Sheroes You Probably Didn't Read About in Your History Book

A huge part about having Filipino American History Month is to show that representation matters. Pilipinas have and made an impact on yesterday’s history and in today’s society. I want to highlight some fly Pinays that have made small or large waves, not only in the Filipino community but for women as well. These Pinays were many “firsts” of their profession. As we celebrate and learn about these trailblazing women, I hope they inspire you to be the “first” in anything you decide to do.  

Pinays have always been part, and parcel, if not, imperative and critical to the struggle. Filipinas are no strangers to wielding our own power. Of all the privileges that exist in this world, none of which you may be a benefactor of there is at least one you bear and that is the privilege of having been born a Filipina. Your DNA contains building blocks made from the mud of over 500 years of resistance and survival. And when you are ready, sis, we’ll be right here” - Faith Santilla  

Fe del Mundo (1911-2011)

Fe del Mundo was a pediatrician. Because of her outstanding academics in the Philippines, the president at the time,  granted her a full-ride scholarship to any medical school of her choice. According to Amazing Women in History, she was the first woman to be admitted and attend Harvard Medical School! How was she able to do this? In 1936, Harvard was under the impression that she was a boy! When Fe arrived to move in, they all realized the truth. Instead of kicking her out, Harvard’s head of Pediatrics decided to let her stay due to her stellar academics. After all, she was already accepted. After graduating, she moved back to the Philippines where she, later on, built the first pediatrics hospital in the Philippines.

Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon (1972-2018)

Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, pictured above, has recently passed away, but she passed away leaving a legacy behind. Dr. Mabalon was the first woman and Pinay to earn a PH.D in American History at Stanford University. Dr. Mabalon was a professor at San Francisco State University and taught many history classes that taught students about Filipina/o history. She also co-authored a book called Journey for Justice, a children’s book that documents Larry Itliong’s life(who you will learn more about at the end of this article). Not only that, but she was a historian for much of the information students and historians will have about Little Manila in Stockton, CA. Dr. Dawn Mabalon co-founded Stockton’s Little Manila Foundation. She was also one of the community organizers that saved 3 important buildings in Little Manila. It is her passion for the Pilipina/o culture that leads her to many great achievements.

Want to hear more about Little Manila and Dawn Mabalon? Listen and read this article and podcast: here

Vicki Draves (1924-2010)

An Olympic diver for the U.S., Vicki was the first American woman ever to take home two gold medals in diving. Later on, Draves used her voice to advocate for many needs she was passionate about in relation to Pilipinos and the second wave of immigration that took place in the U.S. She advocated for a Filipino Education Center in SOMA (South of Market District in San Francisco where she was born and raised). It is also noted that in October 2006, a park near the elementary school she attended was named after her. You can visit the Victoria Manalo Draves Park in the SOMA district in San Francisco, CA.

Thelma G. Buchholdt (1934-2007)

According to University of the District of Columbia, Thelma served 4 terms in the Alaska House of Representatives as the first Filipino-American legislator in the U.S. She was elected in the House of Representatives in 1974 and re-elected in 1976, 1978, and 1980. Some of the work she had done in her life assisted in getting funds for community/ cultural centers, roads, trails and parks. In 1966 she founded the first Boys and Girls club in Alaska. Sarah Palin, when she was governor for Alaska, announced November 10, 2007, as Thelma Buchholdt Day.

Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz

Although these two men are not “sheroes”, I still want to highlight the hard work they have done for farmers and workers. Filipino farmers such as Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz did not get the recognition they deserved.

Did you know Filipinos were also apart of the United Farm Workers alongside Cesar Chavez? Larry Itliong was actually the person who convinced Cesar Chavez to unite Mexicans with the Filipinos in order to have an effective strike. Although Pilipino farmers and leaders like Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz have taken great strides in history, their voices and names were left out in our history books. BUT there have been strides within the Filipino community. For example, in Union City, CA, there was a name change for a local middle school. Alvarado middle school was renamed to Itliong-Vera Cruz middle school in 2013 to commemorate these Filipino-American leaders. There is also going to be a published children’s book on Larry Itliong’s life called Journey to Justice.