Ying Lee, Refugee, Asian American Pioneer and Progressive Riot Leader, Dies at 90

When Ying Lee arrived in San Francisco from Shanghai at the age of 13, she was fluent in English, a skill that made her stand out among the refugees fleeing the Japanese occupation of China during World War II.

Lee was able to articulate clearly what she saw of the war, the trauma and the upheaval. Her experiences gave her a combination of drive, empathy, and personal magnetism for her election as the first Asian person elected to the Berkeley City Council in 1973.

This was just one life that included having her ears pierced by poet Gary Snyder while hanging out with the Beats in North Beach, and being the only teacher at Berkeley High School willing to be a faculty advisor for the Student Young Socialists Club.

She was also the first delegate to a presidential convention to dress all in black, tie herself to a railing from her long braid and douse herself in red paint to protest the Vietnam War, as she did as a delegate to George McGovern in 1972.

Lee was a civil rights activist, loyal reader of the Constitution and an optimist who never gave up on the idea of ​​a healthy democratic society. She died on September 10, at her home in Piedmont. She was 90 years old.

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