Filipinos have fond memories of SF mayor ‘with a heart of gold’
SAN FRANCISCO — Like most residents of the Bay Area, Filipino Americans were shocked and saddened by the news that the first Asian Mayor of San Francisco passed away hours after suffering an apparent heart attack in a local supermarket near his residence late Monday night.
Mayor Edwin Lee, the 43rd of the City of San Francisco died at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital early Tuesday morning surrounded by his family, other loved ones, friends and supporters.
Born of immigrant parents who were a cook and a seamstress from Guangdong China, Lee defied all odds including that of being “a poor boy from public housing (to become) a mayor” as mayoral successor London Breed noted in her address to the crowd that filled city hall while waiting for Lee’s remains to be brought there.
These humble beginnings of an immigrant endeared him more to Asian minority groups, Filipinos included.
Philippine Consul General to San Francisco Henry Bensurto Jr. took Lee’s death with deep sadness, attesting that Lee “made sure that Asian communities would feel his support, not the least of which was the 44,000-strong Filipino-American Community in San Francisco.”
“It was during his term that Tagalog became the third required language of the City, and it was with his and the Board of Supervisors’ support that a portion of the City has been carved out as a cultural heritage district named SoMa Pilipinas, in honor of the contributions of Filipinos in community-building of San Francisco,” Bensurto said. He distinctly remembers calling Lee a “father” to the Filipino-American community.
“Mayor Lee was the lynchpin of San Francisco, whose very life inspired the community to become more tolerant and inclusive, and this great City to take pride in its uniqueness and diversity. Many will remember his stand to keep San Francisco a sanctuary city, appreciative of the immigrant community’s positive contributions to the advancement and progress of the City, and cognizant of the need to keep families together. He will be missed, and his shoes will not be easy ones to fill.”
Chair of the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and State Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) described Lee as “a down-to-earth, kind, and thoughtful person who— despite his grueling and hectic schedule and whatever rough political winds were swirling around him— always had time to check in with you, inquire about your family, share a kind word, and ask how he can help you.
“I always appreciated his friendly, welcoming smile and kind demeanor. He was also a champion and unrelenting advocate for the Filipino American community, something I deeply appreciated. Mayor Lee will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.
“As the first Asian American mayor of San Francisco, he protected immigrant rights, fostered innovation and continued his pursuit of affordable housing. Mayor Lee stepped up from civil servant to become mayor and subsequently won two elections. His leadership will leave a lasting legacy for Californians for generations to come.”
Lee’s education adviser Hydra Mendoza was devastated by the news of the passing of her boss and friend.
“He was an amazing mayor with a heart of gold. He cared deeply about the city and the people we serve. He was always supportive of the Filipino community and advocated strongly for us. He was committed to education and supports for our youth and their families. He was my boss and my friend. I will miss him immensely,” Mendoza lamented.
Twice appointed by Lee to the entertainment commission for which he is “forever grateful,” Filipino American Arts Exposition (FAAE) Board Director Al Perez was heartbroken, referring to Lee as “my hero because he is a man from humble beginnings — a son of immigrants who lived in public housing — yet he broke historic barriers as the first Asian Mayor of San Francisco.
“Shortly after Typhoon Haiyan he led a business, cultural and rebuilding mission via the SF-Manila Sister City Committee. He insisted that senior staff from the SF Dept. of Emergency Management be part of the delegation to provide support, resources, best practices and immediate impact to their counterparts in the Philippines.”
Perez did not miss the chance to narrate that Lee once forgot to wear an undershirt with his Barong Tagalog looked awfully funny.
“I will never forget the look of horror on his face when he showed up (at Pistahan) back stage in his Barong Tagalog, ready to present a Proclamation; but he forgot to wear an undershirt so you could see his body right through the sheer fabric. He asked me, “Do you think this looks too sexy??” And we shared a good laugh,” Perez recounted.
Newly installed Daly City Mayor Juslyn Manalo offered her condolences to the family –wife Anita and daughters Brianna and Tania – that Lee left behind.
“One of the fondest memories I have of Mayor Ed Lee was when a project I was working on was approved, we were in his office chambers and he mentioned that I was very ‘heroic.’ This caught me off guard–I was humbled and thankful,” a grateful Manalo reminisced. “As an Asian leader in San Francisco, he understood the immigrant communities plight and was an advocate for sanctuary cities and immigrant rights.”
Finance Manager in San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development Rally Catapang described the mayor as a true a public servant who cared for everyone especially the vulnerable.
“Before he was Mayor he was one of the lawyers who fought the displacement of Filipino Manongs at the I-Hotel. As mayor he steered resources to rebuilding public housing in the City and protected immigrants. I think those two things will be his legacy. We had many housing residents who reached out to our staff today, thanking the Mayor for his commitment to them,” Catapang reported.