Cindy Domingo, King County Councilman Larry Gossett’s Chief of Staff: I met Bob during the mid-1970s, like so many Asian American activists, as we fought to save the International District as a community. But it was really in 1981, in the aftermath of the murders of my brother, Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, that I began to work very closely with Bob. He stood shoulder to shoulder with us as a leader in the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes (CJDV), as we confronted the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship of the Philippines and the United States government for their complicity in the murders. For 10 years, Bob never wavered in being with us in very difficult times, as we moved judiciously in our eventual journey to victory. It is the same courage and leadership he exhibited through decades of work in fighting for people’s human rights — whether it be for housing, food, civil rights, or personal security, Bob was always there. He leaves a legacy of what fighting for human rights is really about.
Inter*Im: For us, the InterIm CDA family, this loss leaves a void that can never be filled. Our hearts will ache for Uncle Bob every day and every minute. We will miss him dropping by the office, sitting at his desk, giving us his warm, reassuring hug, and making us laugh with his corny jokes. Whether things were good or bad, Uncle Bob had our backs, no matter the situation. It’s hard to believe we will never see Uncle Bob again. He loved InterIm CDA. It was his life, and he loved us all dearly. We will now need to proceed on our journey for civil rights and social justice without his physical presence, but we know he will always be walking side by side with us. We will feel his presence as family, every step of the way. Uncle Bob was our beacon of hope, our mentor, and our guide. Nearly 50 years ago, InterIm CDA was founded to preserve the Chinatown International District, especially on behalf of its low income, elderly, Asian and Pacific Islander pioneers who built the neighborhood. That the Chinatown International District remains intact as an ethnic neighborhood, and a home for low income elderly and families, immigrants and refugees, is a testament to Uncle Bob’s vision and effectiveness as an activist, organizer, and mentor. He was a fierce and tireless advocate for the Chinatown International District until the end, and he inspired countless others to join in the struggle.
Estela Ortega, El Centro de la Raza executive director: Bob was the first person to plant the seed that we should develop affordable housing for our community and today, we have Plaza Roberto Maestas. It is fair to say that we have housing today at El Centro because of Bob. I also recall with fondness how Bob was the leader in getting the Four Amigos involved in the Northwest Asian Theater, and performing in skits written by Gary Iwamoto especially for them. Their first performance was “I heard it through the Grapevine.” The audience roared and they were a hit. They built alliances together and also knew how to have fun together. When it came to Bob Santos, there wasn’t a generation gap in our work for social justice. He had the ability to motivate young people to be inspired to make life transforming decisions for the benefit of the community. Bob was also on the forefront of organizing for justice in a multiracial way. We all know that we will eventually pass on to the spirit world, but it was shocking and heartbreaking to hear of Bob’s passing. He was supposed to be with us for a much longer time. He was eternally young.
Teresita Batayola, International Community Health Services CEO: It was the early 1970s when Bob Santos spoke to a group of Filipino students at Seattle University. He was still the director of Caritas, a Catholic organization serving the youth. I was fascinated about his story of growing up in Chinatown and the struggles his father, a boxer, and his family faced as Filipinos in America. Back then, he was not the fiery civil rights leader we came to know, but his passion about the rights of people of color already came through. Over the years, I lived in and out of Seattle, but I was always drawn to his community causes, with his fire laced with humor and irony. I will always think I will run into him in the ID, with his hat and say, “Hello kiddo!” or hear his Sinatra renditions at various community events. He left a major mark in Chinatown/ID, calling out injustice and protecting our neighborhood. Because of him, we have many legacy organizations like International Community Health Services (ICHS) to serve the needs of our people.
OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates: “No one has done more to revitalize Seattle’s Chinatown/International District and fight for civil rights and social justice than Bob Santos,” said OCA Greater Seattle president, Jacqueline Wu. “He was an icon who has left an indelible legacy as an effective and respected community leader who persistently fought for decent housing, seniors, children’s program and the underprivileged. “Bob is one of the legendary “Gang of Four” and a fighter for communities of color and social justice,” added University of Washington Professor and OCA Seattle chapter vice president, Connie So. “But what I always remember most was his candor, sincerity, and approachability. He was always willing to speak to my students about advocacy and drew upon issues that he cared about as an undergraduate student to empower others. Bob was always a tireless fighter for those he loved and issues that he cared about.” Under Bob’s leadership [at the Inter*Im], the neighborhood received millions for street improvements, decent housing, and programs for the elderly in the area. His leadership also resulted in the creation of the Seattle Chinatown Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) and the establishment of the International District Special Review District, which provided overlay zoning regulations to help preserve the cultural heritage of the area. With Bob’s help and guidance, a child care program (Denise Louie), counseling and social service agency (Asian Counseling and Referral Service), health clinic (International Community Health Center), housing services (International District Housing Alliance), and a community garden (Danny Woo Community Garden) began. Bob was a visionary and doer, who later became the director of the Chinatown/International District PDA and the Regional Representative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Northwest Region. Bob Santos has left an indelible mark on Seattle and should go down in history among Seattle’s prominent civil rights leaders, joining the likes of Chief Sealth, Horace Cayton, Gordon Hirabayashi, Wing Luke, and Tyree Scott.
Alan Sugiyama, community leader: I first met Bob in 1971 and yes, it was at a demonstration. I was the chair of the Oriental Student Union at Seattle Central Community College and we had just closed down the administration building because the college refused to hire Asian Americans for administrative positions. This gray haired guy came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Bob and I want to support your demonstration.” Little did I know then that I would see him at nearly every community demonstration for the next 45 years and he would go on to be the most effective, powerful and loved community organizer in our lifetime. There will never be another Bob Santos. He was the greatest community activist and finest human being I have ever met. His accomplishments were many but I believe he will always be known as that special person who did everything he could to make this world a better place.