Once again in early 2014, I found myself in damp and wet Seattle to celebrate the life of an iconic Bridge Generation Filipino American. In January it was for Fred Cordova’s farewell — the esteemed published author, lecturer, university professor, and civil rights activist. This time, on March 1, it was for the 80th birthday gala for Bob Santos — the likeable and beloved “Uncle Bob.”
Bob was first known for his groundbreaking civil rights protests during the late ’60s and ’70s that often resulted in his highly publicized arrests. Later, he was hailed for his leadership in Seattle’s ethnically diverse International District. He was the executive director of Caritas, a tutoring program for inner city youth in the early 70s and then served as executive director of Interim, the International District agency that promoted much of the district’s growth and development during the past 20 years. Although not usually well-known as a public official, he served with distinction as an executive level appointee during the Clinton Administration as the Department Secretary’s Representative for the Northwest Region for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Perhaps accounting for his ongoing popularity among all ethnic groups and all ages, Bob is also a published author, raconteur, karaoke performer, and accomplished hip hop dancer.
The well attended celebration drew 200 adults of all ages representing the rich ethnic diversity of Seattle – African Americans, Caucasians, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and of course Filipino Americans. And owing to Bob’s decades-old fight for social justice, many fellow activists, non-profit agency leaders, politicians and public officials were also in attendance.
I was particularly pleased to become reacquainted with Bob’s six children. My own children grew up with them as we often visited in one another’s homes. Additionally, the Santos and Jamero kids marched together as youths on the famed Filipino Youth Activities Drill Team, went to the same schools, and socialized and partied together.
In our earlier days, Bob and I enjoyed a friendly competition when it came to offspring, especially since both our families have six children. Over the years, Bob’s children have produced 18 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. I am blessed to now have 15 grandchildren and 1 great-granddaughter, Jada Nicole Drake, who was just born in February to Jomar Drake and Janel Organo (eldest daughter of my second child, Cheryl).
The event was also a reunion of sorts for a number of Seattle’s Filipino American Young Turks, the activist group of the 1970-80s that helped bring the Filipino community into the Seattle mainstream. Sadly, four have since died – Fred Cordova, Roy Flores, Terri Jamero, and the Rev. Harvey McIntyre. Among the surviving Young Turks (now Old Turkeys)attending Bob’s birthday party were Sonny Tangalin, Dale and Jeannette Tiffany, Pio DeCano, Larry Flores, Tony Ogilvie, Bob Flor, Angie Flores, and Frank Irigon as well as yours truly.
Kudos for organizing the celebration go to Bob’s wife, Sharon Tomiko Santos, a well-regarded celebrity in her own right as a long time Washington State Representative who chairs the House Education committee and serves on the House Business & Financial Services and the Community and Economic Development & Housing committees. As Majority Whip, she is the third most powerful Democrat in the House. Sharon made sure the guest list included all of Bob’s closest friends and associates, negotiated the venue at the Nisei Veterans Hall, and oversaw the selection of delicious food and refreshments, danceable music, and brief program.
All in all Bob Santos’ 80th birthday celebration was a fitting tribute to an accomplished Bridge Generation Filipino American and fellow octogenarian.