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SAN DIEGO — During the month of May, FOX 5 highlights the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who are making strides for their community and the country.

One San Diegan has spent most of her life working to give Filipino Americans and other AAPI communities a voice. As a Filipino American, Joann Fields spent decades serving the community of San Diego in every level of government and putting Filipino Americans on the map — literally.

After the designation of state Route 54 as the Filipino American Highway, Fields was instrumental in renaming the Woodman Street overpass on SR-54 “Itliong Veracruz Bridge” after two famous Filipino American labor activists.

“It’s bridging that history that is not told, not well-known,” says Fields.

The latest census has Filipinos as the second largest ethnic group in San Diego County, boasting a population of roughly 200,000.  Yet Fields says Filipinos continue to struggle for representation – especially in politics and policymaking.

“Our elected officials have to hear from us. They can’t guess what we want. We have to ask, sometimes demand,” Fields says.

No matter the issue, Fields demands a seat at every table. 

In partnership with lawmakers and law enforcement, she has led public forums, fed communities, provided much-needed resources and networking and even addressed AAPI hate.

On July 31, 2021, Fields organized the first Filipino Friendship Festival along the Embarcadero. The event brought thousands together in San Diego to learn about the culture and contributions of Filipino Americans. The event was so successful it prompted city and state leaders to name the day after Fields.

“We have to create these events, we have to develop our curriculum and make it visible and work with those that know the story,” Fields says.

Fields acknowledges Filipino voices and visibility are growing but says the community’s change-making potential remains largely untapped. Fields says we’ve made great strides in AAPI representation in the City of San Diego and the State of California, such as with San Diego’s first mayor of color and of Filipino descent, Todd Gloria, and the 34th State Attorney General Rob Bonta, also of Filipino descent.

Today, Fields heads up a nonprofit: the API Initiative. Her goal is to educate the public and continue to uplift generations of Filipino Americans and Pacific Islanders to come.

“We’re able to teach the community about that history and our contributions to American History. It’s not Filipino history, it’s American history,” Fields says.