12/17/2012 03:37 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

Ed Lee On PBS: San Francisco Mayor Describes Growing Up Asian In America (VIDEO)

Watch American Voices: Mayor Ed Lee on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

It's no secret that in San Francisco--a city with a rich Chinese heritage and a population that is 33 percent Asian--Ed Lee is the first Asian mayor.

But the lesser-told story is that of Lee's experience growing up Asian in America. On a recent episode, PBS program Need to Know profiled Lee in its American Voices segment.

"When I was growing up, my father was a cook, my mother garment worker and we all lived in public housing," he told PBS. Lee grew up in Seattle after his parents emigrated from China.

"We were all very proud of our culture," he said. "But knowing too that there was some friction." Lee detailed growing up facing racism and poverty in the 19050s.

Lee attended later attended law school at UC Berkeley, bringing him to the Bay Area.

"[San Francisco] is a city that actually established laws that prevented Chinese who immigrated here in the late 1800s and early 1900s from becoming citizens, from owning property, from even leaving the boundaries of Chinatown," said Lee.

"But later on in law school, I read all the cases and realized that's part of our American experience: facing these laws but having the freedom to change them."

Lee credits this experience in part for his interest in politics and his love of San Francisco.

"In Chinese, [San Francisco] is Gum Shan; it's the Gold Mountain city. It's the place where generations of Chinese came to find opportunity."