The new elementary school will honor Flora Arca Mata, who was also the first woman of color to teach at Stockton Unified School District
A NEW elementary school in Stockton, California will bear the name of Flora Arca Mata, the first Filipino teacher in the Golden State who laid the groundwork for Asian American educators to come.
The Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) accepted name suggestions for the new K-8 school, which will be scheduled to be completed in June 2020 and occupied by the following August. The Stockton-based Filipino American organization Little Manila rising campaigned to put Mata’s name in the running and, according to the organization, the Filipina educator “overwhelmingly had the most votes.”
“WE DID IT! The new K-8 school in Quail Lakes will be named after Flora Arca Mata! Thank you to all of you who filled out SUSD’s naming survey and reposted our campaign,” Little Rising Manila wrote in a Facebook post on Dec. 17. “Thank you for being such a beautiful community and standing up for one of our own. Your voices matter.”
Born on Dec. 19, 1917, Mata was originally from Honolulu, Hawaii but her family relocated to Stockton when Mata was two years old. Her older sister worked on the farms in the Central Valley to help pay for Mata’s education at UCLA.
Mata was the first Filipino American to graduate from UCLA during a time when anti-Filipino sentiment was rampant across the state and opportunities were scarce for Asian Americans. After graduation, she worked as a tutor and as a maid, and then, in 1940, she and her husband moved to the Philippines where they stayed for the remainder of the Second World War.
The couple returned to Stockton shortly thereafter and Mata continued to teach, this time at the schools she attended in her youth. She was the first woman of color to teach at the SUSD and taught for 32 years before retiring in 1980; but, a teacher through and through, she continued to substitute teach into her 80s.
Mata died in 2013 at 95 years old and is survived by her son, Eddie Mata; her daughter Vida Longely-Mata and her 21 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of her granddaughters, Sheree Mata, is a kindergarten teacher and said in 2013 that “education has just been a part of our family. I think it runs in the blood.”
In her time, Mata broke many barriers and went above and beyond to become a beloved figure in education and among Asian Americans. But Mata believed that it isn’t enough just to break barriers; rather, it is more important to leave a legacy upon which others can build.
“To be first is not that important,” Mata told the Stockton-based news organization The Record in 1975. “It’s what you do after that’s important.