Community leader "Uncle" Bob Santos passed away on the morning of Saturday, August 27. Born and raised in Seattle’s International District, Uncle Bob spent most of his life fighting for civil rights and blazing a trail for generations of activists as a mentor, community leader, and organizer. During his time as executive director of Inter*Im from 1972 to 1989, a number of key nonprofit organizations in the Asian Pacific Islander community were born.
Last year, the Examiner asked Santos what he felt his greatest achievement was:
Read the whole excellent interview to get a sense of his life and work. HistoryLink offers a detailed biography: "The struggles for the International District involved a constant search for funds... browbeating and cajoling governments, foundations, and businesses; and staying alive by wit and wile."
I think the thing that I’m probably most proud of is the fact that the International District is still a residential neighborhood with low income elderly. We put a lot of effort in keeping them in place, low income immigrant families. It’s still a neighborhood that accepts the low-income population, whether it’s seniors or families as a residential base, and as you’re preserving this neighborhood for them, you’re also trying to balance, you’re also working with developers who want to bring in market rate housing, and maybe even higher income housing so your neighborhood isn’t just a low-income ghetto for seniors. I mean you have families, you have working people, and you have higher income people, so you have a total mixed community, and you’re not being gentrified from one class eliminating another class, but you have a neighborhood that’s inclusive of all these elements.
So that’s the thing you look at. You’re saying, “We helped preserve this neighborhood.”
Local leaders are paying tribute to Santos and the legacy he leaves behind. Governor Jay Inslee:
Bob was a forward thinker. His early days as an activist with the ‘Gang of Four’ helped bring communities of color together in one unified voice to fight for equal rights.
He served as the unofficial mayor of the Chinatown International District in Seattle, advocating for social justice that helped pave the way for future generations of API leaders. Washington's strong API community is a testament to his leadership and commitment to mentoring.
Mayor Ed Murray:
Michael and I were heartbroken to hear of today's passing of "Uncle" Bob Santos, one of our city's great community leaders. 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 Seattlites who he tirelessly advocated for.
King County Executive Dow Constantine:
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 if not for Bob.
State Senator Bob Hasegawa (D-Beacon Hill):
Uncle Bob was a true hero of our community—activist, leader, mentor, moral compass for our community, and my friend. And, boy could he sing. I'll miss him.
State Senator Pramila Jayapal (D-South Seattle):
So saddened to hear of the passing of Uncle Bob Santos. 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.
City Council Member Lisa Herbold:
Uncle Bob was a tremendously special man, a fighter for justice, an icon, a hero to his community and our City. We are all richer for our time with him.
Rest in power, Uncle Bob.