SACRAMENTO — In 1977, Cynthia Bonta was among 3,000 people who locked arms and tried in vain to prevent 400 riot police from evicting the mostly Asian tenants of a hotel near San Francisco’s Financial District so developers could build a parking garage.
More than four decades later, her son Rob Bonta stood near that spot — now an apartment building for low-income seniors — to hear the governor of California nominate him to become the first Filipino-American attorney general of the nation’s most populous state.
Rob Bonta is considered a shoo-in for confirmation from the Legislature. His likely ascension to one of the most powerful law enforcement posts in the country comes after more than than 50 years of community activism by his parents.
Bonta was first elected to the Assembly in 2012 and quickly carved out a reputation as a criminal justice reformer. He has called for ending the death penalty and championed legislation that outlawed for-profit prisons and ended cash bail until it was overturned by voters in November.
His father, Warren Bonta, who is white and a native Californian, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. His mother, Cynthia, began her activism after coming to the US in 1965 from her native Philippines on a scholarship.
Their son’s nomination is a galvanizing moment for the state’s Filipino community, a group that advocates say is often a forgotten segment of California’s Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who account for about 16% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents.
Rob Bonta says some of his earliest memories are listening to his parents tell stories over warm bowls of sinigang, a Filipino stew.
After arriving in California, his mother quickly gravitated to the farmworkers movement led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the Central Valley.