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Death of veteran journalist Hassina Leelarathna

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Hassina Leelarathna, a co-founder of the only Sri Lankan newspaper in the U.S. and an activist who spurred fellow immigrants to help when disasters struck their homeland, has died at age 73.

Leelarathna died in Sherman Oaks on Oct. 17 after battling lung cancer for the last five years, said her son, Sahan Gamage.

After moving to California from her native Sri Lanka, Leelarathna founded the Sri Lankan Express in 1981 with her husband, Deeptha Leelarathna.

The paper initially published biweekly, in English, moving completely online in 2015.

For her, it was an “intense” labor of love. Leelarathna worked full time at other jobs, most recently as a financial analyst for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The couple also broadcast a radio program, “Tharanga,” in English and Sinhalese for a Sri Lankan community that in Los Angeles County numbers nearly 20,000 and supports about 10 Buddhist temples.

After her husband died in 2006, Leelarathna ran the newspaper on her own, spotlighting the decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka as well as issues faced by new immigrants in this country, including healthcare, education and the economy.

The Express also highlighted the accomplishments of immigrants and their children.

“If a Sri Lankan won the spelling bee, he or she would be covered,” Gamage, 38, said. “We’re small in size. We need to celebrate each other.”

Leelarathna played a dual role as a documenter of events and a participant.

She was a ubiquitous presence at rallies and protests, both interviewing people for the newspaper and at times, taking the megaphone to pump up the crowds.

(Los Angeles Times)

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