A child of the civil rights movement, Rob Bonta’s fight for justice is hardwired in his DNA.
Bonta grew up the son of activists. His mother, Cynthia, a proud Filipina, immigrated to California in the 1960s by a three-week boat ride. His father, Warren, who grew up in Ventura County, was committed to service and social justice from a young age. As a student, Warren joined Martin Luther King’s civil rights organizing in Alabama to pass the Voting Rights Act. Warren and Cynthia were working as missionaries in the Philippines when Rob was born, training young people to serve the needs of rural Philippine villages through service, community organizing and ministry.
“My parents believed that serving people is our highest calling, and they instilled that in me and my siblings from an early age,” Rob says.
After leaving the Philippines, the Bonta family moved to the Los Angeles area where his parents worked for the United Farm Workers to gather signatures outside of supermarkets in support of the lettuce boycott. Shortly thereafter, they moved to a trailer in La Paz, in the Tehachapi Mountains outside Bakersfield that served as the headquarters for the United Farm Workers movement. Rob’s parents worked alongside Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Philip Vera Cruz, organizing Latino and Filipino farmworkers for racial, economic, and civil rights. His dad worked in the front office and helped set up health clinics for the farmworkers, while his mother worked at the daycare, Casa de Nana, to support farmworker organizer families. Rob’s padrino, or godfather, Jose Gomez, was the Executive Assistant to Cesar Chavez.
As Bonta, his older sister, Lisa, and younger brother Marcelo reached school age; the Bontas moved to the Sacramento suburbs. Bonta attended California public schools all through high school and became a scholar-athlete.
Bonta, his high school class valedictorian, was admitted to Yale and was able to attend with the help of financial aid. Rob worked his way through college, cleaning laundry rooms to pay for books and tuition.
As a public-school kid, and one of the few Filipino Americans at an Ivy League school, Bonta didn’t always feel he belonged. But he rolled up his sleeves, put his head down, and dove in. He helped mentor children of color in the surrounding neighborhoods of New Haven and captained the college’s soccer team.
It was in a first-year orientation program for incoming students of color that Bonta met the woman he calls his “partner in life and in service,” Mia. They came from different worlds—Bonta, a Filipino American from suburban California, and Mia, an Afro-Latina from the Bronx. But they both shared a common bond — growing up in families steeped within social justice movements and parents dedicated to public service. Mia’s parents were Puerto Rican activists in the Young Lords Party in New York, fighting for Puerto Rican and Afro-Latinx civil rights and educational and economic opportunity. While at college, together, they founded a bilingual tutoring program and worked after graduation at LEAP, a nationally recognized AmeriCorps youth program.
Bonta knew he wanted to use the law to fight for people wronged by others.
Growing up, Bonta had been inspired by characters like Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird” to pursue justice through the law. Throughout college and in his community work, he saw injustice and the power to right wrongs through the law, and after college, he was accepted to Yale Law School. There, he debated the law and current events with classmates and friends like Cory Booker, Gina Raimondo, and Stacey Abrams.
“In those days, all the students of color at the law school wouldn’t fill a single lecture hall – there simply weren’t that many of us. You could count the Filipino students on one hand and still have fingers to spare. I knew I had been given a chance that few other kids like me had. I felt a deep obligation to give back.”
Bonta moved back to California and took a job at a private law firm in order to repay his student loans while still finding the time to work pro-bono to protect Californians from exploitation and racial profiling.
After a few years, Bonta decided to pursue his passion for public service and fight injustice full-time and put his legal experience to work to help his community.
Bonta served nine years as a Deputy City Attorney in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, representing the city and its employees, before running for local office in Alameda County.
At the State Capitol, Bonta passed major reforms that reversed long-standing injustices.
In 2012, Bonta became the first Filipino American in California history to win election to the Legislature, representing Assembly District 18 in the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro. He quickly became a statewide leader in the fights for racial, economic, and environmental justice. In the Legislature, Rob:
Outlawed For-Profit Prisons in California: Bonta authored legislation that made California the first in the nation to ban for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers.
Led Major Sentencing Overhaul Effort: Following statewide cannabis legalization, Bonta authored the California law to automatically expunge and modify criminal records for people convicted of minor cannabis charges.
Wrote California’s Green New Deal: Bonta authored the California Green New Deal bill and has been a leader in the fight against climate change and to ensure every community equitably benefits from our green economy.
Passed Nation’s Strongest Statewide Renter Protections: Bonta led the fight to pass statewide protections for renters, ultimately resulting in the nation’s strongest protections against phony evictions.
Fought to Strengthen Hate Crime Laws & Protect Communities: Bonta has introduced a number of bills to improve hate crime statutes, support victims of hate violence, and build bridges between law enforcement and targeted communities.
Protected Immigrant Families from Deceptive ICE Tactics: Bonta authored first-of-its-kind legislation requiring immigrants to be informed of their rights before speaking to ICE agents.
Fought Predatory Bail Laws: Bonta co-wrote the law that sought to end the racist and predatory for-profit bail system.
Required Independent Investigations of Unarmed Deaths: Bonta co-authored the law that required an independent investigation when there is a death of an unarmed civilian by law enforcement.
Attorney for the People of California
As California’s Attorney General and California’s chief law officer, Bonta is the “attorney for the people” and holds those who break the law – especially those in positions of power – accountable and wins justice for California families. He knows that enforcing the law and public service is about helping people, making people’s lives better, and improving the human condition.
Rob and Mia live in the East Bay with their three children and dog Lego.