Amourence Lee was recently appointed to the San Mateo City Council for the one year remaining on Maureen Freschet’s term. Freschet was elected to a four-year term and served four years but the extra year for council was required to meet state election laws (where elections will be held in even numbered years). There will be an election next November and Lee will need to run if she wishes to remain on the council which indeed she does.
I met with Lee for the first time last week. She is 41 but looks much younger. Her name Amourence? She is named after a popular legendary tree in her Boston neighborhood where she grew up and attended public schools. Both of her parents were teachers and she was homeschooled until first grade. Her dad is Chinese and was born in Hawaii and her mother grew up in Boston and is of Russian German, and Jewish heritage. Her parents are now divorced. Lee attended Brookline, a prestigious public high school.
She grew up with a diverse family augmented by five Chinese adopted sisters. Her godmother is African American. Lee speaks Mandarin, Spanish and was exposed to Japanese and Portuguese in her home too. She learned Mandarin the four years she spent in China following graduation in 2000 from college, the innovative, non-traditional New School in New York City.
In China she taught English and also AIDS prevention education through UNICEF at a time when the Chinese government did not recognize the disease as a threat. Poor families were selling blood on the black market to illegal blood banks, which in turn were connected to sex trafficking.
She returned to the U.S. and attended Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where she studied public policy and public health and received a master of International Affairs in 2006. While in school she also worked for the Margaret Sanger Center, an international branch of Planned Parenthood and a local nonprofit, the Latin American Integration Center. After Columbia she worked full-time at a social service agency for immigrants.
She met her husband in New York and soon they were on their way to San Francisco. They moved to San Mateo when Lee was pregnant with their first child and rented on 37th Avenue for two years. Husband works in the tech industry and is a graduate of Stanford University.
Then the family moved to North Central where they bought a house and a duplex where her brother now lives. They lived across the street from longtime activist Bertha Sanchez. Sanchez “hooked me into getting involved in the home association” and after she died there was a big void which many tried to fill. Lee eventually became president of the Home Association of North Central San Mateo. She also became involved in her children’s school. Her children are now 10 and 7 and attend College Park’s Mandarin Program.
She became a stay-at-home mom and an active community volunteer. In North Central, she helped lead a successful clean up campaign where 400 neighbors showed up, including 80% from the mostly Hispanic neighborhood. North Central, the once redlined section of the city, has always been home to most of the city’s minority population. It was historically African American and Asian and today it is primarily Latino.
Lee attended the San Mateo City Services Academy and the San Mateo Community Emergency Response Training (CERT). She was a member of the San Mateo Facilities Strategic Plan and the San Mateo King Park Improvements Project. She volunteered on the school district’s parcel tax elections and has been a board member and active member of the College Park PTA since 2015.
She has served on the San Mateo General Plan Subcommittee and was appointed to the Park and Recreation Commission last year. And last month she was appointed to the City Council over five other gifted applicants. When you meet her and read her resume — that’s not a surprise.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.