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The Lesser Of Two Evils

#homedebt or #spentonrent

I was only 4-years-old when my parents moved us to from the Bronx to Westchester County. We moved there after some kids stole my brother’s bike for the second time.

I shared a room in our Bronx co-op with my two brothers and soon this little Latina girl would be needing her own space. Whenever I asked my mom why we moved she always told me how important it was that I have my own space.

Years later, I would find out that my childhood home cost them $70,000 and that it was a stretch for them to buy it. Not too long ago, my mom shared that at the last minute, they borrowed $2,000 from the owners so they could make this dream come true for all of us.

It’s incredible what Latinos do for their families. We moved for better schools, the promise of a better (and safer life) life, a trip to Disneyland if we were lucky, and so I could have my own space.

My work with Project Eñye is based squarely on understanding and empowering first gen American born Latinos. I’m curious to know what connects us to each other and the American narrative.

I think about belonging a lot. What makes someone feel like they belong and what makes them feel like they don’t? What are the external and internal factors that contribute to someone feeling like they belong or not and how did it get to be that way? These are just a few of the questions that I think about and make content around.

The subject is eternally interesting to me. I love exploring our ideological differences and then using it as a framework to not only understand my life but also help others in our community understand their lives.

Why do I care so much about this? Because I believe there’s power in understanding ourselves at this level and I believe that we all deserve that level of self-awareness.

Memories of my childhood flooded back into my head as I recently read a study about millennials and homeownership and felt compelled to share some of the results with you.

The study addressed low homeownership rates among millennials, which of course included Latinos (link below). There’s a handful of statistical reasons why this is the case, which I found extremely interesting, but it was hard not to wonder if there were other reasons – cultural reasons that could explain why this was the case.

There were three stats that gave me pause that I’ll share with you below.

 

Stat #1: Parental home ownership greatly impacts millennials likelihood of owning a home.”

“Home” is an interesting concept for Eñyes.

The place we grew up is one “home” and our other “home” is a place that’s more elusive. It’s a place that we experience a deep nostalgia for but, unfortunately, it’s a place that will never fully be ours because we were not born there.

This idea got me thinking about my own life in contrast to my brother. He was the dutiful son and “stayed” in Westchester, while I left the nest right after college and have called a few cities “home” over the past few years. He bought a house pretty early on, and although I inherited a home and land from the #gringocowboy’s s side of the family, I’ve yet to purchase a home myself.

Every now and again I experienced this gravitational pull to be back around family and go back to where my familial roots run deep. Having young children it’s easy to think that I should make my way back “home” to New York again. I’ve always been conflicted on this one not realizing that we’ve grown some roots of our own here in Denver, CO.

I wonder how many other Eñye millennials have spread their wings and cut their familial ties and moved to greener pastures for school or to pursue a new job opportunity. I’ve met them in the halls and meeting rooms of the Fortune 500 companies in which they work. I’ve had conversations with them about imposter syndrome and how lonely it sometimes feels to “make good” on the promise of the American Dream.

There were many sacrifices to give us the lives we have now.

My father was an extremely handy guy. Back in the day, he was the resident IT guy for a huge credit bureau which had offices all over the U.S.  Like many houses built in the 60’s, our house was heated with oil. I grew up in the 70’s and as many of you know there was a huge shortage then which drove prices up. Oil prices jumped 350% during that time and my parents had four mouths to feed and a house to keep warm in the winter. One summer he decided to build a chimney with his bare hands so they could save money on our heating bill that winter. I’ll never forget watching him lay each brick by hand as he ascended a ladder perched on the side of my house.  

We “camped” in the basement that winter and I have only the fondest of memories of that time. After all, we were together and as a kid (and now parent), not much else matters. Looking back, I see the resourcefulness of a Latino dad wanting to give his children everything and stopping at nothing to make sure we had our basic needs met.

Stat #2 “Parental wealth increases the likelihood of young adult home ownership.”

Generational wealth is something that for the most part Eñyes don’t have the luxury to experience. Our parents work so hard and sacrifice so much to give us the best education, a roof over our heads and warm food for our tummies. For some reason, the importance of home ownership isn’t passed down in the same way as the importance of getting a great education. I wonder if it’s an assumed thing like a great education is the gateway to financial wealth, but since it’s not as explicit, I wonder if the concept of creating a financial legacy literally gets lost in translation?

Generational wealth. As many of you know, #gringocowboy grew up in the heartland of our beautiful country in Oklahoma. A place where most families can trace their familial roots back for generations. While questions like “Where are your parents from” in New York yielded answers like, “Italy”, “Ireland”, “Germany” etc. The same question in rural Oklahoma as you can imagine yielded much different responses. All of his family is from there and they have no oral or written history that tells them otherwise.

I can’t say that he comes from a particularly wealthy family. In fact, I’d say that he grew up pretty middle class. Yet, as I mentioned above, we inherited a home and land a few years ago that has been in the family for generations.

Generational wealth isn’t in the cards for most of us Eñyes, but the opportunity to create it certainly is!!

At times in our journey, this can feel confusing and burdensome and we wonder why our mainstream counterparts are not dealing with the same thing. Think “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” but the “Latino” edition.

Our family taught us a lot, so many beautiful traditions and values were passed down including a tremendous appreciation for family, the value of hard work, integrity, and humility. We were taught that family comes first and to help them whenever we can. It wasn’t uncommon for my cousins from Puerto Rico to come live with us for a few months or even years! I’m sure a lot of this was money related too, but since we rarely talked about money (because we all know it’s #taboo) I can’t be sure.

We didn’t have generational wealth, but we were rich with the deep relationships and connection we had with family near and far.

Money was sent back to Puerto Rico to help family members and although I was never privy to it, I’m sure that family sent money to us during our hardships. It’s how things were and how things still are and it’s a beautiful thing to be able to rely on people that way.

We take care of our own in the Latino culture and when I look at the data, and I read between the lines, I’m sure that many of these millennials are sending money home to aging parents or family members whether they are here in the U.S. or in another country. It’s an obligation that is our duty and supersedes everything else – including sending money instead of saving it for a downpayment.

I’m sure I’m not the only Latino that was raised to believe debt is a terrible thing. And in my house, there was no such thing as good or bad debt. It was all bad, and I was afraid and felt burdened when I carried it. These ideas like “debt is bad” and “do whatever you need to do to not have debt” gets into our subconscious minds and we take them like their gospel. And then I look at this data and it makes me sad that some of our cultural norms, which are really rooted in protecting us, might be holding us back.

My mother paid for my entire private school college education in cash. I borrowed $2,000, just 10% of one year at Boston University and I paid that sucker off diligently month after month because I didn’t want the “debt over my head.” My mother was constantly reminding me to pay off that little coupon book as fast as I could, and in hindsight I wonder how this affected how I and others interpreted the massive debt home ownership requires? I’m not saying that her guidance was bad, it’s incredibly powerful to live debt free. The good/bad debt conversation was missing and I’m so curious to understand why.

On a completely different note, she could have used that same money for a downpayment on an income property and paid for my education with the rent right? #hindsight2020 But decisions like that are made by people that know and understand the system and whose families I’ll venture to guess have been here for generations.

She was the first one here.

There should be a phrase called “Generational Wisdom.” Because that wisdom that’s passed down could and would have the ability to shift these stats in much the same way as generational wealth has and honestly something’s gotta give here.

 

Stat #3: “Race is a leading contributor to low homeownership rates.”

There is a tremendous honor and responsibility in being the one who gets to pass down the cultural torch. But is it OK to curate?

How can we teach the power of the collective, the immense love and appreciation for the family without self-sacrificing? Is it possible? How can we create and pass down generational wealth and wisdom without breaking a cultural taboo to 1. Have more open conversations about money and 2. Put our needs/wants first?

If buying a house of our own is the beginning of our financial legacy, then shouldn’t we make it a part of what we teach our children alongside the beauty of taking care of our own? Shouldn’t the ultimate gesture of “making good on the promise to have a better life” be to thrive financially?  And then of course, por supuesto, go back and help our families get there too.

That final stat really got me because I’m kind of over it. I’m tired of being statistically last when I know we could at least be competitive. Seriously though, as a cultural group, we can do better. Our financial foundation could be rock solid. But we need to start having these conversations and addressing solutions to these challenges now or we’re never going to get there.

It’s my absolute obsession to teach people how this ideological culture clash affects Latino communities and our ability to thrive here in the U.S. My life’s work is centered around empowering our community to understand this distinction and thrive with the knowledge that we can and need to take the pen and write ourselves as the hero in our own success story.

With that in mind check out the report here www.better.com/spentonrent and share with me how you think the ideas in the report and the ideas I’ve shared here connect to your truth whether you own or rent.

We do a deep dive into the concept of home or “Patria” in my digital course called “Embrace Your Latinidad.” Below are some questions to consider when reflecting on your own interpretation of what home means to you.

  1. Who taught you about your parents’ home country? What is one thing you were told that surprised you?
  2. What do you know about why your parents or grandparents left their home country? Why did they leave? How old were your parents when they came to the U.S.?
  3. Have you visited your parents’ home country? If the answer is no, do you know why your parents never brought/sent you back? If the answer is yes, how many times did you visit and what was it like?
  4. What is one story about your family’s country, either historical or familial, that sticks with you?
  5. What felt like home to you growing up? Describe the smells, sounds, feelings, atmosphere, etc. What is the one thing that immediately brings home to mind?

It made me sad to see that, yet again, race is a leading contributor to low homeownership rates.

How can we claim our space and thrive?

So many of us are prospering but many of us are not. How can we use the “collective” Latino mindset to realize we are each others’ keeper and the only way out of this cycle is if we do it together as a family because I know together, we can get through anything.

This blog post is sponsored by Better Mortgage. All opinions are my own.

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