[COLUMN] The life story of CA’s first Fil-Am attorney general Rob Bonta: A shining beacon of how immigrants build and strengthen the US

Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who is now the nominee for California attorney general, is shown with his parents Cynthia and Warren during a past visit to the United Farm Workers headquarters in La Paz. The family lived in the Central Valley during Bonta’s early years as his parents worked to organize farm workers. | Photo courtesy of the Office of Assemblymember Rob Bonta

ONE silver lining during this period in our history when the violent physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans have again escalated is the appointment of Rob Bonta, a 48-year-old Filipino American who is on track to be California’s next Attorney General.

Governor Gavin Newsom this week appointed Bonta to fill the remaining term of Xavier Becerra, who was confirmed as the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary last week.

The Los Angeles Times calls Bonta’s story “another American Dream story.” He exemplifies the life story of many of our kababayans and other immigrants who came to America as a young child, and with the example, inspiration and hard work of his parents, coupled with his own vision, ability, talent, persistence, and commitment to causes bigger than himself, Bonta has been among the many immigrants who have been serving and building America to be a stronger, better, more just and humane country.

Robert Andres Bonta was born in Quezon City, Philippines on September 22, 1972. His mother, Cynthia Arnaldo Bonta was born in Laguna, Philippines, PositivelyFilipino.com reported. She graduated from Silliman University with a Master’s Degree in Religious Education, and has dedicated her life to public service.

According to the governor’s office, Cynthia Bonta immigrated to California by slow boat in the 1960s.

Rob was born a U.S. citizen because of his father Warren Bonta, who is white and a native Californian, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Warren grew up in Ventura County and became a voting rights organizer for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama.

Both Cynthia and Warren were religious missionaries in the Philippines when Rob was born, and when he was just about two months old, the family moved to Central Valley, California.

It was in a trailer at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, in a town adjacent to the United Farm Workers headquarters, where Rob and his siblings were raised by their parents. It was where growing up, the young Rob learned about civil rights activism from his parents who helped leaders like Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta unionize farmworkers.

The Bonta family then moved to a suburb in Sacramento, California. Rob went to Bella Vista High School, a public school in Fair Oaks, California where he graduated valedictorian of his class. He attended Yale University and graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in history.

Rob studied politics, philosophy and economics for a year at the University of Oxford before enrolling at Yale Law School where he graduated in 1998.

His career as an attorney in private practice, and eventually as an elected public servant for more than a decade, reflected his passion and commitment to fight for social justice.

He truly has the character and track record to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of Attorney General, which is “to ensure that the laws of the state are uniformly and adequately enforced”, per the Constitution of California, Article V, Section 13.

As the Asian Journal reported, “grassroots campaign within the Filipino American community — and the broader Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community — started in December in a bid to get Bonta appointed following President Joe Biden’s nomination of Becerra as health secretary.”

An empowered and inspired citizenry from the Filipino American community voiced out their support for Bonta, not only because he is Filipino American, but especially because of his qualifications, leadership, achievements, and his heart and commitment as a true public servant.

Bonta was endorsed by non-Filipinos as well.

“The endorsements also came from notable unions and caucuses, such as the California Faculty Association and the Latino Caucus of California Counties,” the Asian Journal reported. “High-profile activists and personalities, from CNN’s Van Jones to “Orange Is the New Black” actor Diane Guerrero, similarly were vocal in support of the Fil-Am lawmaker on social media.”

When he accepted Governor Newsom’s nomination for Attorney General, Rob said on his website:

I stand here today on the shoulders of giants. People like the Asian & Filipino activists who assembled here to save the International Hotel in 1977. They were joined in solidarity by LGBT, Latino and Black brothers and sisters in the fight for their homes and the survival of their community.

Forty-five years ago, my mom helped lead that protest. And today, she is here to see a Governor nominate her son to be California’s first Filipino American Attorney General.

My parents – they are my heroes. They were activists who marched for civil rights in Selma and advocated for democracy in the Philippines. When I was a few months old, they joined Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to organize exploited farmworkers in the Central Valley for better pay and working conditions.

They instilled in my siblings and me a commitment to making the world a better place.

They taught me to call out – and root out – injustice whenever I saw it. That’s why I decided to become a lawyer for the people, because I understood that a crime against any one of us is a crime against all of us.

Inspired by characters like Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird and the stories of the farmworkers our family had known, I knew the law provided the best path to make a positive difference for the most people.

After serving as a deputy city attorney in San Francisco for almost a decade, I was fortunate enough to be elected by the people of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro to the State Legislature.

In the Assembly, I have focused on how our state can fix systemic injustices – taking on big polluters, fighting for a fairer criminal justice system, protecting consumers and defending our communities from the forces of hate.

As your Attorney General, I won’t back down in pursuing justice for all of our residents.
Government should work for the people – not the powerful – and as Attorney General, I will make it my mission to hold the powerful accountable when they cheat Californians and abuse the public trust.

Mabuhay ka, California Attorney General Rob Bonta!

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at [email protected], or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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