By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
The first time I heard of Corky Lee was around 2015, when I came across some photographs posted online which documented the marches and protests in the early 1980s seeking justice after the murder of Vincent Chin. I was in total awe and amazement at how the photographer was able to capture the raw emotions of the struggles and the fight Asian Americans were up against at that time. Upon research, I found that the photos were taken by Corky Lee, and hence I started to look more into his work. Looking at all the photos he has taken over a span of fifty years or so I became a fan of him and it allowed me to explore more into Asian American modern history and activism.
In 2016, I messaged Lee on Facebook, introduced who I was and asked him for advice on social activism. I was hoping to seek some wisdom from him as a person I truly admired. Within minutes, he replied and that is when we started a friendship. Lee shared with me a lot of history and imparted his own experiences to me, he then told me that if I ever made a trip to New York to contact him so we could meet up and he could show me New York City’s Chinatown and some of his photographs which were exhibited. At the end of 2016, I made that trip and I contacted Lee and we set a day, time and place in Chinatown to catch up.
Lee was so generous with his time, spent almost a entire day with me, showing me some historical landmarks in Chinatown, took me for a yummy lunch and ended with us checking out some of his exhibited photographs. Lee encouraged me and gave me great and honest insights in how to be a genuine and authentic community activist. Since that first meet, Lee and I have caught up in New York two more times and had many fruitful conversations over Facebook.
When I heard the news a few weeks ago that he had contracted COVID and was in hospital on a ventilator, alarm bells rang within me, and I spoke to a few people who knew him in New York to understand the situation. When his “recovery Facebook fundraiser” was going around, there was hope that he was on the road to recovery and that we would all be blessed to see more photographs on his Facebook page. Things were looking up.
Today (Wednesday 27th January), we heard that he has sadly passed away from COVID at 1:30am at Flushing Hospital. He was 73. Lee was surrounded by friends and family when he passed, with his brother John, flying from California to be with him in his final moments. He was loved, admired and acknowledged as a champion of Asian American activism, by many people with the outpour of love support and grief being posted all over social media.
As for me, I will remember Lee as someone who was willing to take a chance and share his wisdom and words of encouragement with me. Thank you for leading the way and pulling us forward. We stand on your shoulders. You will be missed, and never forgotten.
Rest in Power.
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