California’s 1.5 million Filipino Americans a ‘sleeping giant,’ says Assembly member Rob Bonta

Filipino and Asian supporters of AB 123 hold a copy of the proclamation document with Assembly member Rob Bonta at the Alameda City Hall

Filipino and Asian supporters of AB 123 hold a copy of the proclamation document with Assembly member Rob Bonta at the Alameda City Hall

By Jaki Joanino

ALAMEDA CITY — AB 123 author and first Filipino American California Assembly member, Rob Bonta, held a town hall panel at the city hall on October 25th focused on the implementation of education curriculum revision and other issues of concern to FilAms.

The town hall meeting also celebrated Pilipino American History Month (PAHM) and the centennial birthday of the increasingly known Filipino American labor organizer, Larry Itliong.

Bonta stated there are 1.5 million Filipinos in the state — the biggest Asian American Pacific Islander group in California — referring to the group as a “sleeping giant.” He said that the Filipino American community is getting more visible and the town hall was “our first, but it won’t be our last.”

Alameda City Hall was festively decorated with a photo exhibit of farmworker history curated by activist Cynthia Bonta; as well as traditional Filipino clothing, books on Filipino history, and an assortment of delectable Filipino food.

The agenda consisted of fielding questions on the current status and challenges in the community, civic engagement and community organizing. Besides Bonta, panelists included a former farmworker from Delano who witnessed the historic 1965 Delano Grape Strike, professors of Filipino American studies from San Francisco State, activists and representatives from the Filipino Advocates for Justice, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the San Francisco Veterans Equity Center, and Filipino Americans for Progress.

Among the important questions is how would AB 123 be implemented? Bonta’s first bill, Assembly Bill 123 will require teaching the history of Filipino Americans in the farmworker’s movement in California social sciences classes K-12. The historic bill was signed into law on October 1st.

Bonta said that among the next steps of AB 123 as it goes to the Department of Education for implementation is filling the deficit in funding to make the bill a reality. The FilAm L.A. initially learned that the Appropriations Committee of the local senate has the authority to appropriate funding anywhere from $16,000 to $90,000. The final cost of the curriculum change has not been determined.

Long-time activist Terrie Bautista shared that this victory in advancing FilAm studies was a long time coming.

“In 1975, we went to every text book committee to say we (Filipinos) are not savages, we don’t live in trees, and we won our revolution against Spain… The text book committee and the board of education said ‘no’ to curriculum change.”

Some advocates for curriculum reform were keen on how to correctly teach historical events in the labor movement.

Professor Dawn Mabalon raised the question of how to insure the respectful and truthful representation of Filipino labor organizing history in AB 123. Mabalon echoed the same concern highlighted by the cohorts at Destination Delano, a two-day gathering held to commemorate the 1965 Grape Strike and the Delano manongs last month. Mabalon was confident that educators will be able to create the new curriculum effectively.

Allyson Tingiangco-Cubales, a professor of Filipino American Studies at San Francisco State explained that the successful implementation of AB 123 will “humanize” the history to the students and inspire them to take stake in their communities. This enthusiasm was complemented by Lillian Galedo, executive director of Filipino Advocates for Justice . She commented that there is more history that needs to be told.

She said teaching the history of FilAms will not stop at farmworker history, but Filipinos will continue to advocate including the stories of the Filipino veterans and other significant moments of Filipino American labor organizing today.

According to migrant organizer Eugene Gambol, Filipino educators will be holding a workshop at UC Berkeley’s Dwinelle Hall on November 9th, from 1p.m. to 5 p.m. to explore ways to make Filipino American history relevant to all students. Designed for teachers, the workshop also welcomes students. It will convey strategies on teaching Filipino workers’ experience.

The three-hour town hall also included discussions about common health issues in the Filipino American community, the struggles of Filipino veterans to get recognition and being denied their benefits; the delay of immigration reform and the campaign to stop deportations.

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