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'Lost Boy' Shares Refugee Experience And New Life In San Diego

Authors Judy A. Bernstein and Alephonsion Deng sit down with KPBS Evening Edition Host Ebone Monet at the KPBS Studioes to talk about their perspectives, April 8, 2019.
Nicholas McVicker
Authors Judy A. Bernstein and Alephonsion Deng sit down with KPBS Evening Edition Host Ebone Monet at the KPBS Studioes to talk about their perspectives, April 8, 2019.

Alephonsion Deng is one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan." He's one of 40,000 young boys who were displaced or orphaned because of Second Sudanese Civil War in the 1990s that killed millions of people.

Deng arrived in America in 2001 and eventually settled in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood. Together with his mentor and co-author, Judy A. Bernstein, he wrote about his experiences in Africa and, more recently, about his refugee experiences in America.

Deng and Bernstein will be apart of the San Diego Writer’s Festival Saturday, April 13, at the San Diego Central Library, talking about their new book “Disturbed In Their Nests.”

Both Bernstein and Deng sat down with KPBS Evening Edition host Ebone Monet to talk about their experience.

Here are some highlights from that interview.

Authors Share Story Of Refugees New Lives In San Diego

Q: What is it like seeing other people from different countries also fleeing violence and looking for help?

Deng: I kinda understand. I get it. There’s all kinds of reasons people leave their perspective countries. In my case, I didn’t want to leave my country. But I’m here. It kinda reminded me that this is really nothing new under the sun. Problems will always be there. People are going to always look for help. If the door is open for that help, that’s great. If the door hasn’t opened, it’s nothing to do about that. Because there’s more problems in the world today, in particular, the third-world countries. There’s a lot of wars, unnecessary wars. That comes down to the destruction of innocent lives. So when I see that, I’m in a position to bring a big change, but in small ways what my author and I have been doing. Putting a voice in these kinds of stories. Because a lot of these people won’t get the opportunities I had to tell their stories. In a book or in any form or shape.

Q: What was your objective with this new book and the previous book?

Bernstein: I didn’t have to convince them to tell their story. The first day I met them the thing they wanted to get in Walmart were composition notebooks. So they started writing and giving me the writing to help them with their English. And when I saw the stories, they were about what had happened to them in Africa and some of them were about little experiences here as well. But mostly about, you know, for 15 years they’d been fleeing the war and had been in a refugee camp. So these were stories — I couldn’t even imagine, and at the time the war was still going on. So their families were suffering in silence. It was a couple of years later, I was like, you know you guys have written all of this beautiful stuff, and the world needs to hear it. There’s a purpose for these stories. So I guess in that form, we decided to put the book together. So the first book “They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky” was their stories, him and his cousin and his brother, about what happened in Africa. So it’s more focused on that aspect, and [the book] came out in 2005, before the war had been settled which wasn’t until 2011. So it’s really kinda a different book. This [new book] is more about America, cultural clash, adjustment, etc.