“Immigration is Our Past, Our Present, and Our Future”
December 12, 2013

Here’s a remarkable statistic: about 60 percent of New Yorkers are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.  As Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Fatima Shama has directed city initiatives to help these families acclimate to life in the U.S. As her tenure comes to a close, we were honored to celebrate Shama’s work at a Tenement Talk yesterday evening.  Below, she answers a few questions about her career.

What makes you passionate about your work?
I’m a kid from The Bronx. My parents were immigrants in this country. And I witnessed their experiences, and this has been my life’s work. Ever since I was young, the work I have been involved in has always been with and for bettering the lives of immigrants in one way or another… So this is a dream job.

Fatima Shama

Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Fatima Shama

What has been the most challenging part of the job?
Trying to do all that we can to better the lives of immigrant New Yorkers. We have done lots of good work, I hope, but there is still much more to do.

Commissioner Fatima Shama at a film screening during New York City's Immigrant Heritage Week.

How does the history of immigration shape the way you view contemporary immigration?
For me, in our city, immigration is our past, our present, and our future. I think the history helps inform the reality and future of this amazing audience of strivers – they just happen to come from a larger range of countries.

Shul Mosque

During Shama's tenure, the Office of Immigrant Affairs in partnership with Citizens Committee of New York City awarded 17 UnityNYC Grants. One of the projects was “Shul-in-a-Mosque” – where neighborhood youth (of Muslim, Jewish and Catholic faiths) revamped a shared space in the Bronx.

How do you think the Tenement Museum relates to the work done by the Office of Immigrant Affairs?
The Tenement Museum is critical to helping remind and put a face on immigration in our city. Immigration is our city and nation’s narrative and the Tenement Museum helps demonstrate with experiences, stories and weaving the contemporary reality into real experiences for New Yorkers, and visitors to NYC.

What’s next for you?
To be determined! BUT – I have always worked to better the lives of NYC’s communities – so whatever I do next – that will be key.

— Posted by Kira Garcia