Community historian, longtime UC Berkeley Library supporter wins key public service honor

Historian David Lei speaks at the 2019 UC Berkeley commencement ceremony.
David Lei speaks at the 2019 UC Berkeley commencement ceremony. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

This year, David Lei was recognized with the campus’s Peter E. Haas Public Service Award, given annually to an alum who has “made significant voluntary contributions to the betterment of society.”

For Lei, who immigrated to San Francisco's Chinatown in 1956, that has meant helping his community tell its stories. As a longtime member of the Friends of The Bancroft Library, Lei works with local groups to bring their records to the Library — ensuring they will help shape the story of the West.

Chinese immigrants have contributed much more than building railroads, after all, Lei says. They helped lay the foundation for immigrant rights in the United States, Lei notes, including the right to a public education and equal protection under the law, regardless of citizenship. Those contributions need to be recorded, he says.

“All of these are concepts that the Chinese brought about — even what makes you an American,” Lei said in a video presented at commencement, in May, where he spoke to the graduating class.

In his remarks, Lei encouraged students to stay idealistic and to always be in service to others.