Virtual Moving History – Uncle Bob's Neighborhood
MIPoPS dedicates this program to the memory of Bob Santos, with gratitude for his unifying spirit and his commitment to the safety and wellness of Asian elders in Seattle.
💐 (2/25/1934 – 8/27/2016) 💐
** Content warning: Bob uses several Asian racial slurs during this personal historical narrative, generally when quoting from the context of verbal street harassment. **
In his one-man show at Northwest Asian American Theatre (NWAAT)’s Theatre Off Jackson, local Filipino activist Bob Santos presents a detailed oral history of his formative years and landmark moments in his community organizing career. Personable and cheeky as ever at age 60, Santos distills decades of complex cultural friction and the dynamics of daily life for immigrant and refugee communities into a series of affectionately remembered anecdotes. The gently tongue-in-cheek character of his Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme mirrors Santos’s own neighborhood role: “Uncle Bob” was a dedicated, warmly supportive advocate for his communities, with a gift for storytelling. He was known as the unofficial “mayor of Chinatown” in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
As Uncle Bob recounts highlights from his lifelong quest to protect and improve the communities he serves, the cast of his story gradually grows into a who’s-who of his generation of community organizers of color. (You’ll want to keep a pen handy!) Santos, along with Bernie Whitebear, Roberto Maestas, and Larry Gossett, made up the “Gang of Four,” an advocacy group that founded Seattle’s Minority Executive Directors’ Coalition. In Uncle Bob’s Neighborhood, each of them is roll-called as the narrative passes through the early ’70s, when each of the Gang was growing into greater leadership roles. (Notable tips of their achievement-icebergs: Whitebear founded the Seattle Indian Health Board and the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation; Maestas helped found and became the director of El Centro de la Raza; Gossett founded the Central Area Motivation Program, now Byrd Barr Place, and eventually joined King County Council; and Santos became the founding executive director of the International District Improvement Association (InterIm CDA).)
In the duration of the program, Santos and Tyree Scott are arrested at a construction site integration-demonstration-turned-brawl; he haggles with King County Executive John Spellman and city council members over displacement caused by the Kingdome and I-5, allocation of funds for a CID health clinic, a community garden, and parks… but one of Uncle Bob’s most significant legacies was his ceaseless effort to secure buildings and land for use by CID residents, who are forever plagued by gentrification and development.
Special thanks to Wing Luke Museum, with whom MIPoPS worked to digitize magnetic media from NWAAT’s collection, including this VHS recording. Watch it again after the livestream here! Digitization of this videotape material has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Additional reading and resources:
- Read Bob Santos’ full biography
- Learn about Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance, which Bob alludes to as an early motivator for his community organizing
- More info about CARITAS (Community Action, Remedial Instruction, Tutoring, Assistance and Service), where Bob was first introduced to many lifelong colleagues
- Read Gary Iwamoto’s history of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, laid out alongside a history of the International Examiner, an Asian newspaper dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the neighborhood’s shared concerns and cultures
- Theatre Off Jackson, the former home of NWAAT, is currently soliciting community input about potential renovation of their space. Watch their video and give them survey feedback about it!
About [Virtual] Moving History
2nd & 4th Sundays, 4:30–5:30pm PT
MIPoPS is a nonprofit whose mission is to assist archives, libraries, and other organizations with the conversion of analog video recordings to digital formats according to archival best practices.
In order to adhere to social distancing best practices, MIPoPS is proud to partner with the Northwest Film Forum to bring you a weekly series of archival videotape documenting a diverse history in Seattle. Featuring a variety of material and topics, this series will curate a set of clips each second and fourth Sunday of the month to provide comic relief, local histories, music, poetry, and stage performance recordings, and much more.
MIPoPS hopes this series will educate and entertain viewers during this time of uncertainty and isolation.