Benjamin Lee: A major cultural activist in Seattle
“No matter where your family is from, Chinese living overseas should knit together to make our community better. And the Chinese culture and tradition is the centripetal force uniting us.”
That’s one of the basic beliefs of Benjamin Lee, a successful businessman and well-known activist within the Seattle Chinese community.
With his ancestral home in Shanghai, Lee was born in Taiwan and lived in Hong Kong before he came to the United States in 1973 to further his education.
Today, Lee is an international business leader who lives in the Seattle neighborhood of Magnolia with his wife Mayumi Oikawa Lee and their three children, Jonathan, Julianna and Jefferson.
The owner of an exportimport company that specializes in textile manufacturing, Lee is well connected to the business world, especially in Asia, from Hong Kong and Shanghai to Taiwan. He also invests in many businesses, including banking, restaurants and real estate.
What has made Lee well known in the Seattle Chinese community is the leadership he has demonstrated since the 1990s by giving his time and financial support.
“Compared to my own business, community service is harder because it is a longer journey that asks for more investments, including all the resources and experiences you have accumulated over the years,” Lee said. “There has to be someone willing to do this and I am.”
Lee has been working with the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce as vice-president and then president for six years.
“I have welcomed hundreds of Chinese trade delegations to the greater Seattle area and witnessed the increasing interest in the State of Washington from the international business world, especially from China,” he said.
Lee has also been influential in the growth of the Hong Kong Association of Washington (HKAW), a non-profit organization established in 1994 by community-minded leaders whose common background is having been raised in Hong Kong.
After he joined the association in 2004, he worked closely with the organization’s national arm and the Federation of Hong Kong Business Associations Worldwide. He also built relationships with organizations such as the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.
Lee was among leaders of the HKAW who initiated the annual Chinese New Year Gala, a celebration of the Lunar New Year featuring performances representing traditional and modern aspects of Chinese culture.
Proceeds from the event have gone to benefit various Seattle organizations, including the Seattle Chinese Garden, the Bruce Lee Action Museum and the Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“The HKAW Foundation is proud to support important pieces of culture and heritage as part of our local and global community. We are thrilled that the Bruce Lee family has selected Seattle as the home for this fantastic museum and we are putting all our resources behind supporting this important future landmark for Seattle and the Asian Community,” Lee said.
Last year, $230,000 was raised when a record 1,000 people attended the fundraising kickoff for the Bruce Lee Action Museum in Seattle on Feb 9, sponsored by the HKAW Foundation.
This year, the HKAW partnered with the Seattle Children’s Hospital, an independent, private, not-for-profit regional pediatric center, to celebrate the Lunar New Year with an event that raised more than $360,000.
“What is important is that we have our Chinese traditions and culture promoted through more communications and interactions with mainstream society,” said Lee, who believes the best way to promote the overseas Chinese community is to be a real part of the American community.
“Our overseas Chinese should actively integrate into the mainstream society of America by taking more responsibility for the wellbeing and improvement of our communities, cities, not only the Chinese community,’’ he said.
In 2013, Lee was awarded the Outstanding Philanthropist Award by the HKAW for his community work.
Lee has given not only his time to help various local organizations, but also his financial support. He donated to the Seattle Chinese Garden’s fundraising campaign for its first phase of construction, as well as to site enhancements and cultural and educational programs at the Garden. He has donated to the Chinese Information and Service Center, nursing homes in King County, Chinese schools and many education institutions in art and music.
“I want to thank my happy family who have supported me fully in my community service and job,” Lee said.
at is important is that we have our Chinese traditions and culture promoted through more communications and interactions with mainstream society,” BENJAMIN LEE SEATTLE CHINESE COMMUNITY ACTIVIST
Benjamin Lee (right), president emiritus of the Hong Kong Association of Washington, poses with Hurry Shum, executive vicepresident of Technology & Research at Microsoft, at 2014 Microsoft Asian Spring Festival Celebration.