by Janice H. Ma
Katherine Kaitak Ma immigrated to the United States in 1985. Growing up in Guangzhou, Katherine and her family worked hard but always felt like there were more opportunities for them elsewhere. “I wanted to do more and live better.” said Katherine. Katherine felt limited under the strict regulation of the communist government and decided to move to Hong Kong as a teen. Leaving her family behind, she immigrated to Hong Kong and started a new life for herself. During the time that she was living there, Hong Kong was a temporary colony of the British Empire. In 1997, it would be back under the control of China. Fearing that she would once again be living under the same limitations as those present in her hometown, Katherine considered moving to the United States.
“I did not want to be in one place for all my life. I want to go to see more things and go to more places.” said Katherine. She knew that there were better opportunities and adventures beyond the borders of her home country. Her move to Hong Kong from mainland China gave Katherine many new job and social opportunities but she believed that United States would be able to provide many more. Katherine recalled that her “biggest fear [when contemplating the move to the U.S.] was the English language.” She had grown up speaking Cantonese in her hometown and continued to do so when she had moved to Hong Kong. Despite many British influences in her new home but it wasn't necessary to be fluent or even learn English. The idea of having to conquer a new language was more daunting than establishing a new social circle.
Over the last two decades, Katherine and Osman have established their business in the Oakland community and their family in Piedmont. Katherine still struggles with the English language and being judged for having a thick accent. She has realized that the customers at her store are predominantly English-speaking so she continues to develop her language skills. Together with her husband, Katherine works to adapt her business to the needs of her bilingual client base. The changing economy and the most recent recession has taken away from the annual revenues of their hardware store. Katherine and her husband have turned to investing their hard-earned money in more promising ventures in their homeland. At one point in her life, Katherine saw the United States as the ultimate opportunity to improve her quality of life. Now it seems that China may have more to offer her.
“Moving the United States represented getting more freedoms.” Despite the tough times that she has encountered, Katherine does not regret moving from China to the United States. Her life in America has not been ideal but she believes that immigrating was the best decision that she could have made for herself and her family. Katherine misses the Chinese culture and friends she left behind but has no immediate plans to move back. “For now, [she] quite like(s) American lifestyle. But there are many things that [she] still(s) like about China and Hong Kong.” “There is a possibility that [she] might go back to [her] home country if [she] were able to help other people. [She] would want to bring positive aspects of American culture to people in China.” The immigration process has become much easier since Katherine immigrated in 1985 but there are still many challenges awaiting immigrants once they get here. Katherine believes that is is beneficial to have an established family and support networks but her best “advice for future immigrants is to learn English.”
The Future of Immigration
A history of immigration has created a strong, tight-knit community of Chinese and their descendents. I believe that the future of immigration for Chinese and American born Chinese descendents will be one of reverse immigration. China's growing economy is an opportunity for Chinese immigrants and American born Chinese to reconnect with their culture and take part in a thriving marketplace. In the past, Chinese immigrants left their homeland to avoid the Communist takeover, to find new job opportunities, and to create a better life for themselves and their families. The current economy does not present many job opportunities and it is a constant struggle for many to maintain their lifestyle. It is no longer an advantage to follow one's husband or family to the United States. It is much more financially beneficial to establish new connections in the home country. Entry barriers are essentially eliminated and there are no laws or restrictions to prevent reverse immigration. The Chinese community has shown that they can adapt and survive despite many challenging events in their history. They are sure to find a way to thrive in the current national economic hardships.
Place of Origin
Place of Settlement