Wea Lee is an excellent example of living the American dream and the diversity that is Houston in 2020. Born in Yunnan province in Southwest China in 1948, he grew up in Myanmar after his family moved there in 1949 following the Communist takeover of mainland China. In 1965, Lee went to Taiwan for college and upon graduating in 1974 with a degree in political science, he came to the U. S. with roughly $500 in his pocket on a student visa. Lamar University was encouraging foreign students to come to Beaumont, so he did not have to pay tuition. While at Lamar, he met and married Catherine Chu, a fellow student from Taiwan. After graduating with a degree in Government, Lee made a visit to Houston where he met an international lawyer. Not wanting to return to Taiwan at the time, he asked what he needed to get a green card. This was a turning point in Lee’s life. The lawyer told him that if he started a Chinese newspaper, he would help him get a green card. Lee took the advice, found five investors who put in $500 each, and started to put out a weekly newspaper with his wife in downtown Houston in 1979.
The rest, as they say, is history. That newspaper that earned Wea Lee a green card has grown into a chain of businesses with corporate offices in two elegant office buildings on Bellaire just off Beltway 8. He has the International Trade Center and the Southern News Group which puts out several community newspapers in 10 major cities around the country.
In addition to the news group, he operates International Television which operates 24 hours a day, Dsign portable interactive neon signs, and the Chinese Yellow Pages. Fifteen years ago, Lee, State Representative Hubert Vo, and other community activists successfully pushed the Texas State Legislature to establish the International District (ID) – a 12-square-mile zone bordered by Beltway 8, Highway 6, Bellaire Blvd and Bissonnet Street.
Lee says that when he came to Houston in 1979, the oil business was booming, and there was a demand for news outlets and media. Wea Lee has worked very hard when opportunities have been presented to him and his vision for Houston’s International District has created opportunities for hundreds of entrepreneurs in Houston
Heidi PP:Today, Wea Lee has graciously agreed to talk with us about his life in the United States and his new appointment as the Honorary Consul of Guinea.
Heidi PP:We have known you for a very long time, but many of our readers do not know you and all the exciting things you have done. First of all, walk us through your background and how you became a consul.
Wea Lee: I have been in the United States for more than 45 years, and I have been in the media business for the last 40 years. I could see that Houston was international. Fifteen years ago, I founded this place, the International Trade Center. We have been working with a lot of countries, especially Africa. We need to see how we can help the small countries in Africa. There is a need, and there is an opportunity to help them through trade. We sponsored African summits a couple of times at Rice University.
Heidi PP:How did your relationship with Guinea start?
Wea Lee: Last year the newly elected President of Guinea came to Houston. He came to my house. I made a lunch for him, and he came to my house. During lunch he said to me, “Mr. Lee I am going to make you the Honorary Consul for Guinea in Houston.” I didn’t believe it.. Later on the Ambassador in Washington called me and said,” The president is very serious.. You are to be appointed as Honorary Consul for Guinea in Houston.” So then we went through the procedures with the State Department. Three weeks ago, the appointment was approved by the State Department in Washington.
Heidi PP:Well, congratulations! I think you are an excellent choice.
Wea Lee: Thank you.
Heidi PP:What are your plans? How are you going to work with Guinea now? What do you see as the future relationship with Guinea?
Wea Lee: The Number 1 way to work with them is trade. The small countries need a boost to their economy, and businessmen here would like the opportunity to expand their markets. When this Pandemic is over, we are going to organize a trade mission for Guinea and introduce them to trade opportunities with American businesses. Second, I really think about the need for education. My old school, Lamar University, has a complete program online. I am going to talk with the ambassador about setting up a center where people in Guinea can have access to education online. The young people in Guinea can go online and get a degree or training. Also, we can publish some types of yellow pages for their cities or the country. They need ways to promote their businesses.
Heidi PP:You have said that you haven’t had an opportunity to go to Guinea yet. Do you know about their demographics? Are they a young country? What are their main products that they export?
Wea Lee: Guinea is a very young country. The majority of the population is 17 to 20 years old. So, I am thinking about education, online education. They can log in to WiFi from anywhere. For products to support their economy, they have an abundance of gold and diamonds. The mining and distribution will need an investment. At this time their exports are mostly agricultural.
Heidi PP:I have one last question I need to ask you about your media business and the International Trade Center. What is your media company?
Wea Lee: I am the largest Asian newspaper publisher in the nation. I publish 10 newspapers; 3 daily newspapers, 7 weekly newspapers. I print more than 100 community newspapers. Community newspapers can’t go to the Chronicle. The Chronicle isn’t going to print 1000 or 2000. The newspaper business is tough right now, but we are not just newspapers. We have this TV station. We print business cards. So, my philosophy is that we can service any kind of business. I enjoy helping people promote their business. We have to be willing to diversify.
The Trade Center was a project I am really passionate about. You know, Houston has 98 Foreign Consulates and many other diplomatic offices. Fifteen years ago, I saw the direction Houston was going. I had a vision of a place where we could share the art, culture, education, business, trade, and special events. My partners and I built this International Trade Center, which is a non-profit organization designed to fulfill the mission of making all the various cultures feel at home and able to do business. We assist with matching Houstonians to foreign business partners, providing a meeting place and an event space for special days and festivals, and a place to organize trade and educational missions all over the world. Seven years ago, I and some other businessmen got the Texas State Legislature to establish the International District here.
Heidi PP:You are certainly a leader and an asset to your community and many others. I look forward to working with you now and in the future. As you pointed out, Houston is growing ever more international, and we are going to be growing with Houston and the international community.
Heidi PP, Editor in Chief email@example.com
Wea Lee, Honorary Consul General Guinea, CEO International Trade Center