In honor of Hispanic Heritage month, I’ve decided to do a little homage to my parents. You see, my parents are immigrants, therefore, making me a first generation American.
Both of my parents fled Cuba at very young ages. My father was 11 years old when he was put on a plane by himself to seek a new life in the United States. My mother was the same age when she left. Her story involves my grandfather having to work hard labor in sugar cane fields for three years in exchange for their freedom.
But I digress. Because this post isn’t about the Cuban Revolution or politics. Instead, it’s a post about how my immigrant parents taught me about money.
(Okay, I’m lying. This may get a little political given the current administration’s view on immigrants. You’ve been warned.)
This post is about what my parents and grandparents taught me about money. Because, you see, both sides of my family lost everything, had to flee the only home they’d ever known and started over in the United States.
Unlike what some would have you believe, they didn’t come here and take jobs away from Americans. They didn’t take advantage of the system. They didn’t commit crimes.
Instead, they got an education. They worked their asses off, built enough wealth to sustain themselves in retirement and raised two pretty damn smart kids who are growing up to be upstanding members of society. They vote, they get involved, they love this country and they taught their children to love this country as well.
Most of the first-generation immigrants I know were taught the same principles I was and they come from very hardworking families. Because when you come to a new country because of political or economic turmoil, you don’t have a choice but to work your ass off.
The immigrant experience can also teach you a lot about money. Here are just a few my immigrant parents taught me about money.
The United States is the land of opportunity. Don’t waste your opportunity.
Let’s be clear. My parents are political refugees who fled a communist regime. My grandparents wanted a better life for their children and they made the sacrifices required to come to the United States.
That being said, the fact that my parents are immigrants who fled political and economic turmoil has really shaped the way I see work and money.
Not a day went by when either my grandparents or parents didn’t remind me how lucky I was to be born in the United States. They taught me that, in the United States, we could become anything we wanted. Even though the U.S. isn’t perfect by any means, it’s still the best damn country in the world for opportunity and it’s our job not to waste what’s been given to us.
Cuba doesn’t have access to internet like I do and I am acutely aware of that. Although things are hopefully changing for the better on the island (albeit painfully slowly), I am aware that if I had been born in Cuba I would not have the same opportunities I have in the U.S. Not by a long shot.
So what does that mean? First and foremost, it means I have immense gratitude for being an American. I have immense gratitude for the sacrifices my family made so that future generations could have a better opportunity.
Second, it means I’m going to grab that opportunity by the balls. One of the reasons I focused so hard on leveraging the internet to earn income and start a blog is because I know how lucky I am to even have access to internet in the first place.
You need to work for what you want.
“This is the greatest country in the world, but they don’t give you anything for free.”
I remember my mother saying this all the time. It wasn’t to shade the U.S. in any way. Remember, she fled communism which actually makes her a pretty staunch conservative in a lot of ways.
Instead, she would say it to teach me a lesson. The lesson was that I shouldn’t expect anyone to give me anything. It’s my job to work for what I want.
That translated into running my own business to make my own money. I work my ass off and have been for years because I never expected things to just fall into my lap.
I also saw my parents as stellar examples. Both of them came to this country not knowing a lick of English. As immigrants, they started off in the U.S. living in poverty. They each had nothing. It was through their hard work, grit, perseverance, and determination that they were able to get out of poverty.
No man is an island.
Part of what so many immigrants admire about Americans is their fighting spirit and sense of individuality. Being that us immigrants (particularly us Latinos) are very close to our families, it also boggles the mind. Here’s why:
Latinos are all about family and community. It’s how we survive and thrive in the world.
When I graduated from college and went several months without a job due to a down economy, when I was underemployed, when I decided to start a business from nothing, it was my family who supported me.
If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have had anywhere to go. Hell, I’d probably still be stuck at a day job because I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to strike out on my own.
While they never gave me a check for my business (remember, no one gives you anything), they did give me a place to lie my head at night.
I hear lots of horror stories of unsupportive families when someone tries to do a business venture, I fortunately never had that issue. My immigrant parents taught me about money, and they supported me in everything I did. I couldn’t ask for better parents.
Always be generous.
My parents are very generous people. They give to their church. They rent out their investment property to my best friend and her boyfriend. Before they had tenants, they let a family stay there rent-free for a few months because they didn’t have anywhere else to go. When a hurricane comes, they are the first ones helping. Even when things were tight, they always gave money to causes.
In adulthood, I’ve realized I don’t think twice about giving generously. Now I know that it’s one of those things my immigrant parents taught me about money, and I’m grateful for it.
Don’t let circumstances stop you from achieving what you want.
I often get asked where I get my resilience from. After all, it’s a pre-requisite for running a business. Even when things seemed hopeless, I just did not quit.
In truth, I get it from my parents. They had every reason to not build as much wealth as they have. My parents were immigrants. They were minorities. They didn’t speak the language. Both were raising children and had aging parents. They had to financially support their parents in their old age. Layoffs. Tension at their jobs. The economy crashing while my brother and I were in college.
You name it.
None of that stopped them. And if there’s anything my immigrant parents taught me about money, it was that my brother and I shouldn’t let anything stop us either. My mother always taught me, “People will discriminate against you for being Hispanic, for being a woman, that’s just the way things are in an imperfect world. Do not under any circumstances let that stop you from achieving great things.”
It hasn’t up until now and it sure as hell won’t in the future. This is just one of the greatest things my immigrant parents taught me about money.
Save money. Lots of it.
My parents were never big spenders. Actually, that’s not entirely true. They did spend money, but they were very conscious about what they would spend their money on. For example, they drove beat up cars for a long time, but they would throw down for family vacations.
Anyway, my parents were good savers. I think when you’ve gone through the terrible experience of losing everything and starting over, you have a fear of something like that happening again. As a result, you sock away money like a squirrel socks away nuts for the winter.
My parents understood the importance of money because they knew what it was like to flee their homes, lose everything, start over and live in poverty. So they made damn sure my brother and I respected money.
Were they perfect? No. Everyone makes mistakes. But they did provide a solid enough foundation where they gave their children a future.