Bay Area, represent! The current issue of San Francisco magazine has a pretty cool article on the early life and career of the twentysomething, not-yet-a-worldwide-icon Bruce Lee, who -- unbeknownst to many fans -- has humble beginnings in the Bay Area: The lost history of Bruce Lee.
Without specifically aligning himself with the region's counterculture, Lee embodied many of its early-1960s ideals. Over the course of just a few years, while still in his early 20s, Lee challenged traditional authority within the Chinese community, joined with progressive-minded martial artists twice his age to spur the evolution of their craft, and had the legendary fight that drove him toward the supercharged street-fighting style and mindful, self-disciplined way of being that jolted the world to attention. "More than any other place," says Lee archivist David Tadman, "the Bay Area was essential to the person that Bruce was."It is peculiar that the Bay Area currently has no local memorial to Bruce Lee. Not even a small one. But I was surprised to learn that former Oakland mayor Ron Dellums once actually had a proposal to create one. Seems like a small gesture for the man who is indeed arguably "the Bay Area's most famous native."
And ultimately, that person changed the culture at large. "Before Bruce Lee, Asian men were represented as house-boys, laundrymen, or rickshaw drivers," says Valerie Soe, an assistant professor in San Francisco State University's Asian American Studies department. "They were never very interesting, sexy, or physically strong. Then Lee comes along and just blows all of those perceptions out of the water."
Yet for all Lee's social relevance and cultural cool, there's no local memorial to the history of this man who is arguably the Bay Area's most famous native—no major plaques, no statue, not even a well-rendered mural by a discerning graffiti artist—despite a plan by former Oakland mayor Ron Dellums intended to remedy that (his proposal eventually fell by the wayside). The spot where Lee's martial arts school once stood now holds an auto dealership. Ambitious plans are under way for a Bruce Lee museum—in Seattle. It's a peculiar regional amnesia, considering the true course of Lee's life.