Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/209521
Lorraine Lee was a spokeswoman for Latinos, immigrants, women, the poor and the elderly.
She spoke for the disenfranchised in Tucson for more than 25 years, making the throat cancer that claimed her voice, then her life, all the more insidious.
Lee, a native Tucsonan and executive vice president of Chicanos Por La Causa, died Wednesday after an 11-year battle with cancer. She was 51.
Her unflinching dedication to social causes earned her local and national recognition.
"She was well-respected and ... certainly there will be a void in the community because she was such a strong voice," Chicanos Por La Causa Vice President Tillie Arvizu said. "Anybody who takes her place will have big shoes to fill ... Everyone looked toward her for advice and guidance in situations, especially involving folks who are disenfranchised."
University of Arizona Senior Vice President and former Tucson city manager Joel D. Valdez said Lee was dedicated to her work and "a real fighter" who earned his respect. Her activism stemmed from her Tucson upbringing, he said.
"I've known Lorraine since she was a little girl. Good family, South Side merchants," Valdez said. "Just like some of us who grew up poor, it's something you never forget. There are those who were without and she went out of her way to engage the community and helping those less fortunate."
Lee was the daughter of a Chinese father born in the Philippines and a Mexican mother.
"I remember growing up not feeling fully accepted," Lee said in a 2005 Daily Star article. "I was not 100 percent Mexican, I was not 100 percent Chinese, but I never felt 'less than.' "
Lee graduated from Pueblo High School and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the UA. In 1983, after completing her master's degree in urban planning at UCLA, she began working for the community development corporation Chicanos Por La Causa.
"She was one of the kids from the 'hood," said Tucson City Court Judge Margarita Bernal, who met Lee in college in the '70s. "She knew she had a chance to go to college, she had a chance to get a wonderful job and had a wonderful family and that's all Lorraine was about everybody having a place at the table and an education.
"She got people housing, she got people education, she got people the basics the government promises," Bernal said. "Lots of people I know were given opportunities they wouldn't have because Lorraine was able to find grants for their schooling or their housing and now they are homeowners who are a productive part of society.
"Lorraine was a bridge for a lot of people."
Lee rallied interest on issues related to immigration, wages and education; spoke out against racism; worked to create affordable housing for the elderly, the poor and minority people; and encouraged Hispanics to join the national bone marrow donation registry.
"She was from the community: She grew up on the South Side," said high school friend Adela Gonzales. "This was her town. She knew what she wanted for her girls, for us. She wanted us to prosper as a united community."
Valdez added: "She wasn't afraid to stand toe-to-toe with me and tell me how the cow ate the cabbage. She was a tough woman."
She was a well-respected member of the community, too.
Lee received recognition on the local, state and national level, including being named Woman of the Year in 2002 by the Pan Asian Community Alliance; receiving the Maclovio Barraza Award for Leadership in 2001 from the Latino rights organization National Council of La Raza; winning the Iris Dewhirst President's Award from the YWCA in 1999; and being named Historic Professional Action Committee Woman of the Year in 1996.
"She was a lovely person. She was sweet and soft-spoken, but very effective," said former UA President Henry Koffler, who met Lee in the early '80s.
Lee was able to relate to people from all walks of life, said Kelly Langford, president and CEO of the Tucson Urban League. He'd known Lee for more than 20 years.
"She's what I call a warrior for ... those folks who didn't have a voice," he said. "She wasn't afraid to hold folks accountable when it came to standing up for what was right."
Though no decision has been made about Lee's successor at Chicanos Por La Causa, Langford believes the work Lee started will continue.
"The mark of a true leader is to empower and build up those folks who are coming in behind her," Langford said. "While she'll be missed, her legacy has been put in place by those folks who she's empowered and she's trained and she's mentored.
"While you won't see her personally, you will see the influence of Lorraine Lee throughout this community," he said.
Lee is survived by her husband of 26 years, Alonzo Morado; daughters Rita, Anisa and Sophia; and her mother, Delia Lee.
"We want what everybody else wants food on our table, a roof over our heads and a better future for our children."
More of Lee's memorable thoughts and words. Page A4
● La Estrella de Tucsón reporter Natalia Lopera contributed to this story. ● Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at 573-4191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In her own words
Chinese-Chicana community activist Lorraine Lee's legacy may be found in her own words:
"We should not be feared, but rather we should all work together to recognize that through our differences we can become stronger and better as a community."
"If you want us to go into higher education, you've got to come to us in our communities, homes and families and let us know you believe in us and the business community recognizes the value we have. And not just as laborers and workers, but across the board in all areas of business."
"I'd like the community to work on developing greater sensitivity, raising family incomes and strengthening bilingual education. I personally would like to learn to build the strengths we have for myself, my family and my community."
Quotes from Arizona Daily Star archives.