Kara Pérez is the founder of Bravely Go, a financial platform focused on feminist economics and inclusive personal finance.
A few months ago I helped my first gen Latina cousin open her first IRA (Individual Retirement Account). As we were clicking through the Fidelity website , her mom came through the kitchen, pointed at the screen and asked “what is that?” When I explained I was helping get my cousin set up for retirement my aunt said “Can you do me next?”
Open up TikTok and there’s a good chance that you’ll scroll across a video using audio that whispers “ok yes, it’s f*ck capitalism but also, I’m the child of immigrant parents. They didn’t fly halfway across the world for me to be a broke bitch. So I gotta be a capitalist, I’m sorry guys.”
My family immigrated to the US from Dominican Republic in two waves in the late 1970’s; first my grandfather and my father, and a few years later, my grandmother and remaining aunts and uncles. My grandparents’ priority was securing housing, finding jobs for themselves, and getting the kids into good schools. Learning how retirement accounts worked was not on the list- getting dinner on the table each night was. Financial literacy is knowledge they never accumulated themselves, and therefore didn’t pass onto my father or his siblings.
This is often the case for newer arrivals to the US- short term needs like jobs and housing take precedence over laying the groundwork for longer term financial goals like opening retirement accounts. In fact, many immigrants work jobs that don’t even offer retirement accounts; immigrants are more likely to work at jobs with hourly pay and no benefits, such as agricultural workers or the food service industry.
Financial stability feeds financial stability. And financial instability feeds financial instability. If your job has no retirement plan available, not only are you less likely to save for retirement, you are less likely to even learn about these plans and how they work, which makes you less likely to pass that information on to your own children.
Enter the first gen kids, caught between two worlds.
We’re a driving force of social change that pushes for more economic equality and community support for everyone, while also carrying a responsibility to our families to create and sustain financial stability.
At times, the former feels at odds with the latter. We’re living through a pandemic that has left billionaires $4 trillion richer than before Covid entered our lives, while almost 20 percent of Americans are using food banks to find their next meal.
First gen kids can see the flaws in our money systems. We are not immune to the fact that the world is wildly unequal- in fact, our families often bear the brunt of that inequality.
Which is why the desire to get our piece of the capitalist pie often burns bright within us. Yes, the system is screwed. Yes, we need systemic change.
But I know my grandfather didn’t get jailed in Dominican Republic during the Trujillo Era for his political beliefs only to come here and watch me complain about how expensive housing is.
The problems of capitalism are staring us first gen kids in the face; our families are asking us to rise above them.
And with the rise of digital education on social media and the pandemic fueling an increase in stock market investing, first gen kids have been knocking down doors to financial knowledge right and left. We don’t face the same knowledge roadblocks our parents faced. We have more tools, chances, and ability to get rich than our parents.
The revolution will not be replacing white capitalism with Brown capitalism. But therein lies the first gen challenge- many of us are not trying to replace capitalism. We’re trying to find our place within it.
Some of us experience the wealth gap firsthand, and closing it means participating in the system despite it’s brokenness. We have parents who poured all their money into our education, depending on us to support them in retirement. We have grandparents who left behind their own siblings so that we, their grandchildren, could have career opportunities they never did.
So yes, it’s f*ck capitalism. But it also open retirement accounts and start businesses and learn to budget. We have the chance that our parents flew halfway around the world to give to us; failure is not an option.