Fellow photojournalists Corky Lee and The Rafu Shimpo’s Mario Reyes at Lee’s retrospective held in Los Angeles Chinatown in November 2008.

QUEENS, N.Y. – Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), first vice chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, announced Feb. 10 that she led a letter to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., urging officials there to create a special exhibit honoring the late photographer Corky Lee.

Lee, who was from Meng’s home borough of Queens, was a prolific photographer who captured the Asian American lived experiences in the U.S. from the 1975 protests against police brutality to the gentrification of New York City’s Chinatown, and from the anti-Muslim hate in the post-9/11 era to the anti-Asian hate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries.

“Photographs are powerful tools and mediums to communicate the human experience. Corky understood this when he studied at Queens College and saw a photo of the Transcontinental Railroad that depicted no Chinese laborers despite them having built it,” said Meng. “From that moment, he dedicated his life to covering our community and making sure our cries, struggles, laughter, and solidarity with others were captured.

“His whole life was focused on this – helping lift up our stories and giving voice to the greater AAPI community in the United States. Let’s honor Corky by creating an exhibit at our nation’s national museum that highlights his work and legacy. I look forward to seeing this come to fruition.”

Lee passed away on Jan. 27 due to complications from COVID-19.

Meng sent the letter to Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Director Lisa Sasaki.

To mark the 145th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in Ogden, Utah, Corky Lee took this photo of Chinese Americans and descendants of the Chinese railroad workers. This was a response to a famous photo of the railroad’s completion from which Chinese laborers were excluded. (Photo by Corky Lee)

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