SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A nurturer by nature, JoAnn Fields takes care of her community like she does her family.
“I am a proud Filipino American, second-generation. I have the typical Filipino story," said Fields.
Her dad immigrated to the United States by way of the Navy, and her mom was a registered nurse.
“Everybody wants to provide for their family. They will go where the jobs are, and the jobs are outside of the Philippines," said Fields. "People want to escape poverty. That’s what they want to escape."
She created the Filipino Resource Center, advocating on behalf of San Diego's Filipino community, the second-largest ethnic group in the county.
Over the last year, she’s watched many in fear of both the virus and the hate it has fueled.
“Why would you blame anybody, or any one person, or any one culture for producing such a vicious virus?" she asked.
While she can bring testing kits and vaccines to her community, she says the hate existed long before the pandemic.
“Now, there’s a heightened anxiety," said Fields. “I worry my mom wants to go out for lunch. I didn’t use to ask her, 'where are you going? Who are you going with?' Now, I feel like I have to.”
Working alongside local elected officials and the district attorney's office, she's providing resources to educate the community on identifying and reporting possible hate crimes. Next week, they're holding a virtual summit to discuss what a hate crime is and whether policy changes are needed to better protect the community.
"If you see something, say something. Report it, because that will help us find out and monitor if there’s a trend happening," said Fields.
She says Filipinos in the Philippines have been watching what's happening in the United States.
"They are very aware and very concerned, and yet, still feel the United States has better opportunities for our families," said Fields.
“The party controls everything, controls the media, the propaganda media, controls the police officers, controls the court," said Frank Xu, founder of San Diego Asian Americans For Equality (SDAAFE).
Xu immigrated to the U.S. in 2005, realizing that he would never have a true sense of security in China at a young age.
“Those videos going viral are horrible, obviously, but I can tell you there are many other horrible things happening in China as well, and you may never know," he said.
He says, unlike in China, incidents like this aren't covered up in the U.S.
“I just believe nowadays many Americans take everything for granted. The air pollution here is not bad, it’s good. If you go to China, it’s horrible because there are no rules there," said Xu.
He doesn't believe racism is the only factor at play in recent viral videos depicting assaults on older Asian Americans. To truly treat every citizen equally, he thinks more emphasis should be placed on punishing perpetrators to the full extent of the law.
“I hope we can look less into race of either the victims or the perpetrators and we just view them as criminals and the victims, and their race really doesn't matter," said Xu.
He doesn't believe the headlines will deter people in China from trying to come to America.
“They still want to be here because this country gives us opportunities as long as you work hard," said Xu.
Unlike Xu, Fields sees this moment as an opportunity for change, hoping to empower Asian American communities.
“It’s bittersweet," she said. "This has always been here. It’s always been an issue, but now that we have this national attention, now we can have the discussion that has been needed for so long so that we can create systemic change.”