Our Culture Does Not Make Us Poor

Amanda Abella — Our Money

I graduated from college in a down economy with no direction, no guidance, and no form of income. So, I moved back home with my parents and started a blog about it all—being a boomerang kid in a crap economy with no life skills.

As a Cuban-American, moving back home as a young adult is not a big deal. One of my friends, fellow Cuban-American author Nikki Novo put it this way in her book, “We’re not really expected to leave home until we’re in a white dress or a casket.” But a full-on debate took place in the comment section of my blog. On one side, (mostly white) American readers viewed the fact that I was 23 and living at home as a major failure, despite my posts on saving money, investing, and building a retirement nest egg. On the other side, readers from other cultures and countries couldn’t understand what the issue was at all.

And then it hit me—culture affects how we see money.

Being Latina and raised in Miami—a multicultural city with a massive Latin influence—I thought I was just making a sound financial decision by returning home after college. The Great Recession wasn’t my fault and I was blessed to be on good terms with my family. Did they drive me crazy sometimes? Sure. But that’s family and family is everything.

But, having been born and raised in the U.S., I was still American, where the majority culture looked down on me for not being a completely financially independent young adult.

As my blog grew, I found myself defending boomerang kids both in my writing and in the media—a lot. And every time I was conflicted. One culture said I was smart, the other said I was a fool. I am both of these cultures in one person, so what do I do?

There is no single answer for that. It took years for me to reconcile the two cultures, but once I did, I stopped listening to naysayers and moved on with my life. I started a business, saved money, and moved out. I also completely forgot about how culture and money intersect.

That is, until 2016.

It is no secret that many immigrant and minority families have been on high alert since the 2016 presidential election, which ushered in an administration often at odds with the needs and desires of our communities.

I’ve been watching this political reality show just like everyone else. But I’ve also noticed that the private sector has a different appreciation for an undeniable demographic shift toward a majority-minority future: We are a large and growing market for all sorts of businesses. But it goes deeper for us, especially given the current political climate. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last seven years of writing about money, it’s that money can empower us. It gives us choices as individuals, and it gives us a voice as a community.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. When it comes to finances, the numbers for people of color are dismal. The median income for a white household in 2016 was $61,200. For black and Hispanic households, the numbers fall to between $35,400 and $38,500, according to data released by the Federal Reserve. And the stats only get worse looking at the bigger financial picture. While the median net worth of white households was $171,000, the median household family worth for Hispanic families was $20,700. For black families, $17,600.

This begs the question, what can we do about it?

With this new column, I want to look at how our cultures inform and empower us financially, in ways often overlooked by white America. Yes, we start with much less money than most of our white counterparts, but the only way to start reversing these grim statistics is to recognize what’s in our power to control. We can build wealth for future generations. We can leverage our collective economic power. And with that, as individuals and communities, we can create real change sooner than we think.