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Filipina American, Film, Activism
Linda Mabalot was a community documentarian and activist committed to ensuring that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) control how they and their communities’ diverse stories are represented in visual media. A filmmaker herself, she supported the training, programming, and production of AAPI filmmakers while director of the seminal Los Angeles-based media arts organization Visual Communications.
The daughter of Filipino immigrant farmers, Thomas and Rosalina Mabalot, she was born and raised in California’s Sacramento Delta in a family that grew tomatoes and sugar beets. She initially entered the University of California, Davis, as a pre-med major, planning a career of service through medicine. Her work as a photographer for the student newspaper, Third World Forum, reinforced her passion for social justice and shifted her life’s path towards community documentation. After graduating in biology in 1975, she moved to Los Angeles with the intention of producing a film about Filipino writer and labor activist Carlos Bulosan.
In 1977, Mabalot joined Visual Communications, a collective founded in 1970 by Bob Nakamura, Duane Kubo, Alan Ohashi, and Eddie Wong to develop resources to increase understanding of Asian American history by documenting community events and stories through film, photography, and audio recordings. In 1978, Visual Communications produced the documentary Manong, directed by Mabalot, which chronicles the experiences of the pioneering Filipino American farmworkers in California’s Central Valley, who started coming to the U.S. in the 1920s and collaborated on the establishment of the United Farm Workers union. For it, she drew upon archival photographs and literature, original artwork and music, oral histories, and documentary footage in fraternal halls, senior centers, and vineyards. One of the first documentaries about this history, it reflects the efforts of Mabalot’s generation to recover and honor the experiences of their elders.
Mabalot became executive director of Visual Communications in the mid-1980s. She guided the organization through difficult financial times and grew it into a full-service community media arts center. She helped build the Los Angeles Asian-Pacific Film and Video Festival, which she had co-founded with Steve Tatsukawa in 1983, into one of the largest such showcases in the country. She supported and worked on other documentary projects, including Planting Roots: A Pictorial History of Filipinos in California and a touring photo exhibition about California Asian American history for the state’s Sesquicentennial Commission. For three decades, until the time of her passing, Mabalot was a tireless advocate and sponsor for Asian American and Pacific Islander media projects—mentoring emerging filmmakers and cultivating an ecosystem that would empower a more equitable and diverse landscape of storytellers.
Her legacy can be explored through the following resources:
Leong, Russell. 1991. Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts. With a preface by Linda Mabalot. (1991)
Mabalot, Linda, director. (1978) Manong.Visual Communications. https://vimeo.com/413214142
The Linda Mabalot Collection. Welga Archive. Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, University of California, Davis, https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c81v5m4k/