Ten years ago, Los Angeles attorney Dolly Gee was nominated by President Clinton to serve as a United States District Court judge. But Clinton's term ended without a confirmation.
On Christmas Eve, the Arcadia resident -- nominated again by President Obama -- heard from the office of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Gee called her 81-year-old mother to break the news that the U.S. Senate had confirmed her.
"She said, 'Finally!' " Gee said on Friday. "It's a huge breakthrough not just for me and my family, but our entire community."
Gee will be the first Chinese American woman to serve on the U.S. District Court.
Boxer praised her confirmation.
"As a daughter of immigrants from rural China, she personifies the American dream," the senator said in a statement. "She used her position as a prominent attorney in Los Angeles to promote racial tolerance and fight for justice for those who face discrimination."
Gee, 50, received her law degree from UCLA in 1984. She has specialized in labor and employment law. In 1994, Clinton appointed her to serve as a mediator and arbitrator in disputes between federal agencies and labor unions. She is a past president of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Assn.
Her grandfather came to the United States in the 1930s from Toison, China, and owned a factory in Brooklyn, N.Y., that made soy sauce and pickled cabbage.
Gee's father, Jim Gee, served in the Navy during World War II, and later worked as an aerospace engineer, becoming involved in projects that included the Apollo missions and the space shuttle.
"He was among the first wave of Chinese American engineers who became a crucial part of the Southern California aerospace industry," Gee said.
Her father died five years ago, before she was nominated for the District Court once again, but he was proud of what she had accomplished, she said.
"He was a very patriotic American, and he was very glad to see the potential of the American dream fulfilled," Gee said.
Her mother, Helen Gee, had been a schoolteacher in China, but she struggled with her English and was a garment worker when she came to the United States. She wanted to ensure that her daughter did not follow in her footsteps.
"She didn't teach me how to sew because her hope was that I would never have to do that for a living," Gee recalled. "She wanted me to go to school and get an education and become whatever I wanted to become."
Gee said her mother, who lives with her, was celebrating the Christmas holiday at her brother's house when she told her about the Senate confirmation. Her mother was particularly glad to hear she would be carrying out her new duties in Los Angeles.
"She would not be happy if I moved away somewhere," Gee said with a laugh.