir or hear a Holocaust survivor speak," Vu said. "Students typically wouldn't get that education or exposure until high school, when it's taught. So my students are learning about these diversity issues much earlier by being involved in this multicultural event."


"This Land Is Our Land," Huntington Beach Library and Cultural Center Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach. Sunday, 2-5:30 p.m. $10. (714) 374-1645.

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