Born to immigrant parents, Sham Quom Chin Gee spent her career helping others become American citizens.
Gee’s favorite part of her job as an immigration officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was hearing immigrants’ stories during their citizenship interviews, she said.
She also presided when immigrants took their oaths of citizenship as the director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services’ New York City field office; she was the first Chinese-American to hold the post.
“It was important for people to know when they became citizens [that] this became their country,” said Gee, a 31-year New Hyde Park resident.
Since retiring in 2011, Gee has worked to share her Chinese culture with others around Long Island, coordinating programs through the Town of North Hempstead’s Joy Fu Senior Club and the Chinese Center on Long Island in West Hempstead.
The work has allowed Gee to hear even more stories from older Chinese-Americans who came to the U.S. before her, and to help non-Chinese residents understand the culture better, she said.
It also led her to be named this year to the Town of North Hempstead’s Women’s Roll of Honor, an annual list recognizing local women’s achievements.
“There’s more to our culture than chopsticks and rice,” Gee said. “There’s a whole culture that we work hard to educate our children so they become good citizens.”
Gee’s father came to the U.S. as a teenager and later served in World War II, during which he met Gee’s mother in China, Gee said. They married there and both settled in the U.S. in 1947, she said.
Gee studied education and history at Hunter College and got a job at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. after working briefly at a bank, she said.
In 1979, she got a job with what was the the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service as a paralegal specialist. She was among the first federal employees authorized to give citizenship interviews who were not attorneys, she said.
Gee enjoyed helping immigrants by connecting the dots in their personal histories, she said.
Once, she and other immigration officials helped a Polish man find his citizenship records by tracking down the passenger manifest from the ship he arrived on as a young child. He was then able to get a passport and travel back to Poland, she said.
“That was the best,” Gee said. “That solved the problem, the mystery — where did you come from?”
Gee serves as the vice president of the Joy Fu Senior Club, which hosts gatherings for seniors of all ethnicities that offer Asian cultural activities, such as mahjongg games and Chinese meals, she said.
She also helps coordinate cultural events on Long Island and in New York City through the Chinese Center on Long Island, including the annual Chinese American Night at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, she said.
Gee is also a member of North Hempstead’s Community Emergency Response Team, a countywide group coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that trains residents to respond to emergency situations.
Betty Leong, a New Hyde Park civic leader who nominated Gee for the Women’s Roll of Honor, said she is a “giving person” who doesn’t hesitate to give back to the community in many ways.
“She’s there for you, for the neighbors,” Leong said.
More than 36 percent of New Hyde Park’s population is Asian, according to the most recent Census data. But Gee’s adult son, now a law enforcement agent, was one of just a few Asian students at the New Hyde Park Road School when he attended, she said.
Similarly, the Joy Fu Club now has six non-Asian members who enjoy learning about new games and foods, Gee said. Those cultural exchanges strengthen the community, she said.
“I think the mix is good for someone to grow, be a part of the culture — be a part of the country, actually,” Gee said.
Gee and the 15 other 2017 Women’s Roll of Honor members will be recognized at a ceremony on March 29 at the Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington.