Bob Santos
Bob Santos at the opening of a homeless shelter in the Old Federal Building, Seattle

Book Review

Humbows, Not Hot Dogs!
Memoirs of a savvy Asian American Activist

By Bob Santos
International Examiner Press
$18, $15 students (Available at the Wing Luke Museum, Uwajimaya, and the offices of the International Examiner)
176 pages
Review by Anitra Freeman

"Uncle Bob" Santos has been one of the driving forces in keeping Seattle as multi—cultural as it is. In both feisty public rabble-rousing and behind-the-scenes statesmanship, he has been a key force in building a thriving Asian-American community and an important figure in making Seattle one of the few cities where homeless and low-income people are a real political presence.

He also grew up during "interesting times." His father was a local sports hero who became blind later in his life, giving the young Bob Santos, who was his father’s guide on his daily rounds, entree into an adult world of bars and sports. He was 8 years old during the WWII internment of Americans of Japanese descent, when he and other children in his neighborhood had to wear badges that said "I AM FILIPINO" or "I AM CHINESE" to avoid beatings by other children. He was a part of the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s.

After 68 years of living and shaping local history, the by-no-means-retired Bob Santos has written his memoirs-to-date in 176 detail-packed pages, Humbows, Not Hots Dogs: Memoirs of a savvy Asian American Activist. (I’m not counting title sheets and introduction.) He has done several readings from his book to crowds across Seattle. But I couldn’t find any other book reviews to cheat from. The Seattle Times published an interview with Bob after his book came out ("Bob Santos, feisty defender of the Chinatown International District," June 23, 2002) — why hasn’t anyone done a book review?

Part of the reason may be that Santos does not write his memoirs as a novelist, or a professional storyteller. He writes in very simple, straightforward language, as he speaks. His life might make a good action movie, but his book doesn’t read like one, even when he visits El Salvador and gets close enough to the war to see gun smoke.

I’m not much into action movies or suspense novels, however. I am into stories of "how it happened." For instance, I loved reading about the building of the International District community garden: from the first negotiations for the land, through the cleanup, to the donation of the 4-ton stone Friendship Lantern from Kobe, Japan, and its installation in Kobe Terrace Park.

"The Alaskan Cannery Workers Association sent several crews to the garden work parties. I will always remember the sight of Gene Viernes, a farm boy from Wapato, running up and down the hillside with loads of heavy gravel, hardly taking a break, until the entire load was spread. I will always remember the sight of Silme Domingo backing down the narrow road to the staging area in his Monte Carlo, stepping out on a rock, wearing his black Italian shoes, and directing traffic to the dump site while never working up a sweat."

That glimpse from 1976 is especially poignant. Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo were assassinated in June 1981, in a backlash against their work in organizing cannery workers.

I also have enough of my grandfather’s farming heritage left to enjoy, God preserve me from the judgment of my vegetarian friends, the humor of Dan Rounds’ first attempt to kill a pig for the annual pig roast: "After about nine times of being stabbed, the pig, with its eyes bugging out, squealed. The farmer rushed over and asked us if we wanted him to shoot the critter.’"

What I’d like even better would be an audiotape of the book in Bob’s warm, chuckling voice.

Write On!

previously published in Real Change, circulate at will with attribution

    Articles by Anitra Freeman Activist Book Reviews Bookaholic Anitra's Web