By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The struggle for civil rights cuts across racial lines, one that speaks about the past in a way that stands for a future with respect and dignity to all citizens in a community.
International District-legend Bob Santos knows that struggle first-hand as one of four civil rights leaders who worked together even though they were from different communities in Seattle. He is featured in a book he co-authored, “The Gang of Four: Four Leaders, Four Communities, One Friendship.”
Launched on May 12 at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle, the book, co-authored by Gary Iwamoto and published by Chin Music Press, tells the story of the collaboration that began in the late 1960s among Bernie Whitebear, Roberto Maestas, Larry Gossett, and Santos.
“We really have history in the house tonight. I mean real history,” said Leonard Garfield, executive director of MOHAI, about surviving members “Uncle Bob” Santos and Gossett.
“The kind of history you make in the streets, and you make in the community halls, and you make after years and years of hard work.”
He says MOHAI should be a gathering place where that kind of history is one in which “we learn not more about ourselves, but more about each other.”
Enrique Cerna, emcee of the book launch, introduced Former Washington Governor Mike Lowry as the event’s first speaker.
“We have changed a lot as a city and as a state and some places as a country in the last 40 years, and we’re much the better for it,” Lowry said about the contributions by the Gang of Four.
Laura Wong-Whitebear, youngest sister of Bernie Whitebear – one of six children born to a Filipino father and a Native American mother – and member of the Colville Confederated Tribes of Washington State, followed Lowry.
She said about her brother, who died in 2000, “He always wanted a better quality of life for his people: jobs, health, education for the pre-K through 12, the youth, the adults, and elders. He wanted a generous slice of the pie for his people.”
Wong-Whitebear recognized the pioneers for “undoing the institutional racism” and standing for diversity and equity. Audience members laughed when she said she didn’t want to share too much because she wanted them to read the book, one she described as “a book on leadership and sustainability for our communities of color.”
Other speakers at the event included John Daniels, Jr., director of government affairs, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe; and Estela Ortega, widow of Roberto Maestas and executive director of El Centro de la Raza. Filipino American activist Cindy Domingo, aide to King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, spoke about being “privileged to know all four of the amigos.”
She added, “When the Gang of Four left their houses in the morning, they never forgot that their communities’ struggles were integrally tied to the struggles abroad and to the people that struggled all over the world.”
Domingo recognized Santos’ decade-long stand after the 1981 deaths of her brother Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes “by the Marcos regime.” She said Santos and then Congressman Lowry demonstrated with her and others in front of the Philippine consulate, stood up against Marcos’ “armed goons” at the union hall, and fought alongside her against the U.S. government and the FBI.
“And being with us on that victorious day when we won justice for Silme and Gene,” she added.
Wearing a newsboy cap atop his head, Santos – the son of a Filipino immigrant father and a Native American/Filipino mother – took the stage about 35 minutes into the event and told humorous stories about Maestas and Whitebear.
As the executive director of Caritas, a tutoring program for inner-city youth, Santos said he first met Gossett, then a founding member of the University of Washington Black Student Union, in 1969.
“The point that I would like to make is that all of our relationships were solidified through struggle,” Gossett said. “I think that has a lot to do with why we were so successful for over 40 years, maintaining this unity among African American, Asian, Latino, Pacific Islander, and poor white people throughout our community.” (end)
For more information about “The Gang of Four: Four Leaders, Four Communities, One Friendship,” go to gangoffourbook.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.