top of page

Filipino American History Month Festival honors Stockton historian Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon

Filipina American rapper Ruby Ibarra and her band The Balikbayans perform at the Filipino American History Month Festival in Stockton, California. Photo: Casey Ticsay

The second annual Filipino American History Month Festival, featuring community organizations, businesses, and artists, returned to Stockton on Oct. 22.

Dedicated to the late Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon – a respected historian, author, filmmaker, poet, chef, baker, and community leader – this year’s FAHM Fest was held in partnership with Kommunity Hub, San Joaquin Delta College, Little Manila Rising, Empowering Marginalized Asian Communities, and the Stockton chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society. The all-day event also celebrated the legacy of Filipino farmworkers, the 20th anniversary of the designation of Stockton’s Little Manila as a historical site, and the renaming of the West Forum building at San Joaquin Delta College to the Mabalon Forum building in honor of Dr. Mabalon.

Born and raised in Stockton, California, Dr. Mabalon dedicated her academic profession to researching, collecting, and preserving the history of Filipinos in her community. She wrote the book “Little Manila is in the Heart,” which “traces the growth of Stockton’s Filipina/o American community, the birth and eventual destruction of Little Manila, and recent efforts to remember and preserve it.”

“Dawn had a vision of community and a definition of Filipino-American that was more beautiful than we actually thought. She gave us a better definition of ourselves and who we are. She gave us a better identity that’s something beyond the “auntie” and nurse jokes and that there is something beyond us as a people. We are people that are resilient,” said Dillon Delvo, executive director and co-founder of Little Manila Rising.

In the words of Dr. Mabalon, “All roads lead to Stockton.”

Stockton was the heart of Filipino America in the 1920s. Filipinos worked as farmworkers in agricultural fields across the Central Valley at the time, and during the asparagus season from February to May, about 15,000 settled in Stockton. By the 1960s, Filipino farmworkers, historically referred to as the manongs and manangs – an Ilocano term of endearment for an older man or woman – helped lead and organize the United Farm Workers Movement that empowered and educated migrant farmworkers and demanded higher pay and better working conditions.

Saxophone player Rocky G of The Balikbayans in Stockton on October 22, 2022

Before FAHM Fest, Stockton previously had an annual Barrio Fiesta. Held for over 40 years, Barrio Fiesta was a staple celebration for the city until 2018. Today, community members are working to revive Little Manila Stockton through economic development projects, events, programs, and workshops.

“I had no idea how important FAHM Fest was for the community. Stockton needed this event, and I feel like we were able to help revive the community. We brought in all the generations together with our food, performances, and history,” said Mariah Taloa, executive director of Kommunity Hub. “There’s an abundance of Filipinos and culture that is still here. We see the torch of preservation and leadership getting passed down and new generations taking on the work.”

For some, FAHM Fest was a reunion for community members who haven’t seen each other since the pandemic. For others, like Darleen Mabalon – sister of Dr. Dawn Mabalon and chair of the entertainment planning committee of FAHM Fest – the event was a full circle moment.

“I grew up performing at the Barrio Fiesta. Now, as an adult, I’m part of the entertainment committee for FAHM Fest, handling and booking all the stage performances and seeing new youth perform the same way I did,” Darleen Mabalon said. “I saw people I had performed with as a kid who now watch their kids in awe as they perform on the stage. It was a heartfelt moment for me.”

The day ended with a performance from headliner and Bay Area rapper Ruby Ibarra who was also a student of Dr. Mabalon.

“When I think about Filipino American History Month, I think about our culture, I think about our celebrations. But I also think about the people that came before us, the people that opened the door for us to have a platform and a space like this. I think about Dr. Dawn Mabalon and Larry Itliong,” Ibarra said on stage. “I know that Stockton has such a rich Filipino American History. This is the town where there were signs that said, ‘Positively no Filipinos allowed.’ But the fact that we are here in this beautiful community with an entire Filipino line-up that’s a statement. This isn’t just a performance. This is a statement that we are here and that we’ve been here.”

bottom of page