Checking out books was the Human thing to do at Encinitas Library event

Japanese-American internment camp survivor and local resident Tak Sugimoto (left) speaks with Paul Meardon about his experiences in 1942 when he and his family were sent to a camp during World War II. The discussion was part of the Human Library event held June 7 at the Encinitas Library. (Photo by Troy Orem)

Helen Hawes

Reading got personal at the Encinitas Library on June 7 with a Human Library event, where borrowers could check out a Human Book and discover life from a different point of view through a 15-minute question-and-answer session.

Prizila Vidal was a bestseller at the event. She offered three topics that patrons could choose from — living as a transgender female, growing up in foster care or being HIV positive. Transgender aced the other two choices. Everyone wanted to talk about Caitlin Jenner’s recent metamorphosis from male to female, which is headlining the news.

Vidal said she thought Jenner hindered the transgender community.

“We work so hard to get to where we’re at and somebody just comes out on top in a magazine like it’s no big deal and, in reality, it just isn’t like that,” Vidal said regarding the struggle for acceptance.

Vidal said she let the borrowers ask questions and lead the conversation because she felt it was easier. When a woman asked about her surgeries, she chose to answer but let the borrower know that in the real world, you don’t ask.

“Whatever parts I have, they have nothing to do with who I am,” she said.

The main rule regarding borrowing a Human Book is that they be treated with respect. If not, the session is ended.

Jackie Malone, a borrower, checked out Tak Sugimoto, a World War II internment camp survivor. Sugimoto, a Japanese-American, was a 14-year-old student in Encinitas when he and his family were ordered from their home to a camp in Arizona.

Malone didn’t learn of the internment camps until she was in college. Appalled, she took a personal interest in the plight of these citizens and studied their history in books.

“To be able to talk to someone who actually lived through it was a great experience,” she said.

Malone shared some of what she learned: After Sugimoto returned home, he went to pharmacy school at USC. He was required to do an internship but no one, from Los Angeles to Pomona, had a slot for him. Yet his Anglo colleagues had no trouble. He finally found a spot. Fast forward, and Sugimoto was the owner of La Costa Pharmacy for 30 years.

But Malone’s biggest regret was, “I didn’t get to find out the rest of the story; I didn’t have time,” she said, referring to the 15-minute checkout period for each session.

“She could have checked him out again if he was available for renewal,” said Chelsie Harris, community relations manager for the County Library.

Harris, who organized the event, said she would try to put the two in contact again.

Harris said the Human Library concept began in the 1980s in Denmark in response to a hate crime and has since come to the United States and other countries. This is the fourth time it’s happened in the San Diego County Library system. Here, it’s always coordinated with the LGBT Pride celebration.

It was designed, according to literature promoting the event, “to build bridges among diverse populations.”

Harris said all of the Human Books are volunteers. Some of them are people they already know, others are referred by local agencies.

“Or, people come into the library and we think, ‘Hey, you might be a good book,’” she said.

Encinitas Branch Librarian Sheila Crosby said they also looked for people who would be of particular interest to the Encinitas community.

“There was a gentleman who ran for Encinitas mayor, we just asked him if he would be a book and he was very popular,” she said.

Ali Salaam, also known as Alex Fidel, ran for Encinitas mayor in 2014. For the Human Library event, Salaam was a Human Book under the topic marijuana activist/Muslim convert.

CSU San Marcos also had a presence at the Encinitas event. Professor Joely Proudfit, director of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center and of Luiseño descent, and business management student Michael Murphy, also of Luiseño descent, were on hand to share Native American experiences.

Choices this year also included a body artist, a size-acceptance activist, a vegan, an undocumented youth and two people living with mental illness.

There were 10 Human Books with approximately 40 borrowers checking out multiple books for a total of 70 sessions. Each book was busy the whole time.

The next event is planned for 2016 with the host library as yet undetermined.

Helen Hawes is a North County freelance writer