Born in Los Angeles and raised in San Diego, JoAnn Fields lives in Chula Vista and has been a leader for underserved people of color since childhood. She works alongside elected officials with the goal of bringing representation, education, empowerment and unity to the diverse population, particularly the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
Her parents Frank and Vicky Lagula immigrated from Asingan, Pangasinan, Philippines. Her father who retired from the U.S Navy set a high standard of expectations as far as community service. “I didn't know back then, but I feel like it was my training ground,” JoAnn said. Her mother also planted the seeds of service in JoAnn, she was the president of the first FIlipino American Woman’s Club in San Diego, which was the first Filipino organization in the county, where she and her family engaged regularly.
“All of my experiences were wrapped into a position for community outreach…all of those experiences led me to where I am today in serving the south bay,” JoAnn said.
JoAnn is a single mother of four, Johnathen, Darius, Jevon and Kamry. She raised her children, now young adults, in Chula Vista and has also followed the footsteps of her family to teach them the value of community service by example. Fields has served on a number of boards and commissions at all levels of government, as well as in the non-profit sector.
This year she created the first Filipino Resource Center in the county which evolved out of the needs caused by the pandemic. She had been doing this kind of work for years prior to it’s conception. Through the FRC, the Filipino Covid-19 task force emerged and involved various elected officials such as San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and Attorney General Rob Bonta, among other county-wide decision makers.
“I’m not waiting on superman. Why wait when I know how to do it?,” Fields said. The U.S Census Bureau registers over 217,000 Filipinos living in San Diego County. Fields said COVID magnified what these communities did not have.
“They have been part of our conversations and advocacy to make sure we are not erased from the community. We are here, but when it comes to a list of who is getting funding for programs and who is getting access to testing, vaccines and testing it wasn't us. I just feel that our community is not known yet as far as our advocacy and our needs,” Fields said.
During the pandemic, National City and South San Diego had the highest number of Covid cases. “That is where we live with Latinos, but when it came to outreach and education in San Diego and accessing testing and vaccines, it wasn't marketed to us. I'm not trying to put us against anyone, I just want us to get our fair share and to get the access [we need]. Nothing more and definitely nothing less,” Fields said.
The strengthening of relationships with elected officials and community leaders created opportunities in education, health, politics and wellness within the Filipino community. She plans to launch an API advisory committee with Chula Vista Police Department Chief Roxanne Kennedy in police force recruitment and with Superintendent/President of Southwestern College Dr. Mark Sanchez and the Filipino American Educators Association (FILAMEDA) is working together in creating a language dual enrollment program with the Sweetwater Union High School District to name a few.
“Our parents were chasing the American Dream. It’s our job as a generation to make sure we get a fair share of the American Pie. Our Parents uprooted from the Philippines and replanted here,” Fields said.
JoAnn has received a number of awards including Filipina Women’s Network Top 100 Most Influential Filipina Women; Urban League of San Diego County’s Top 40 Under 40, and the Latino/a Unity Coalition Leadership Award, among others.