California names new school after 1st Fil-Am teacher Flora Arca Mata

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Flora Arca Mata
Flora Arca Mata School is expected to open at the Quail Lakes in 2020. Photo from SUSD Facebook.

A new elementary school in Stockton City will be named the Flora Arca Mata School to honor the first person of color and first Filipino-American teacher to serve in the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD).

The SUSD Board unanimously voted on December 18 for the K-8 Elementary School being built Quail Lakes is to be named after Flora Arca Mata who served the district school system for 32 years until she retired in 1980.

The affirmative vote came after SUSD conducted a survey for the name of the new elementary school. The choice for Mata gained ground and well-deserved support put the Fil-Am on top of the list after the Little Manila Rising, a Stockton-based organization composed of Filipino-Americans, spearheaded a campaign to put her name on the survey.

The Little Manila Rising campaign notes that Mata is a former resident of Stockton’s Little Manila in the 1920s. It went on to recount how Flora Mata had at first been discouraged from teaching in the United States even after having received a teaching degree from the University of California-Los Angeles.

Mata questioned a school dean who had said her being of a minority ethnicity will make it impossible for her to be a teacher.

‘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?’

Little Manila Rising states: 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.”

Little Manila Rising campaigned for the new school to be named after Flora Mata until an affirmative vote from the SUSD Board was gained on December 18. Photo from Little Manila Rising Facebook.

Originally from Hawaii, Flora at age 2 moved with her family to Stockton where she attended the local schools. Flora received her teaching degree from the prestigious University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she also had the distinction of being a pioneer as the first Filipino-American to graduate from UCLA.

After World War II Flora started her long teaching career in California under the SUSD’s jurisdiction, a service that spanned more than three decades. Flora continued to work in the school system even after her retirement as a substitute teacher until she was 80 years old.

She passed away at the age of 95 in December 2013 and is survived by her son, Eddie Mata, and daughter, Vida Mata-Longley.

UCLA’s “Bruin Women Firsts” newsletter noted that she was hired at a time when it was difficult for minorities to get teaching positions. Mata’s work as California’s first Filipina teacher is credited to have paved the way for other Asian Americans in education.

Mata will be celebrated for her achievements when the Flora Arca Mata School opens in 2020.

Filipino teachers have been recognized for their pioneering work, modeling for students, and unique style of mentoring. Among the more recently cited are Jen Padernal, a Microsoft Global Hero for Education Innovation, theatre and film teacher Jek Jumawan who has been winning acting awards for his short films. and teacher Roselyn Barcoma whose motivational method for her students made her the talk of the internet.

SEND congratulations to the Filipino-American community in Stockton for successfully advocating for a Filipina teacher to be honored by the school district!

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Eldan Sambatyon
Eldan is an experienced online content writer who finds fulfillment in sharing the good side of the news to Filipinos.