STOCKTON — The local Filipino community was stunned Saturday when learning that one of its more prominent and beloved figures, Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, had died on the eve of the annual Barrio Fiesta.

“When I heard the news today — I was just — it feels like a gut punch. I couldn’t believe that she was gone,” said Emil Guillermo, a former Record staff writer and columnist.

“She was my go-to source, and the community lost a lot when Dawn passed away.”

Mabalon died Friday while vacationing in Hawaii. She was 46 years old.

As co-founder of the Little Manila Foundation, Mabalon is well-known as author of “Little Manila Is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California,” published in 2013.

It was the first book of its kind on the history of the Little Manila District, home to the largest number of Filipinos in the United States from the 1920s to the 1960s. She was awarded an honorable mention for the Frederick Jackson Turner Award by the Organization of American Historians.

Her second book, “Little Manila,” was born as her doctoral thesis at Stanford University on long-forgotten stories of her father’s generation. Ernest Tirona Mabalon ran a beloved restaurant, and Concepcion Moreno Bohulano, Dawn’s grandmother, was one of the country’s first Filipina school teacher.

“They always said I was the little girl who wanted to be a writer. It took a lot of twists and turns, and it wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it,” Mabalon told The Record in 2013. “I hope it honors them. Their sacrifices made it possible that their children and grandchildren could do whatever they wanted to do. Their sacrifices meant I could create a life to read, teach and write.”

That same year, she was named to the list of the Filipina Women’s Network 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the World.

“Dawn had represented the best of Stockton and she will be missed very much,” said Lange Luntao, a Little Manila Foundation board member. “Her research on the Filipino/a neighborhoods and community members in Stockton inspired scholars from around the world and put on the map in a positive way. There’s a lot of work to do to continue her legacy and highlight Stockton’s rich and diverse history.”

A Stockton native, Mabalon graduated from Edison High School and would become a history professor at California State University, San Francisco. She taught courses in United States history, race and ethnicity, food history and US/Philippines relations.

On top of earning her doctorate from Stanford, she received an master of arts degree in Asian American Studies from UCLA, according to the Little Manila Foundation.

In October, Mabalon accepted a bronze replica of Congressional Gold Medal in October in Washington, D.C., to recognize her father’s contributions to the U.S. in World War II.

“It’s a proud moment for my father, but I really feel it was a medal paid for by my father with blood, sweat, tears and struggle,” she said at the time. “It’s a bittersweet moment.”

She was scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Aug. 17 to present on Filipino American history and their intersection with civil rights.

One of her last posts on social media was made on Instagram Tuesday of her with family in the Hanalei Valley in Kauai. The caption read: “#family #kauai #hanalei #grateful #thankingelders&ancestors.”

As word Mabalon’s death spread at the Barrio Feista, a dance was performed in her honor. Condolences started to pour in from all over.

“We connected as academics, activists, family centered, food loving women, and most significantly; dedicated believers of Stockton,” Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman wrote on Facebook. “She lived her life with purpose and richness. Her impact will be felt for generation to come.”

As the 46th annual Barrio Fiesta is underway this weekend, hundreds of people still packed the downtown Stockton’s Filipino Center Plaza. Shoppers stopped by vendors selling clothes and toys, children stayed cool from the blistering heat with shaved ice, and crowds lined up for lumpia — a traditional Filipino dish of deep-fried, meat-filled egg rolls.

Still, heavy hearts lingered.

“(The fiesta) keeps on, but the thing is that this is really big news,” Guillermo said shaking his head slowly. “There are long faces here … she’s a critical part of (Little Manila).”

A GoFundMe account has been made can be found online at https://tinyurl.com/mabalon.

Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or nfilipas@recordnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasfilipas.

CORRECTION: Aug. 15, 2018

Concepcion Moreno Bohulano, the grandmother of Dawn Mabalon, was one of the country’s first Filipina school teachers. Incorrect information was included in the print and initial online version of this story.