Q. Can you tell us more about your childhood in the Philippines during World War II?
A. I am the fourth of eight children (five girls and three boys). . . I grew up in a small barrio (or village) in the northern part of the Philippines. The village did not have electricity, running water or paved road. The nearest doctor or hospital was half a day away, so my mom delivered all of her eight children by herself. The barrio now has electricity but still no running water and the road is still a dirt road.
I was born at the end of World War II. During the war, my parents collaborated with the American soldiers and thankfully, were not caught hiding American soldiers. Otherwise they would have been tortured by the Japanese soldiers. One of my uncles was caught and was tortured terribly; he survived but was so sickly that he didn’t live long.
Q. What was your reaction to winter in northeast Pennsylvania?
A. I had never seen snow before coming to Wilkes University. The first time I saw snow I didn’t know what it was. Then, early the next morning when I was going to the 6 a.m. mass. I remember coming out of the dorm and everything was so white. It made me feel like I was an angel in heaven. I put on my boots and just ran around and around the dorm. However, being Philippine born, the cold, cold winter was too much for me so, after two years, I moved to Davis, Calif., to study agricultural chemistry.
Q. Can you tell us more about your family? I understand all your children are as interesting
and accomplished as you are.
A. Vigfus and I have four daughters and also raised two of my nephews.
Irena Asmundson graduated from MIT with degrees in math and economics, and received her doctorate in economics from Stanford University. She now works at the International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C.
Vigdis Asmundson graduated from University of California, Davis with degrees in biological sciences and classics and is now a teacher. She is also an active philanthropist. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, West Africa and just came back from six months of volunteer work teaching in Somalia.
Sigrid Asmundson, a lawyer, graduated from UCDavis with degrees in political science and communications. She also received her juris doctorate from UCDavis School of Law. She is married to another lawyer, Tyler Asmundson, who changed his last name to Asmundson after marrying my daughter. They have a 7-month-old son, Zach.
Q. You raised two of your nephews. Did you adopt them?
A. No, we just raised them but they kept their last name. My sister died of breast cancer 20 years ago. Her husband died two years before she did. We took the boys in when they were 9 and 11.
Jonas Uy Cartano has a music degree from Carlton College and a master of music administration from Harvard University. He works at Music America in Washington D.C. as a program director.
My daughter Sigrid and her husband Tyler have a seven-month-old son, Zachariah Davis Asmundson.
Q. When you finished your doctorate, you returned to the Philippines, even though your husband had already asked you to marry him. How did you end up returning to the United States?
As a Fulbright Scholar, I had to go back to the Philippines for at least two years before I could come back to the United States. However, six months after I left the United States, Vigfus came to the Philippines to ask me again to marry him and I said yes again. We applied for and were granted a waiver of the two-year residency requirement from both the Philippine and United States government.
Q. You were the first Filipina elected mayor of a city in the United States. What
is it like to be part of a historic “first” like that? (NOTE: Asmundson retired as
mayor in July 2010.)
A. I am told that I am the first Filipina (Filipino woman immigrant) to be elected mayor of a city in the United States. We’ve had several Filipino (male) mayors, past and present, in the United States. We now have a second Filipina mayor in California, in the city of Colfax.
I’m proud to be the first Filipina mayor. The recognition and power of being one is an asset as I travel to other countries, especially in the Philippines. The power that comes with it is tremendous, but I try to stay grounded by thinking of myself as a “public servant” to the community, for the people who chose me to represent them.
Q. Have you ever encountered discrimination as a woman or a minority?
A. I don’t know if I’ve really felt discrimination being a woman or minority because I won’t allow it. When I sense that I’m being discriminated against, I confront the person and the issue. I believe that discrimination or prejudice is a two-way street. The discrimanatee needs to educate the discriminator about what they are doing wrong. Sometimes the discriminator doesn’t even know that what he or she is saying or doing is discriminatory.
At the early start of my political career I was asked if I’m running as a woman or as a minority. I said that I was running for the position, not against any candidate, and that people should vote for me if they feel I am the best person for the job.
Q.. Do you have any advice for people hoping to get into politics?
A. Register to vote and vote at every election. It is your right and responsibility to vote and elect the best person you know to represent you in government. You cannot criticize your elected officials unless you have voted. You cannot criticize unless you do something about the issue or problem.
Power is very seductive and tempting. You need to stay grounded and not succumb to those temptation. Think of yourself as a “public servant.” You are elected to serve the public to do what is good and right for your community. You cannot please everybody, but you need to do the best you can. You have to have integrity; do the right thing, especially when nobody is looking.
Q. You served two terms as mayor and spent more than 18 years in public service. How
did you celebrate your retirement?
A. The first party was the "Getting Mom Back" Retirement party hosted by my daughters. Over 250 of my friends came to celebrate that Friday evening (right after my last council meeting). Fortunately it was a beautiful day, so it turned into a garden party. It was wonderful to see so much support from my fellow community members as well as several public officials from the surrounding areas.
The program started with the two national anthems -- U.S. and Philippines -- and young children performing Filipino songs and dances, followed by performances by the UCDavis graduate students. The men serenaded me, with adults as well a children dancing and singing. The performances included the Tinikling – our national dance. I was asked to participate despite the fact that I haven’t performed that dance in many years! Fortunately, I was still spry enough to be graceful, and my picture dancing was featured in the local newspaper the next day.
Q. What are your plans for retirement?
A. I am 65 years old and have spent the last 18 years in politics. It is now time to focus on my personal life, enjoy quality time with my kids, grandkids and my 90-year old mom. And of course I continue to dote on my grandchildren, who I frequently watch and who visit me almost every day.
I will still be active in the community. In the city, I want to continue working on sister city relations and was recently named the first Sister City Ambassador for the City of Davis. For the school district, I want to help the fundraising to support vital programs in K-12 education. . .