WORDS FROM THE COMMUNITY LEADERS
Diane Narasaki, ACRS executive director
Bob’s legacy is immense. The Chinatown International District as we know it would not have survived as a living, working neighborhood with its residents, culture and history as intact as is currently the case.
At a time when many Chinatowns and Asian neighborhoods were disappearing due to development out of touch with, and unfriendly to, the character of these neighborhoods, Bob led the fight to preserve and strengthen the neighborhood. It was a fight not just to preserve the neighborhood, but also the rights of its most vulnerable members, and to advance social justice not only for our community, but for all others facing the same injustices. It is a fight that continues to this day, but on a foundation that Bob and other leaders built.
Many of the key organizations comprising our community’s infrastructure, including ACRS, came about because of Bob’s advocacy efforts and leadership. He will continue to inspire others to action through all that he has done, all whom he has mentored, all the organizations he helped to establish and supported, and through the books he wrote to document the important times and relationships of which he had been a part and which continue to shape Seattle.
Dolores Sibonga, former Seattle City Councilwoman
We both grew up as part of the Fil-Am community, but it wasn’t until the 1960s when we worked together on civil rights that we became closer friends. My fondest memories of Bob happened when a group of us met at Inter*Im frequently to plot strategy, and Bob would focus on business and say, “So, what’s the plan?” He kept us on track. Bob was the soul of the ID.
Bettie Luke, former Wing Luke Museum board member
I became aware of Bob Santos when one of his daughters and my daughter were in the same class in grade school. As I became more involved in Asian American and multicultural awareness work, I increasingly saw Bob’s leadership in the APA community. He was a strong advocate for equity and addressing disparities — but with the special twist in his use of humor. Getting people to laugh with you is like a strategic secret weapon. Uncle Bob had a natural ability for this, which leads to disarming people and getting them to stick around and listen to you longer. Bob never wavered in pushing issues forward for not just Asian Pacific
Americans, but all communities of color. He left big footprints and will be greatly missed.
Ana Mari Cauce, University of Washington president
I had the opportunity to first get to know Bob Santos — known as “Uncle Bob” to so many he advocated for — when I chaired the UW’s Department of American Ethnic Studies. It was a tough time for the department, and our first meeting was marked by mutual skepticism. But it ended with mutual respect. Integrity and valor are the two words that first come to mind when I think of him. Through Bob’s leadership, advocacy, and mentorship, the cause of civil rights and social justice has been advanced, and the lives of countless members of our community, especially Asian Pacific Islanders, have been improved. We’ve truly lost a giant.
Michael Itti, Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs executive director
Uncle Bob Santos fought to protect the history, culture, and places that are cherished by so many immigrants and communities in our state. His efforts to save Seattle’s Chinatown International District, where he served in many leadership roles and was beloved for his singing at Bush Gardens, earned him the title of ‘unofficial mayor.’ His decades of activism with the Gang of Four demonstrated the power of solidarity and working together to fight for social justice and political causes, especially for the most vulnerable.
Maiko Winkler-Chin, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority executive director
I met Bob in 1996 because he was the speaker at my graduate school graduation. His speech was hilarious. He talked about the CID, about his dad and the “aunties” who would visit, and how his dad would give Bob a dime or something to go see movies during those visits.
My fondest memories of Bob involve music, dancing, and a lot of people. Things that feel like a party. And he was the center of attention. Bob also practiced what he preached. He was inclusive and embracing of people. He built bridges between communities, sometimes even those that were pitted against each other. His work with the Four Amigos, being inclusive of all communities of color, is one of the biggest social justice stories in the country to this day, and seems very relevant in this time. Bob built a community wherever he went. He was great in embracing newcomers like me.
Pilipino American Unity for Progress
Seattle is grieving the loss of one of their great community leaders, and a legendary activist. “Uncle” Bob Santos was born and raised in Seattle, and advocated for civil rights for almost all of his adult life. We hope to carry his legacy and leadership in our own work, and affect the community in the same way that he did.
Andrés J. Mantilla, Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs chair
Uncle Bob was a shining example of true activism, integrity, and a model for all that wanted to make a positive change in their community. A member of the original Gang of Four, Bob showed us what true courage looked like in the face of adversity and institutional barriers for communities of color.
Debadutta Dash, Washington State India trade Relations Action Committee co-chair
It was [Bob] who reached out to me first at a 2004 event. He made an eye contact with an intriguing smile and looked at the bundle of PlanetGuru newspapers I was holding, and asked me which part of the world I was from. He had already figured that out. Before I could even answer, he mentioned Mahatma Gandhi and we began a very passionate and meaningful conversation. At the end of that conversation, he expressed his willingness to interact with the local Indian American community, especially youth.
Three years later, I was the President of the India Association of Western Washington and my good friend, Murthy Kalkura, was in charge of the annual Camp Bharat (the week long summer camp). I thought that would be a good opportunity to have Uncle Bob at the closing of the summer camp as the guest of honor. But the question was if he would be willing to travel from Seattle to Fort Worden to give a 15 minute speech. I called him and it took only a few seconds for him to confirm his willingness. I was simply awestruck.
Uncle Bob was is the one who encouraged me to run for office. He said that even if you lose, you would make your point and that’s the key — he was absolutely right. His legacy needs to be celebrated, not just by naming a street, building or a park, but by recognizing members of our own community for following the path shown by him.
Sharon Lee, Low Income Housing Institute executive director
Uncle Bob was the first HUD official in the nation to open up space in the federal building for a shelter for men and women. When housing activists from Operation Homestead and homeless people occupied a rundown vacant building in downtown Seattle, Uncle Bob worked with the Low Income Housing Institute and contacted the property owner to negotiate a long term lease. Uncle Bob was a key advocate to make sure that homeless people got basic hygiene services at the downtown Urban Rest Stop. He made sure that federal funding paid for hot showers, restrooms, and free laundry facilities — enabling thousands of homeless stay clean and healthy so they can stay employed or find a job, and apply for housing.
WORDS FROM THE COMMUNITY MEMBERS
Daryl Chin, Seattle resident
I had invited [Bob] to take part in a Chinese lion blessing ceremony event, which was supposed to be in the renovated Hing Hay Park on Aug. 27. I informed Uncle Bob via e-mail that it was cancelled and that I was going to reschedule it for another time. I won’t get a chance to ask him again because he is gone. My father, Doug, and Bob have known each other since the 1950s. They remained good friends throughout the years. I am appreciative I met Uncle Bob when I was a baby. The Chin family sends their condolences to Sharon Tomiko-Santos and the rest of the Santos family. I want to let them know we will miss his karaoke singing and most of all, his outstanding leadership.
Alan Alabastro, Alabastro Photography owner
As a newcomer to Seattle in the late 1990s, Uncle Bob welcomed me right into the community. During the late night karaoke sessions at the Bush Gardens, he introduced me to everyone he knew, sparking my involvement in the APA community. He was charming, he was kind, he could sing — everyone loved him. But under that debonair style, he was a fierce and passionate defender of civil rights and a champion for our community. Thank you, Uncle Bob.
Frances Alexander, activist and Santos’ friend
So sad to lose such a great and valuable man. His legacy should live on in all of us. Thank you, Bob, for caring about all of us so much that you have given us so many lessons that we have learned from you to continue in your footsteps and to pass on to the next generation and generations to come.
Cerise Cook, Seattle resident
I remember him from the old Wa Sang grocery … he was always in there chatting with people. He bought us Botan candy once. My cousins and [I] always went there together when our folks were at Tai Tung or King Cafe. Sometimes he’d buy us a bag of sour balls, we’d sit outside and split them up. Mr. Santos would stand where he could see our faces, and smile. I miss those days! He was a great man! Prayers go out to him and his family.
Deborah Horne, KIRO 7 reporter
We’ll miss ‘Uncle Bob.” I remember the last interview he and I did. On a weekend. He was the only prominent person who would talk to me last year about the 30th anniversary of the Wah Mee massacre. He lived life fearlessly, unafraid, confident in who he was. I will miss his presence in our world.
Athima Chansanchai, former Seattle PI reporter
I have fond memories of meeting Bob at Bush Garden and listening to him sing Sinatra like no other. He was a gentleman who seemed to know everyone in the ID. What a loss.
Deborah Gooden, retired community developer
A genuine hero and inspiration. Always positive, always an advocate for his community. Thank you for a life very well lived.
Alyssa Pham, Summer Youth Leadership Program participant
Uncle Bob was one of the most inspirational speakers and leaders I’ve ever met. He has fought and contributed so much during his lifetime for the Asian American community in Seattle. I was very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to listen to his stories this year as a participant in the Asian Weekly’s Summer Youth Leadership Program. I’ll keep you in my prayers, Uncle Bob.
WORDS FROM ELECTED OFFICIALS
Sen. Patty Murray
Uncle Bob Santos’ work inspired entire communities. He will be missed, and my thoughts are with Sharon and Seattle’s AAPI community.
Sen. Maria Cantwell
Bob Santos will be remembered as an outstanding community and civil rights leader who made Seattle’s International District what it is today.
Rep. Adam Smith
From his time as a community organizer to his work as a civil rights leader and in his commitment to mentoring the leaders of tomorrow, Bob has had an incredible impact on countless individuals throughout the Seattle region. Bob’s leadership and vision was critical to the growth of the Chinatown International District, and his legacy with truly live on for generations to come.
Gov. Jay Inslee
We lost a leader with the passing of Bob Santos. Trudi and I send our thoughts and prayers to his family.
State Sen. Bob Hasegawa
When I first ran for public office, Uncle Bob was one of the first people I turned to for advice and support. I was a labor organizer, who tried to build bridges with other social justice communities, but always felt a disconnect. Uncle Bob understood the need to connect the movements and was super supportive. He’s always been someone I could turn to for moral and active support.
We were privileged to witness his Grammy Award-winning performance at my Karaoke Fundraising event just two months ago where he set the bar so high, everyone was in awe. Turns out, it was a performance of a lifetime. I’ll miss him dearly.
State Sen. Pramila Jayapal
He did so much for the city, for the API community, for civil rights. A true hero with an amazing legacy he leaves, including MEDC, Interim, and so much more. Thoughts and strength to his family, including Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos.
Dow Constantine, King Co. Executive
Bob Santos was a passionate believer in the power of bringing people together to fight for fairness and opportunity. He was a man defined by both his work and his friendships. Along with Bernie Whitebear, Roberto Maestas, and Larry Gossett, Bob formed the “Gang of Four,” legendary for achieving civil rights victories and neighborhood preservation. Seattle would look much different today if not for Bob.
Ever a serious force for social change, Bob was equally fun to be around. I regret that I will never be able to make good on my solemn promise to join Uncle Bob in a karaoke duet at the venerable Bush Garden on Maynard Avenue.
Larry Gossett, Metropolitan King County Councilmember
Personally, I’ve lost a dear friend and ally who worked on empowering communities of color throughout our region and nationally. I was immensely proud of Bob being one of my ‘Amigos’ with Roberto Maestas and Bernie Whitebear, we spoke, marched and, at times, went to jail to ensure that our communities received the opportunities that had been denied them for too long. My deep condolences to his wife Sharon, his six children and his grand and great–grandchildren. He will be deeply missed.
Ed Murray, Seattle Mayor
Bob Santos touched countless lives across every race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, and age in Seattle. He was everyone’s “uncle” because of his universal and unwavering friendship, and he was a hero to many marginalized Seattleites who he tirelessly advocated for. I have been fortunate to have worked with him on many of these issues for over two decades. Seattle mourns the loss of one of the greatest civic leaders … and our city is much greater because of his life.
Lorena Gonzalez, Seattle City Council
“Uncle” Bob Santos will be missed, but his legacy as a mentor to so many young API leaders will certainly live on.
Dorothy Wong, CISC Executive Director
I remember I kept hearing about “Uncle Bob” Santos when I first arrived in Seattle in 1993. I am not one who “hero worship” someone with a reputation. Rather, I want to meet him/her in person to see how that person will treat me, especially as a newcomer to the scene. This will usually give me a better sense of who that person is. From the get-go, Bob was not someone who puffed out his chest to proclaim how important he was. He was engaging, down-to-earth and funny, and he noticed all the little things that happen around him. During a most difficult moment in my life, Bob gave generously of his time to help out. He assessed the situation quickly and outlined the likely outcomes. His sense of humor was always there and helped to lighten up what for me was a trying time. What I really appreciated about Bob was that he leveraged whatever influence and power he was able to attain to address longstanding needs in the community, such as his stint as Region X Representative of HUD. I loved how he opened the federal buildings as a shelter for the homeless during the winter months, although it must have driven the federal staff bananas. The greater his influence, the more resources he could harness, so to speak. He never really “retired.” He was always out in the community – talking, planning, and organizing. We all hoped that he would always be there, even as he became more frail. It is a HUGE LOSS in the community with his passing.