Dr. Esther Lee’s political involvements began in 1978 when President Carter “suddenly” recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and resumed the normal diplomatic relationship with them. Many pro- Republic of China (ROC) Chinese Americans began to protest including a street demonstration in Houston. Even though Dr. Lee was as disappointed as many other Chinese Americans, she started reflecting and concluded that it was not President Carter’s intention to recognize PRC abruptly without consulting or informing the Chinese community leaders in advance. He just did not see Chinese Americans on his political radar since they were not active in American politics. Her conviction was so strong that she contacted and joined the national Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) quickly with a hope to generate more impact on America’s policy toward China, as it related to the life of Chinese Americans. Soon she formed a Texas Chapter of OCA and became a national board member. Unfortunately, OCA was not permitted to engage in any partisan activities based on its Constitution and By-Laws. In order to be more effective, she joined the Bay Area Republican Women’s Club (in Houston suburb) in 1980. Details can be found in the narrative of the 1980 file. Meanwhile, she became more involved in the Organization of Chinese American Women (OCAW) and formed a Houston Chapter, which can be found in OCAW’s archive. Later she became the national vice president for communication of OCAW. This affiliation and networking benefited her personal growth greatly. There are separate sections/folders on OCA and OCAW.
Under the guidance of Mrs. Vicky Hepke, an active member of the Bay Area Republican Women’s Club, Dr. Lee was able to participate in various campaign activities and was totally immersed in the mainstream politics. Meanwhile, she tried to rally the Asian/Pacific Americans and mentor them to be mainstreamed. She organized several Asian/Pacific American Republican groups and many major Asian/Pacific American political events and hosted numerous meetings, receptions, breakfasts, lunches and dinners for GOP volunteers, activists, candidates and public elected officials at her residence in Clear Lake City (a Houston suburb.) Her family was very supportive and helped her with all these activities. She even remembers hosting a breakfast for former Congressman Jack Fields at 8:00 am on one Saturday, when she prepared a full American Texas style breakfast, including omelets made in advance, for more than 80 people, despite having to catch a flight for Puerto Rico for a congressional commission hearing in the same morning. As a result of her efforts and family’s support, she gradually built up her GOP credentials and status in the Party. (Her political credentials are in the Bio/Vita folder.)
Although she did not receive a comparable appointment to her qualification in the Bush Administration in 1989 due to her support of Senator Bob Dole during the 1988 Primary, she was appointed as the first Asian American to serve as the Deputy Director of OBEMLA, US Department of Education in 1990. She resigned from OBEMLA and returned to Houston running for Congress in 1991 at the suggestion of Mr. Ron Kaufman, then the White House Political Director. Even though she lost the primary by a small margin, her campaign generated great encouragement and inspiration among future Asian/Pacific American office seekers. Later in May 1992, she became the first salaried full-time staff in charge of Asian/Pacific American Coalition for Bush/Quayle ‘92 campaign. Unfortunately, President Bush was not reelected. Dr. Lee’s political involvement gradually diminished nationwide during President Bill Clinton’s era of eight years. It was also difficult for her to maintain close contacts with people in Houston during her stay in Washington, DC from 1990 – 95.
Dr. Lee continued her public service upon her return to higher education as a full-professor at Southern Arkansas University in Spring 1998. She was appointed by Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas to serve on the Commission of Early Childhood Education. After retiring from the deanship of the Graduate School at Troy University Montgomery in January 2006, she was appointed by the Honorable Al Gonzales, the US Attorney General, to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Violence against Women in 2006.
Currently, she is enjoying her retirement life with her loving husband on Lake Logan Martin, AL, in addition to travelling around the world and scanning the historical files for this Resource Room.