The following is a statement from OCA-Greater Seattle on August 29, 2016:
OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates—Greater Seattle is greatly saddened and deeply mourns the passing of longtime community leader “Uncle” Bob Santos.
“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 under-privileged. We will greatly miss his leadership, and will always be grateful and remember his work. Our deepest condolences to the Santos family.”
“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. From the fight for the International District, preservation of our community, his work at InterIm, Bob was always a tireless fighter for those he loved and issues that he cared about.”
“In remembering Bob, he often times made community work bearable with his jokes, laughter, and singing,” said community activist Frank Irigon, a longtime friend of Santos and OCA board member. “He made activism normal.”
Bob Santos was raised by his aunt and uncle. As a child, Bob spent his weekends with his dad, a former boxer who became blind, in the International District. He became interested in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, joined the Catholic Inter-racial Council and Seattle Human Rights Commission, and became director of Project Caritas, which was located in the Central Area. There, he opened his facility to civil rights groups, including the Black Panther Party and Asian Coalition for Equity. He became director of the International District Improvement Association (InterIm), when that organization was struggling, and turned it into a strong community planning and advocacy organization that brought attention to the needs of the Chinatown-International District area and the goal of preserving its cultural heritage. Under Bob’s leadership, 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 International District 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 Education Center), 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.
When Bob, Roberto Maestas, Larry Gossett, and Bernie Whitebear—each representing respective communities of color—began supporting each other and collaborating, they became the “Gang of Four” or the “Four Amigos.” Together, the gang formed a unity of communities of color coming together to determine their own destiny.
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.
Editor’s note (8/30/2016 at 12:22 p.m.): A change was made to reflect that a quote was attributed to OCA—Greater Seattle vice president Connie So.