Second Generation Broke-Ass: This Is Why I Grew up Broke
“I wasn’t poor; I was po’
I couldn’t afford the O-R”
– Big L, “Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous”
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. If I had, my father would’ve pawned it to pay the rent. No joke. I was alive back when rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan was less than 400 dollars a month. That’s struggle.
So when NPR reported that an analysis of government data, gathered and released by the Pew Research Center, showed that the middle-class household has all but disappeared, I laughed. Suddenly America will find itself divided into two classes: High-class households and low-class households. If your butthole flinched at that inevitable scenario then you don’t know struggle.
I’ve been on this planet for nearly three decades and I’ve always been broke. This ain’t nothing new for me. This is what I was born into and I’ve learned how to survive, but that doesn’t mean I never wished I was rich. Yes, some people have had it worse than I have and I understand that, but some people have had it better than I have, so please understand that.
On the song “My Country” off his 2001 Stillmatic album, Nas poses a question I would often ask myself: “Why wasn’t I a child of a doctor, who left stocks for me?” That would have made life, from a financial standpoint, a little easier, while I dealt with the abundance of obstacles that life can unleash on an individual or group. But, I wasn’t the child of a doctor. That’s life, I guess.
But why weren’t my parents doctors? Was there a reason why any one of my parents couldn’t have been a doctor? Let’s examine that for a minute.
History can be manipulated, even hidden, but it cannot be denied. A majority of these high-class households across the Americas have accumulated their wealth through the nefarious acts of their ancestors (fact!). And who were the victims of these depraved undertakings? The enslaved and pillaged indigenous people whose backs the modern Americas were built on.
Today we tend to overlook this vexatious time in history as not to create a discomfited atmosphere, for both descendants of the victims and their oppressors. However, as an offspring of Mayan ancestry, one of several indigenous civilizations, history tells me that the only reason I’m here is because of my ancestor’s ability to make a deleterious decision in order to survive. For my ancestors it was no longer about fighting off the Spanish invasion. The natives felt compelled to either acclimate themselves to the inhumane treatment they were receiving, or die at the hands of the new, tyrannical culture practiced by the raiding parties.
The surviving members (mestizos) received national independence from the Spanish, but not without having absorbed a new way of life, which left the Mayan spirit dilapidated through geographic appropriation and cultural conversion. This left those survivors, who secretly didn’t abide by the Spanish culture, to become outcasts, teaching them through the actions of those who opposed them, that Eurocentric socioeconomic structure is also a byproduct of mental colonialism.
If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have been in an abusive relationship, then you know how long it may take (if ever) to recover, especially in silence. In her memoir Depression: A Public Feeling, University of Texas professor Ann Cvetkovich explores the methods in which different cultures and classes experience and communicate psychological distress. She posits, “What if depression, in the Americas, at least, could be traced to histories of colonialism, genocide, slavery, legal exclusion, and everyday segregation and isolation that haunt all of our lives, rather than to be biochemical imbalances?”
With Cvetkovich’s theory on American depression in mind, could it be possible that poverty is a congenital symptom of a post-traumatic experience? If so, could this be the reason why my parents weren’t doctors? Could it also be the reason behind the financial woes of myself and others?
By mainstream definition I’m a Guatemalan-American man. I’m categorically a Latino. Which, according to the U.S. Government, are people who can “trace their origin of descent to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish cultures.” The two keywords here: Spanish cultures. As far as I know there’s only one. It’s the same one that I have already mentioned, responsible for the relative obliteration of Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Mayan, Aztec, Inca, Olmec, and Taino cultures.
Nearly 300 years later, the parental units (my mom and dad) were born into turmoil in Guatemala. Tyranny sprang from the oligarchy of territory where two percent of the population (non-indigenous people) owned 70 percent of the land. (Today the fight for preserving this territory is an issue that is still affecting the indigenous people of Central America and their land. It has led to the deaths of over 100 environmentalists since 2014 including, most recently, the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize-winner Berta Cáceres.)
It was around this time that my father became an orphan and my mother, the eldest of seven children in a single-parent household, put her academic career on a permanent hiatus. Life happens. By the mid-1970’s, my parents, discouraged by the lack of opportunities on their own land, fled to the U.S. and rolled the dice on the American Dream.
To my parents that dream meant that they had the opportunity to make a modest living that could help them raise a family in a safer environment. It was worth the risk of coming to America, even if the criminal climate in New York was considered dangerous to many Americans.
The only concern my parents felt they had, at the time, was that of deportation. It was a burden which was soon lifted off of their shoulders with the help of my older sister, whose birth allowed my parents to remain in the U.S. without the threat of being deported.
Obstacles remained for my parents as they struggled to find steady work. Raising a child as they attempted to familiarize themselves with the American culture wasn’t easy, either. They didn’t know, nor could they understand the English language. They had few family and friends who they could depend on, the crime rate in New York was sky high, and soon after my sister was born they were homeless after falling victim to the infamous Bronx Fires.
Once my family relocated to Manhattan they somehow made it work through the crack era, a second child (Me!), unemployment, robberies, health issues and life in general.
My parents were my age when they came to this foreign land, and I have the utmost respect for them and the decision they made. I don’t think I’d be able to relocate to a foreign land to start a family without having a job; without having any understanding of the culture or language; or without having a place to eat, sleep and shit. I’d be scrambling to get all of that in order before I would even consider learning about how to manage my finances. Add kids to this equation and most people would be fucked.
No wonder my parents lived check to check. They never fully grasped the idea of striving for financial independence. They never had that luxury when each dollar they earned was significant for survival. How could they teach me how to manage my money if all they knew was paying bills and spending the little that they had on material items? This was a classic scenario of the blind leading the blind.
It’s just too bad that it took so much time to realize how strongly and how long the odds had been stacked against myself and others in a similar or worse situation. I legitimately thought we all had an equal opportunity to be financially successful in America.
The truth is that some kids have the privilege to be trust fund babies who will never have to worry about money. Some kids are lucky enough to have hard working parents who can give them a little assistance. While others are appointed the burden that continues to perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
This is how I was raised. This is why I was destined to be broke. But it’s not going to stop me from trying to achieve financial independence.
So now that you know a part of my story, tell me…why are you broke?