OCA Celebrates the Life of Longtime Advocate Corky Lee

Thu, January 28, 2021 12:18 PM | Anonymous


27 January 2021

Contact: Thu Nguyen | Director
202.223.5500 | tnguyen@ocanational.org

Washington, DC - OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates is sad to hear of the passing of Corky Lee. Corky was a longtime member of the OCA-New York Chapter and supporter of OCA nationally. He was awarded the 2008 OCA National Pioneer Award. His dedication and generosity resulted in his nickname as the “undisputed unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate.” In over thirty years of documenting AAPIs, Corky has captured key events such as the protests following Vincent Chin’s death, the fight for reparations for Japanese Americans, recognition of Chinese American WWII veterans, and is most renowned for documenting the history of Manhattan’s Chinatown.

A self-taught photojournalist, Corky’s passion was sparked when he first saw a photo of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, in which Chinese railroad workers were kicked out of the photo so that there were only white workers. This inaccurate snapshot was preserved in textbooks, resulting in the erasure of Chinese American efforts that were crucial to the railroad’s completion. Corky has since returned to Utah annually to take photos of descendants of the Chinese railroad workers to set the history straight. Corky then dedicated his life to ensuring that AAPIs are represented in media and textbooks. His legacy has paved the way for many aspiring AAPI photojournalists and historians.

“Photos have been crucial in preserving history. Immigrants, including AAPIs, have greatly contributed to the rich fabric of American society,” said Linda Ng, OCA National President. “In our fight for AAPI representation at all tables, we must make sure that also includes AAPI representation in history. Corky Lee was an incredible pioneer of these efforts, and we will continue his legacy at OCA.”

Claudine Cheng, Past OCA National President 1991-1992, adds:
“What comes to mind about Corky was how, in his own quiet and artistic ways, he played a pivotal role in recording and keeping chapters of our community’s history alive for generations to come. He was like a guardian angel for all the moments in time that we would want to cherish; his presence will indeed be missed.”

Michael C. Lin, Past OCA National President 1995-98, adds:
“Corky was such a great champion of civil rights. He used his photographic skill to make sure that justice was recorded. One such example was his photograph taken years ago with hundreds of OCA Convention attendees at Promontory Point, Utah, to reflect the contribution of Chinese Railroad Workers. We will miss him!”

Ginny Gong, Past OCA National President 2004-2008, adds:
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my friend, and fellow New Yorker and civil rights activist, Corky Lee. Over the decades, this visionary photographer was always ‘there’ chronicling history- taking photos that illuminated the Asian American community and highlighted its issues. Corky will always be remembered by his repertoire profiling Asian Americans at work and play. We, as a community, and OCA, as an organization, will forever miss ‘our man’ behind the camera.”

Ken Lee, Past OCA National President 2009-2012, adds:
“Corky Lee was an incredible friend to us all. He embodied every aspect of community building. Corky was always generous with his time, efforts, and contributions with OCA and other organizations. He will continue to serve as a role model for generations to come.”

Leslie Moe-Kaiser, Past OCA National President 2016, adds:
“Corky Lee was one-of-a-kind. He was compassionate, fiercely supportive of the community, and artistically articulate in his advocacy. He followed the rule of thumb: show up. As an art historian, I want to acknowledge Corky’s aesthetics. While his photos certainly captured the moments, his composition, lines, movement, and tensions between light and dark, solid and space, were what caught my eye. He spoke with artistry, and we miss him sorely.”

Sharon Wong, Past OCA National President 2013-2015, 2017-2020:
“Mark Twain said, ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.’ Corky knew his why -- to yield a camera to slay injustices against APAs. And he lived his purpose every day for the greater good of the AAPI community. There wasn't an event where I didn't see Corky with his camera and for as long as I've been involved in the AAPI community, that's a long time! Corky, we will miss you -- and I can imagine you in the heavens with your cameras, doing what you do best.”

OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates is a national civil rights organization dedicated to improving the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs).


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