In 1977, Cynthia Bonta was among 3,000 people who locked their guns and tried unsuccessfully to prevent 400 riot police from evicting the mostly Asian tenants of a hotel near San Francisco’s financial district so developers could build a parking garage.
More than four decades later, her son, Rob Bonta, stood near this place – now a home for low-income seniors – and heard the California governor appoint him as the first Filipino-American attorney general in the country’s most populous state.
Rob Bonta is considered a botch for confirmation by the legislature. His likely rise to one of the most powerful law enforcement posts in the country comes after more than 50 years of community activism by his parents.
Bonta was first elected to the congregation in 2012 and has quickly built a reputation as a criminal justice reformer. He has called for an end to the death penalty and has campaigned for laws banning for-profit prisons and ending bail until it was overturned by voters in November.
His father, Warren Bonta, who is white and a native of California, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. His mother, Cynthia, began her activism after coming to the United States on a scholarship from her native Philippines in 1965.
Her son’s nomination is an exciting moment for the state’s Filipino community. One advocate group is often a forgotten segment of California’s Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who make up about 16% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents.
Rob Bonta says some of his earliest memories are listening to his parents telling stories about warm bowls of sinigang, a Filipino stew.
Upon arriving in California, his mother quickly became enthusiastic about the Central Valley agricultural labor movement, led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, in which Latinos and Filipinos fought side by side for better wages and working conditions on one of the world’s richest farms.
“My parents are my heroes and my role models,” said Bonta on Thursday during a press conference at the International Hotel in San Francisco. “They are fierce forces for fairness and they have fought against injustice, and that is firmly anchored in my DNA.”
For the first few years of his life, Rob Bonta lived with his family in a union-owned trailer. His father set up health clinics while his mother cared for the children of volunteers advocating a boycott of California products. This move should put pressure on the farm owners to create better working conditions.
They lived on a union allowance just enough to buy two outfits for each child – one for everyday use and one for special occasions.
“Everyone was a volunteer,” said Dolores Huerta, the legendary union leader and civil rights activist who worked with Bonta’s parents at the time. “We all have $ 10 a week.”
Bonta’s family moved to Sacramento in 1977 and his mother quickly established herself in the Filipino community by organizing the Philippine National Day, a community gathering to celebrate the history and culture of their homeland.
Rob Bonta later made it to Yale, where he was the captain of the soccer team and self-sufficient by cleaning the washrooms. He graduated from Yale Law School, where he was a classmate of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and later got a position as a prosecutor in San Francisco.
Bonta is married to the President of the Alameda Unified School Board, Mia Bonta, whom he met when he was 17. You have three children. Her daughter Reina played soccer at Yale, just like her father.
California is home to more than 6 million Asian Americans, most of them in the country. Most of the political power, however, is concentrated in Chinese and Japanese communities, said Robyn Rodriguez, founding director of the Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies at the University of California at Davis.
That began to change in 2012 when Bonta became the first Filipino American to be elected into California law. One of his first bills in the Congregation, which was incorporated into law, required the State Board of Education to ensure that the rural labor movement curriculum included contributions from Filipino Americans like his mother.
Now Bonta is on the way to becoming the state’s second most powerful official.
“It encourages us in many ways and builds our confidence that it is possible to do what Rob did,” said Rodriguez. “People are talking very seriously now about running for a local office. I even thought about it. “
Bonta’s appointment as attorney general comes amid an increase in violence against the Asian-American and Pacific islander communities, including several violent attacks in California. Meanwhile, the California District Attorneys Association is urging lawmakers to reject proposals that would reduce the penalties for some acts of violence, arguing that doing so would only make the problem worse.
“We hope he will do something serious about these hate crimes that we are seeing,” said Vern Pierson, El Dorado County district attorney and association president.
Bonta said he would use the attorney general’s bullying pulpit to “see communities and communities of values attacked”. He urged state officials to resist the temptation to “duplicate our broken criminal justice system,” saying the state needs more prevention and healing than mass imprisonment.
Bonta said he had a 1920 photo in his office of a sign from a hotel lobby in Stockton, Calif. That read “Positive No Filipinos Allowed”.
“So many of us have been attacked and attacked because we are, where we come from and who we love,” said Bonta. “While that sign may have said in the 1920s that Filipinos are not allowed, in California today, not everyone is allowed, we are one of them.”