October is American Archives Month. This post is one of a series of blog posts that Visual Communications will present of Asian Pacific Americans who have made their mark on their communities and history.
By Abe Ferrer, VC Staff
I first met Linda Mabalot in 1980, as she and a group of fellow student activists affiliated with the statewide Asian Pacific Student Union (APSU) were presenting a VC documentary, MANONG, for a group of UCLA students at Paolo Agbayani Village in Delano, CA. A United Farm Workers retirement home that housed elderly Filipino American farmworkers (manongs), Agbayani Village was paid for and built largely by much volunteer help and was a popular destination for those who wanted a first-hand account of the experiences of first-generation Filipino immigrants to America.
However, I became familiar with Linda and her work some years before when, during my freshman year in college, my best friend’s roommate, Juliette Masculino, was recounting her location nightmares for “some video project” she was working on. That project was MANONG, one of four components of an ambitious four-part series, “Hidden Treasures,” that would offer a uniquely Pan-Asian Pacific flavor to the lives of America’s unseen and underserved communities. Linda was the project director of MANONG and, owing to VC’s credo of “self-determined” media arts production, she and the whole crew was largely learning filmmaking “on-the-job.” Well, not totally. VCers Alan Kondo and Takashi Fujii, who introduced video as a low-cost filmmaking format to VC, were on board to lend technical advice as well as moral support. And Janice Tanaka, a USC film school student possessing a wealth of knowledge in picture and sound editing, came aboard to assist Linda and steady the ship. Yet, there was no mistaking that MANONG was Linda Mabalot’s baby, as her background having grown up in Sacramento Valley farmlands similar to those worked by the manongs lent a crucial understanding of the subject at hand.
Critical to linking the history of first-generation Filipinos in California to the statewide farmworkers’ movements of the 1960s, Linda and crew made numerous visits to Agbayani Village to interview the still-feisty manongs living in retirement there. As well, they sojourned to the Bakersfield home of Philip Vera Cruz, a retired farmworker and labor leader who served as the United Farm Workers’ Second Vice President, and whose stature as a genuine Asian Pacific American mentor, role model, and pioneer grew exponentially in the years after the MANONG documentary was completed in 1978.
Looking back at the videotape and on the complete story that Linda and crew essayed, it was true that Philip and his exploits occupied a very small part of that story. In fact, the oral histories that accompanied the wealth of archival images, original artwork, and compelling b-roll footage held much value, as did first-hand testimonials by such colorful Agbayani Village residents as Willie Barrientos, “Chairman Mao,” and others. Yet the impact of Vera Cruz could not be overstated. As a dedicated activist and organizer, his story has been a largely romanticized and unsung one when placed beside that of more fiery personalities as fellow union organizer Larry Itliong. I think, though, that because Philip came across to the younger generations (like me) as a humble sage, his legacy reached almost rock-star status in the years before he passed away in 1994 at age 89. I think he’d be the first one to debunk that notion, though. Philip was definitely of a generation that had many ass-kickers who paved the way for today’s generation of Filipino Americans — many of whom are poseurs and misrepresent the contributions of folks like Philip, Larry, or for that matter, Linda, educator Royal Morales, novelist Al Robles, actor Jose DeVega, and many others who are no longer here to mentor, lead, or adminster some “tough love” to those who need it.
When Philip passed away in 1994, me, Linda, Taiji Miyagawa, and a few other VCers braved the hot central California heat to attend a memorial ceremony in Bakersfield. Needless to say, a lot of folks whose lives Philip touched were there to offer tribute and reminiscences of his life and legacy. None of us actually got up to say anything to the audience. There really was no need. I think that then, as now, we continue to apply the lessons that Philip and the rest have taught us to our everyday lives. And with Linda herself passing on in 2003, the need to carry on a community vision is as strong as ever. With Philip, all we have to remember him by is a set of U-Matic videotapes of an interview that was barely used in the documentary, as well as black-and-white still images of that interview session. Linda’s legacy is more tangible and living: this very organization, and the vast community of good people that worked here, schemed here, and made wonderful things happen…here.
Tell us how you made your mark!
If you could interview any hero/role model/influence, inspiration who would it be? Email us with your thoughts and photo (if you wish) at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll post it on the VC Facebook page.