Remembering Queens, New York Native & Photographer Corky Lee

May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month which makes it the ideal time to share that Queens, New York has the largest Asian American population by county outside the Western United States; according to the 2006 American Community Survey, Queens ranks fifth among US counties, with 477,772 Asian Americans making up 21.18% of the population.

Queens College which is part of the CUNY, will be celebrating Asian – American and Pacific Islander heritage with music and lectures. Also presented in conjunction with AAPI Heritage Month at Queens College is Thirty Years of Asia America, a video with images and commentary by the late photojournalist Corky Lee, who referred to himself as the “undisputed unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate.”

Young Kwok “Corky*” Lee (September 5, 1947 – January 27, 2021) was a Chinese American journalistic photographer. Lee grew up in Jamaica, Queens and took up photography while he attended Jamaica High School. His work chronicled and explored the diversity and nuances of Asian American culture overlooked by mainstream media and made sure Asian American history was included as a part of American history.

It all started, as Mr. Lee often told the story of his career, with an omission. In junior high school, he noticed that a photograph in a textbook commemorating the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 depicted a large crowd, but that no one in it was Asian, even though thousands of workers from southern China had done much of the backbreaking labor on the line.

Lee died on January 27, 2021, at the Long Island Jewish Hospital in Forest Hills. He was 73, and suffered from complications of COVID-19 in the time leading up to his death. His legacy was featured in the New York Times “Those We Lost” Series.

The stories Corky Lee told with his photographs taught us about the rich cultural experience that is Queens. Every picture he took provided us with the opportunity to learn about and understand “the others” in our community.

Thank you for reading my “#virtual front stoop” – #LearnedItInQueens post.

Julienne B. Ryan is the author of “The Learned It In Queens Communications Playbook – Winning Against Digital Distraction