A #DisruptAging Story from Chinese American Corky Lee, photographer, 73 Years Old, on righting wrongs.

Illuminate

“Back in junior high school, I found a small photograph showing the commemorative image that was taken at the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

“My social studies textbook never said how many Chinese there were, so I was wondering was it a half dozen? Or was it many more? So what I did was I bought a magnifying glass and looked at the photograph to count how many Chinese there were in the photograph. Because if they built it, then they should be there. Right? I didn’t see any. So it planted a seed in my mind: Where’s the photographic proof? Why were they excluded? I later learned that there were actually 12,000 to 15,000 Chinese who worked on the railroad.

“That seed eventually led me to organizing a ‘flash mob’ on the 145th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion in Utah. I was hoping for about 145 people – one person for every year that the Chinese were not included. I ended up getting over 200 people at Promontory Point (where the railroad’s completion is marked with two facing locomotives), and together we reclaimed an aspect of Chinese American history.

“I call that an ‘act of photographic justice’ – using the power and influence of a photographic image to right the wrongs that have been committed.

“My project next year is to organize another flash mob for the 35th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder. It’ll be in front of Ronald Ebens’ house in Nevada. I want to let his neighbors know that, even though the guy’s not a convicted criminal, he still has a $8 million monetary debt for a life that he was responsible for.

“I attempt to educate and illuminate individuals, one image at a time, and to keep that history alive for the next generation, and generations thereafter.”

Corky Lee, 73
Unofficial Asian American photographer laureate
New York City

NextDayBetter Storyteller: Sherina Ong

Photo credit: James Yee