AB 123 signed into law; textbooks will soon include Filipinos’ role in growth of California labor movement

Assemblymember Rob Bonta at his oathtaking: He authored the landmark bill

Assemblymember Rob Bonta at his oathtaking: He authored the landmark bill

By Cecile Caguingin-Ochoa

Special to The FilAm L.A.

Governor Jerry Brown signed on October 2 AB 123 – a first-of-its-kind bill requiring the state curriculum to include the contributions of Filipino Americans to the farm labor movement in California. Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) who authored the bill said Governor Brown’s signature of the bill is the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of Filipino American History Month, this October.

“The goal of AB 123 is to supplement California’s rich farm worker history with the contributions of the Filipino American community. The Filipino American population composes the largest Asian population in California and continues to grow; yet the story of Filipinos and their crucial efforts to the farm labor movement is an untold part of California history,” said Bonta.

Bonta received his Bachelor’s degree in History and Law from Yale. His mother, Cynthia Bonta is director of Philippine National Day Association based in Alameda and was an anti-Martial Law activist who ensured that her son was updated with Philippine-American issues as he was growing up.

As the first Filipino American elected to the California State Assembly, Bonta is committed to the cause of farm workers, according to his mother, ensuring that the legacy of the farm workers is properly taught to the children of California. He is also the godson of José Gomez, executive assistant to labor leader César Chávez.

In an interview with The FilAm L.A. in Delano, Cynthia said, “Rob is a child of history, shaped and molded by history around him. His world view was influenced by experiences growing up at La Paz where we immigrated to in 1971.”

Cynthia Bonta. The FilAm L.A. Photo

Cynthia Bonta. The FilAm L.A. Photo

In La Paz, the United Farm Workers’ headquarters, was where his parents joined others in organizing Filipino American and Mexican American farm workers.
Bonta said what is missing from the current American textbooks and curriculum are events such as the Delano Grape Strike of 1965, led by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), which was comprised of first-generation Filipino leaders Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong. A week following this strike, the National Farm Workers Association, led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, combined forces with AWOC and by the fall of 1966, the numbers grew to approximately 2,000 –almost entirely Filipino and Mexican workers, joined together in a powerful collaborative movement.

The combined forces grew the movement to approximately 10,000 by 1970. Said Cynthia, “The historical significance of vastly influential leaders, such as César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, are rightfully synonymous with California’s farm labor movement. Generations of people who follow their stories have benefited from their commitment to social and economic justice in innumerable ways.”

Cynthia added that the legislators and lawyers have done their work to pass this significant law that would focus on the Filipino American’s leadership in the American labor movement. It’s now up to our communities to ensure that the right materials are reflected in the re-writing of the curriculum.

“By signing AB 123, Governor Brown has made an unprecedented move to give students a more complete account of California’s farm labor movement and ensure that these important leaders, such as Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong are remembered by future generations of Californians,” explained Bonta.

“I am proud that Governor Brown recognizes the contributions of Filipinos to the history of our state and country by signing AB 123 and including them in the history and social sciences curriculum taught in California schools,” he said.

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