La Jollan Natasha Wong joins revived San Diego Commission on the Status of Women

La Jollan Natasha Wong is one of the 11 newly appointed members of San Diego’s Commission on the Status of Women.
(Provided by Natasha Wong)

As one of the 11 appointed members of the city of San Diego’s newly revived Commission on the Status of Women, La Jollan Natasha Wong has a series of goals. Among them are reducing anti-Asian racism, eliminating the stigma of mental health issues and addressing inequalities that women across San Diego face.

The commission, which had been dormant since 2001, includes former U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, Laurie Black, Marlyn Carrillo, Lakeya Cherry, Wendy Urushima-Conn, Gail Friedt, Joy Utomi Hartmann, Solange Jacobs, Sophie Tarazi, Dana Toppel and Wong, all of whom were nominated by members of their communities and appointed by Mayor Todd Gloria.

The commission previously operated from 1991 to 2001 as a revival of a similar panel known as the Advisory Board on the Status of Women that had been established in 1973.

“We serve as advisors to the mayor and the City Council and will have monthly meetings to research and make presentations on our findings to educate the council members and the public about inequities that the women in our community face,” Wong said. “The commissioners are so impressive [with] the breadth of expertise they all bring to the table. I feel humbled and honored to serve among them.”

Wong was nominated by City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla. The two worked to launch the Safe Place decal system in La Jolla late last year, through which business owners can put decals on their windows to announce that members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities can find safety from harassment in their establishments.

Wong, who has been involved with San Diego’s Asian communities for more than 20 years, said she has seen anti-Asian racism throughout that time, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“San Diego is such a warm and friendly city. I went to Muirlands Middle School and La Jolla High School and had a lovely upbringing,” she said. “But at the same time, I can’t say that racism doesn’t exist in San Diego. I want to be part of that conversation to help the Asian community feel accepted here. We have a long history as restaurateurs, laundry workers, railroad workers and fishermen. We are part of the fabric here. I hope the platform I have will help heal the community and provide education.”

She said she also has seen the stigma of mental health issues, especially in Asian families.

“Many Asian families do not want to talk about mental health,” she said. “I’ve been working to de-stigmatize that and bring that into conversations. I’m also very open and tell people that, as important as it is to take care of our physical needs, taking care of our mental health is just as important.”

Wong, a lawyer by training, said she intended to go into international law and diplomacy but saw needs in her local community. Shifting into education, she co-founded San Diego’s first fully licensed Chinese bilingual preschool and is the current superintendent and former principal of the Chinese School of San Diego.

She also is executive director of the Chinese Service Center, which holds community events for Chinese New Year, offers financial literacy programs for low- to moderate-income families and teenagers and assists with job referrals.

But her favorite job, she said, is being a mother.

“My husband [Kevin Chen] and I met at Muirlands Middle School and now my son goes to Muirlands, but he knows there is no pressure to meet the love of his life there,” she said with a laugh. “He feels like he belongs there and has a community there. We feel lucky to raise our family here.”

For the broader community of women across San Diego, Wong said she wants to help them deal with inequities.

“Women still earn less ... compared to men and women still shoulder a lot of caregiving in families,” she said. “My heart breaks for the women for whom the supplies they need to support their families — such as diapers — are price-gouged. We’re here in California, in beautiful San Diego, but there are families out there that struggle to meet the needs of their children. We can help with that, so I try to recognize that and see if there are solutions.”

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer David Garrick contributed to this report.