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Corky Lee, renowned Chinatown photographer, fighting COVID in ICU

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Corky Lee, the legendary Chinatown documentary photographer, is battling to recover from coronavirus.

Lee reportedly first began feeling symptoms of COVID on Jan. 3. He was admitted to a Queens hospital on Jan. 7, then was moved into the intensive-care unit on Jan. 11, where he was put on a respirator.

Lee, 73, has documented Manhattan’s Chinatown and the city’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities since the 1970s. He goes by the whimsical moniker “the undisputed unofficial Asian American photographer laureate.”

Among the major events he has covered were the protests over the beating of Peter Yew by Fifth Precinct police in 1975. Yew had objected after police “mishandled” a youth during a traffic incident and wound up being roughed up inside the precinct.

Chinatown photographer Corky Lee, far right, linking arms with fellow protesters in 1975 at a mass rally over the police beating of Peter Yew. (Courtesy Corky Lee)
Thousands of marchers descended on City Hall in 1975 to protest the police beating of Peter Yew. (Photo by Corky Lee)

The slogan on his Facebook page is “An ABC from NYC…yielding a camera to slay injustices against APA’s.” (ABC stands for “American-born Chinese” and APA for “Asian Pacific Americans.”)

Lee documented the fight for reparations for survivors of Japanese World War II internment camps in the American West and also the struggle for Chinese-American W.W. II veterans to be recognized by Washington for their valor.

This photo by Corky Lee of Sikh Americans at a vigil in Queens after the 9/11 World Trade Center attack won an award from the New York Press Association. However, the contest judge strangely wrote in his or her comments that the placid-looking man at left had a look of “menace” in his eye, which cracked Lee up. (Photo by Corky Lee)

A Facebook page — Corky Lee Recovery Fundraiser — has been set up to cover his unexpected medical and personal out-of-pocket expenses. With a goal of raising $10,000, in just four days it had already surpassed $34,000.

In a post on the page, John Lee, his brother, thanked friends for their contributions:

“As Corky’s brother, I want to extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to all contributors to his recovery fund and for your prayers and wishes and affirmations for his recovery. You may be assured that he is fighting this Covid battle with the same zeal and commitment he has brought to the documentation of the history, struggle and dreams of the AAPI communities which have been and remain his inspiration and mission. We look forward to his return to health and once again to ‘talk story.’ Thank you one and all! John Lee.”

The page asks friends to refrain from calling Lee directly at the hospital, noting, “He must rest. Text or e-mail him if you’re so inclined.”

In addition, the fundraiser page urges anyone who saw Lee between Dec. 20 and Jan. 7 to get tested.

One Comment

  1. Gabe Gabe January 15, 2021

    Does he not have Medicare or other health insurance?

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