Late Professor Dawn Mabalon's Research Remembered through Children's Book

Monday, February 11, 2019
Drawing of farmworkers picking vegetables and photo of Dawn Mabalon
Illustration by Andre Sibayan. Photo by Gayle Romasanta.

Friends and colleagues of the late San Francisco State University Professor of History Dawn Bohulano Mabalon say sharing was an integral part of who she was. Whether it was a joyful laugh in the history department hallways, help with a new research project or tireless community activism, Mabalon gave of herself to those around her.

“The students loved her so much,” Trevor Getz, Department of History professor and chair, said. “They were always gathered around her to imbibe some wisdom or discuss how history was relevant to their lives and their struggles. They wanted to be just like her.”

Even now, months after her untimely death last August, Mabalon is still making a difference. Her last book — the first nonfiction illustrated children’s book about Filipino American history — has inspired a 15-city publicity tour that’s bringing new attention to an unsung hero of the labor movement.

Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong tells the story of Itliong’s migration to the United States from the Phillippines and his vital role in the formation of the United Farm Workers union. According to Gayle Romasanta, the book’s co-author and publisher, Mabalon rigorously sifted through first-hand interviews, letters, transcripts and public records about Itliong in preparation for writing the book. Mabalon also discovered historical photographs that were the basis for the book’s art, created by friend and illustrator Andre Sibayan.

Bridge + Delta Publishing company has teamed with the Filipino American National Historical Society and public relations firm PapaLoDown Agency to sponsor the national tour, which will include visits to schools and bookstores across the country. Romasanta kicked off the tour February 8 with classroom visits in Delano, California, where Itliong helped lead a pivotal strike against grape growers in 1965. The three-day event will also include panel discussions, children’s readings, a dinner, performances, and a dedication mass for Itliong and Mabalon.

A teaching guide is being developed by SF State-based service learning program Pin@y Educational Partnerships, and the book will be distributed to grade schools and universities across the country.

“Her work will be accessible to everybody now,” Romasanta said. “That’s her legacy.”

Mabalon’s legacy will continue in another way, as well. Romasanta plans to publish at least three more children’s books about Filipino American history — and the next one will be about Mabalon.

“Her strength and passion still influence so many of us to reach beyond what we could have believed was possible,” said San Francisco State graduate student Alesha Sohler, who took several of Mabalon’s History courses. “It’s always her voice I hear when I feel I am struggling, encouraging me and reminding me that I belong here, and that I have a voice.”

— Ivan Natividad


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