SAN FRANCISCO -- Suke-Haan Cheng has lived her long life happily and successfully but somewhat restlessly.
After living in four countries on two continents, the 100-year-old Fremont woman became a U.S. citizen Tuesday, accomplishing the one goal that had eluded her: putting down roots.
"Now that she is a U.S. citizen, we can have peace of mind," said Timothy Tam, Cheng's son-in-law. "And it's a great gift, just in time for Christmas."
Cheng had been living in Fremont with her daughter, Wendy Tam, since 2004, under the nebulous status of "lawful permanent resident."
Tam said she applied for her mother's citizenship to make her happier and to boost her longevity even more. Her application was approved within two months. Wendy Tam said a disability exemption may have expedited the process.
After the naturalization ceremony Tuesday, Cheng spoke in Cantonese, while her daughter translated into English.
"She's very happy to be a U.S. citizen," Tam said, as Cheng sat in a wheelchair, clutching a small U.S. flag. "The best thing about it is it gives her a sense of belonging and happiness."
Two or three people who are 100 or older become citizens each year nationwide, but Cheng is one of only a handful of Bay Area centenarians to do so, said Sharon Rummery, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration service spokeswoman.
Cheng was born in 1913 in a village outside the Chinese city of Guangzhou. She was such an energetic tomboy that her grandparents predicted she would live longer than anyone else in their family, her daughter said.
A restless young woman, Cheng moved to Hong Kong in the early 1930s, with hopes of opening her own embroidery shop.
Those plans changed when she fell in love with Yiu-Man Cheng, whom she married in 1935. A mother of four children, Cheng suffered heartbreak when her first daughter died days after birth and then her youngest son died at age 10 from a congenital heart defect.
The Chengs persevered, raising their two children in a prosperous Hong Kong home until their kids moved to North America. Wendy and her husband, Timothy Tam, settled in Fremont, while Wendy's brother Vincent moved to Toronto.
After Yiu-Man Cheng died, Suke-Haan Cheng moved to Toronto to be with her son and became a Canadian citizen. About 10 years ago, Wendy Tam moved her mother to Fremont so she could socialize more with the many relatives who live in the East Bay. "It's not good to leave the old lady at home," Tam said, chuckling. "She's an independent lady."
Cheng's secret to longevity is keeping a positive attitude and avoiding stress, said Tam, who shares a playful sense of humor with her mother. Recently, she bought Cheng some face cream because, Tam said, "I don't want her to have any wrinkles when she turns 120."
Now that her citizenship papers are in order, she'll have plenty of time to play mahjong with friend and family members, including several great-grandchildren.
As her family prepared for the naturalization ceremony this week, Tam said she thought of her late father.
"In his will, he asked my brother and I to take care of Mom and make her happy," Tam said. "He would be happy for her today."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.