New school honors the memory of pioneering Stockton educator and proud Filipina

Ribbon cutting ceremony at Flora Arca Mata E.S. (designed by TETER)

Originally published by RecordNet.Com on 9/22/2020 by reporter Bob Highfill

STOCKTON, Calif.  — At long last, Stockton has a school named for a Filipino-American.

On Tuesday, Stockton Unified School District officials and the family of the late Flora Arca Mata took part in a physically distanced ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new kindergarten through eighth grade school named for Mata, the pioneering educator and pillar of her community.

Kathleen Garcia, Board President of Stockton USD Board of Education, starts the ceremony.

The scene was somewhat surreal as students were not on campus per the COVID-19 pandemic, but nevertheless significant for a city that once boasted the largest Filipino population outside of Manila.

Land Acknowledgement Ceremony by the Native American Indian Center

In fact, historic Little Manila in downtown Stockton provided the impetus for Mata’s parents to relocate from Hawaii, where she was born. They couldn’t have known their 2-year-old daughter at the time would overcome incredible odds in the pre-Civil Rights Movement era, when even a college education didn’t open doors to quality job prospects for minorities.

“Why is it that America would educate the minority and not give them an opportunity to use this education?” Mata reportedly said to a school dean who told her being an ethnic minority would make it impossible for her to be a teacher. “Why is it that they need a college education to be dishwashers?”

Mata did not let discrimination stop her. She received a teaching credential from the University of California, Los Angeles, as the first Filipina-American graduate from the university.

Tom Key (TETER Architect and Senior Construction Administrator) listens to speaker remarks.

Mata began her more than three decades teaching career in Stockton Unified School District shortly after World War II, and is believed to be the first Filipina-American school teacher in California.

Mata continued to serve the district as a substitute and volunteer teacher well after her retirement until she was 80 years old. She was a founding member of the Association of Filipino Americans in Education and a member of the Filipino American National Historic Society.

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

Mata’s grandson, Aaron Mata, is an educator and principal at Health Careers Academy in the Stockton Unified School District.

“I feel she was a very humble person. She would probably stand back a little bit,” said Mata, standing next to his wife, Patricia, vice principal at Rio Calaveras Elementary School in the Stockton Unified School District. “I think she would be very happy about pushing on education and making sure that students and teachers and everybody stayed dedicated to the future of our community.”

Mata family at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Flora Arca Mata ES, named after the first Filipina teacher in California and Stockton USD.

Students from Little Manila Rising advocated the $38.2 million school be named in honor of Flora Arca Mata, a former resident of historic Little Manila.

If it wasn’t for COVID, there would be a lot of Filipinos in this room today,” Dillon Delvo, executive director and co-founder of Little Manila Rising, said during his remarks inside the school’s multipurpose room. “And a lot of food.

At full capacity, the school can accommodate 540 students and currently has 420 enrolled students who are distance learning.

This is going to be a great learning institution,” said Henry Phillips, principal of Flora Arca Mata Elementary School. “Our board of trustees has given us an excellent start by naming this site after an exemplary educator.”

Henry Phillips, Principal of Flora Arca Mata Elementary School, addresses attendees

Left to Right: Tom Key (TETER Architect & Sr. Construction Administrator), Henry Phillips (Flora Arca Mata ES Principal), and Aya Shitanishi (TETER Partner and Architect)

By reporter Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8277 or