Hari Kumar Dahal had just set down a couple of copies of Connecting Cleveland on a counter in Everest Grocery, one of his advertisers, when a trio of customers walked into the Lakewood store.
“K Chha?”–How are you?–a smiling young man called out to him. He recognized Dahal not as a friend or a classmate but as the publisher of the newspaper covering his community, newly arrived families from Nepal.
Dahal had recently printed one of the young man’s poems–a poem about the refugee experience– and the pair tapped palms in greeting. It was another connection fostered by that most enduring of Cleveland media–the ethnic press.
Dahal is the latest in a long tradition of editors guiding an immigrant community with a bilingual newspaper. What sets him apart is his age, 17, and the fact that he arrived in America barely a year ago.
In fact, the soft-spoken teen started the paper with his older brother, Ganga, partly to make sense of a city that baffled them both. In launching their business, the young entrepreneurs opened a window on an uncommon immigrant group and a couple of its bright lights.
One of the world’s little known refugee odysseys brought the Dahals to Cleveland.
Their parents were farmers in Bhutan, a remote Buddhist kingdom suspicious of its Hindu minority. Expelled from home in bloody pogroms 22 years ago, the family ended up with tens of thousands of other Bhutanese of Nepali descent in refugee camps in nearby Nepal.
Both Hari and Ganga were born and raised in the camp, a bamboo city of some 50,000 people. The first time they turned a faucet in a house and saw water run was in Cleveland.
In recent years, resettlement agencies have guided Nepali-speaking Bhutanese families to homes in Akron, Cleveland Heights, Lakewood and on Cleveland’s west side, where they are making an impression in city schools.
The refugee camps may have lacked electricity and plumbing, but they had schools: schools with earnest students.
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