It was in 1985, during the Reagan era’s severe and demoralizing drought for arts funding that Linda Mabalot stepped forward to take the leadership of Visual Communications. She confronted dwindling finances and a crisis of direction as VC – the nation’s first Asian Pacific media arts center – shrank from the pioneering film production collective of its initial decade to a small band of part-time staff and volunteers whose main goal was survival. She was only 32 years of age at the time. Since 1977, she had been a key contributor to VC’s groundbreaking films and videos about Asian Pacific American history and culture, and in 1981 had assumed the role of a co-administrative director with Nancy Araki. But little prepared her for the formidable challenges she was to face in the years to come. Linda’s resilience and resourcefulness, patience and optimism, political savvy, generously inclusive nature, and commitment to multicultural collaboration served her well, as she guided VC’s gradual re-emergence and growth over the next 18 years.
Through it all, her creativity, spontaneity, joyous sense of humor and infectious laugh helped propel VC through many daunting obstacles. Today, thanks to her foresight, hard work and personal sacrifices, the organization is a much admired, highly respected leader in the national media arts field, with innovative programs in filmmaker training, distribution, exhibition and publication as well as production.
The roots of her extraordinary creative energy and commitment to social justice were planted in rural Northern California. Born in Fairfield, near Sacramento, in 1953, daughter of first-generation Pilipino Americans, Rosalina and Thomas Mabalot and youngest sister of Dora and Natividad (Tivy), she grew up in Liberty Island, surrounded by four rives in the Sacramento Delta region. Her father was a farmer who leased and managed 20 acres, growing tomatoes and sugar beets. Linda attributed her lifelong distaste for tomatoes to having had to pick them and to pack them in a canning factory during the summmers of her teenage years. These experiences – and her readings of the Pilipino experience in America by Pilipino American writer Carlos Bulosan – fueled her passion for social activism.
After graduation from Dixon High School, she attended the University of California, Davis as a pre-med student majoring in biology, looking forward to serving the medical needs of her community. She was also a photographer for the student newspaper, Third World Forum, beginning a lifelong enthusiasm for community documentation that, ultimately, took precedence over medicine. She graduated from Davis in 1975, and worked for a non-profit organization called Open Road that created corporate job opportunities for disadvantaged youth. Then, moving to Los Angeles in search of greater opportunities for community and media involvement, Linda joined Visual Communications in 1977. She soon became a producer and director on Manong, one of the first documentaries about Pilipino American farm workers in the Central Valley. Among those featured in Manong was the late Philip Vera Cruz, legendary co-founder of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee.