Blazing Pinoy

New American school named after first Filipino-American Teacher

Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) in California voted on December 18, 2019 to name the new K-8 school in Quail Lakes after the first Filipino-American Teacher Flora Acta Mata who served in the same district for 32 years until her retirement in 1980.

Little Manila Rising (formerly Little Manila Foundation) an organization that advocates for the historic preservation of the Little Manila Historic Site in Stockton, California, and provides education and leadership to revitalize Stockton’s Filipino American community lead the campaign for the new school to be named after Flora Acta Mata.

According to their campaign, “Flora Arca Mata was a trailblazer and successfully broke through many racial barriers in the 1930’s and beyond. Her official hire date with Stockton Unified School District was September 1, 1943. She was the first Filipina teacher and possibly the first woman of color teacher in SUSD. She was also one of the first Filipina teachers in California and one of the first Filipina graduates of UCLA. She taught for SUSD for 32 years and continued to substitute well into her 80’s. “

Mata was described in a book by Mary Jo Gohike, Remarkable Women of Stockton, as one ” who had been discouraged from trying to obtain a teaching job in the United States. She and her husband, Vidal Mata, graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles, but a dean warned that because of their ethnicity, finding work would be impossible in the state. He suggested Hawaii, which had not yet been admitted into the American union. Flora had a question for him. ‘Why is it that America would educate the minority and not give them an opportunity to use this education?’ she questioned. ‘Why is it that they need a college education to be dishwashers?’

The Matas first lived in the Philippines and then returned to Stockton after World War II. Answering an advertisement in the Stockton Record for substitute teachers, Flora was urged by the person on the phone, ‘You must come in-you don’t sound like a minority.’ She told the newspaper near the end of her career that she was hired as a substitute and the next year taught full-time kindergarten classes. ‘They seemed to think there would be less prejudice with little ones than with older students,’ she commented.”

Littile Manila Rising further notes that “Flora Arca Mata paved the way for all teachers of color in Stockton, one of most diverse cities in the United States. Her dedication to education is an example for all of us, especially our children. Flora Arca Mata School would be an excellent addition to Stockton Unified School District.”