Family announces passing of historian, community activist Dawn Bohulano Mabalon

‘A respected historian, author, community leader, and activist who leaves us with an important and far-reaching legacy.’ Photo: Amazon

‘A respected historian, author, community leader, and activist who leaves us with an important and far-reaching legacy.’ Photo: Amazon

By Cristina DC Pastor

The family of Dawn Bohulano Mabalon announced the passing on August 10 of the historian and Stockton, California native while on vacation with her family in Hawaii. She was 46.

The announcement was made on GoFundMe as the family requests assistance with funeral and memorial costs for the author of “Little Manila Is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California” published in 2013.

“Dawn was a respected historian, author, community leader, and activist who leaves us with an important and far-reaching legacy,” says a statement posted on the online crowdfunding site. “This is great loss for all of us, as she gave the world to her family, friends, and our community.”

Dawn is supposed to give a presentation on August 17 before the Commission on Civil Rights in Washington D.C. Her topic was “Remembering Filipina/o & its Intersection with Civil Rights” where she was to discuss the Filipinos’ “often untold stories” as farm workers and union organizers during the Delano Grape Strike in California in the 1960s and 1970s.

Born and raised in Stockton, Dawn grew up in the south side of Stockton, which she described in a home movie as a “very segregated city…where all the people of color lived.”

It was in Stockton where her grandparents planted their roots. Her paternal grandfather Pablo Mabalon worked the fields and later opened a restaurant in Little Manila, which is said to have the largest population of Filipinos outside of the Philippines between the 1920s to 1960s.

A life ‘inextricably linked’ with Stockton.

A life ‘inextricably linked’ with Stockton.

“That (restaurant) became an institution for Filipino farm workers and served as a post office, a bank, and a community center,” she told the Asian American Home Movies produced by the Center for Asian American Media. It became a gathering place for farm workers where they could eat for free. Carlos Bulosan was one of the frequent diners, and as Dawn shared in the film, “He ate for free all the time because he never had any money…my grandfather had a kindly heart he would never turn anyone away.” The restaurant closed in 1983.

Her maternal grandfather Delfin Bohulano – the Bohulanos are from Aklan — also became a farm worker when he first arrived in San Francisco in 1929, at the height of an anti-Filipino sentiment sweeping California. There would be tensions between white American and Filipino farm workers who clashed over jobs and American women, sometimes erupting into riots. Around this time in the early ‘30s, some segments of California was openly hostile and some businesses would post outside their doors signs, such as “No dogs or Filipinos allowed.”

Delfin, also an aspiring boxer, and his wife went to college and earned degrees in Business Administration and Education, respectively.

Dawn’s father Ernesto Mabalon came to the U.S. in 1963 already with a medical degree. At the time however, jobs in the health care industry would be available to Filipinos only in the next five to 10 years, she said. Like his elders, he worked in the fields and reconnected with an old friend labor organizer Larry Itliong. “Stockton,” stressed Dawn, “was really this hub for farm labor activism.”

Her grandparents bought their first house in Stockton in 1955 to establish residence as the family grew.

“Stockton was this very warm and close-knit community….Our families lived within a one-mile radius of each other,” she said with laughter.

At the time of her passing, Dawn was an Associate Professor of History at San Francisco State University. She received an M.A. in Asian American Studies from UCLA and a Ph.D. in history from Stanford University. She was a member of the board of trustees of the Filipino American National Historical Society, and was a co-founder of the Little Manila Foundation.

© The FilAm 2018

Dawn’s Twitter page

Dawn’s Twitter page

One Comment

  1. […] her best friend, Dawn Bohulano Mabalon was the always-knowledgeable older sister, the progressive mentor, and the giggly girlfriend who […]

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