When Don Lee, Democratic Assembly candidate in the 65th District of New York City, looks out of the sixth-floor window of his campaign headquarters on Elizabeth Street, he can spot the apartment building across the street where his Jewish grandmother lived for many years with his Chinese grandfather.
“As a little kid—who knew that having a Jewish grandmother was unusual?” said Lee, a community activist who has lived and worked in the 65th Assembly District since childhood. “She loved you, she scolded you, she fed you treats. It’s only later that you recognize that blended families are not the norm.”
Raised in Chinatown, Lee is a proud product of New York City public school system, having attended PS 130, JHS 65 (now MS 131) and Seward Park High School, before graduating from NYU. Lee and his wife, Lai, have been long-time residents of Battery Park City, where they live with their daughter, Victoria.
The marriage between Lee’s Chinese immigrant grandfather and his Jewish immigrant grandmother was unusual for the time. “My grandfather came to work in New York City as a lathe operator and my grandma worked as a custodian,” he recalls. “They lived in the same neighborhood, where they found each other. My grandfather had lost his spouse and they found each other. They really loved each other.”
Lee remembers visiting his grandparents’ apartment: “It was one of the old-style apartments which you used to find not that long ago throughout the neighborhood with the bathtub in the kitchen and the separate toilet which was really a closet. It suited them very well and they never thought about finding something different.
“Bubbe and Ah Yeh both instilled in me the importance of education, hard work, and serving the community. Despite their different backgrounds, my grandparents shared common life experiences and common values. They were a real New York story.
“Whenever you visited, you could count on a critical examination by my grandma into your health and your grades. She would give me a Coke and tell me that was the only soft drink for us because it was kosher. The other kids in school wondered why I was the only Chinese kid to have matzo at Passover but that was something Bubbe Lee insisted on.”
The 65th Assembly District has a diverse ethnic mix of Chinese, African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Jewish, Italians, and Irish. Will Don Lee’s Jewish grandmother help him win votes in the coming election?
“As Grandma Lee would say about her chicken soup, ‘It can’t hurt,’” Lee said.
Richard Bryers worked for the legendary political genius David Garth at The Garth Group, Inc. for 20 years, handling local, state, national and international political and corporate clients, including Mayors Bloomberg and Giuliani.