Building Latino Trust in Banking

Vicky reflects on her experience as a second generation Mexican-American and how her culture plays a role in the way her family and her Hispanic heritage view banking and how both can begin to build trust.

Hola, me llamo Victoria y yo soy second generation Mexican-American.

Quiero compartir a part of my financial culture that is not often spoken about but is a story that many of those of Hispanic heritage will also relate to. In our community you learn from an early age to hide your cash and that the goal is to stay afloat. Our talents were shared among family and friends rather than identifying ways to monetize those skills and ways to make money through the things we’re passionate about. In this tight-knit community that focuses on traditions, it’s hard to break through those learned financial habits to fit the world we’re currently living in. Hard, but not impossible, and incredibly important. It can seem overwhelming to start that financial journey when all you know are the struggles of those that came before, but you really only need to focus on three steps.

Step 1: Set goals.

Step 2: Identify barriers.

Step 3: Crush them.

When I was younger,

my mom would hide her money inside the pocket of her fanciest jacket in the closet. I always wondered why she did that, so one day I decided to ask her about it.

"I would rather one of you (me and my siblings) find it and spend it on helado than have it stolen from someone I don't know."

My father would come home from working a long day of landscaping, take his boots off, and ask my youngest sibling to bring the jar from the closet where he would throw his money.

"Solo confia en tu familia, hijos.” Trust only your family.

Most people growing up in America might assume that what my mother meant by “having it stolen” was that a common thief might break into your home and search the drawers. In this case, the “someone” that she and my father felt couldn’t be trusted was a financial institution.

Growing up with these thoughts rooted in your head, you didn't plan to save for college; you didn't learn how to budget for things you needed. It was our culture to only trust each other and to avoid giving your hard-earned money to a bank or credit union. With about 10% of Hispanics in the US having no bank account, it’s clear that lack of trust in financial institutions still exists. It’s a learned experience passed down through generations.

Another barrier in the Hispanic community is language.

I was 7 years old when I started translating for my parents, and if you were a translator for your family, you know how complicated it could get. But again, it was so difficult to break this cultural taboo because nuestra gente feel marginalized when opening accounts. There’s a major breakdown in communication which leads to both sides of the conversation feeling awkward and, us as customers, feeling alienated as anything other than a priority.

Both of my parents have always been the type of creative hard-workers that are passionate about their work. For Mom, that passion has always been cooking. You can taste it in the comida sabrosa she makes every day. From tamales to pozole, the woman can make it all, and though I may be showing some bias, her cooking is the best. For Dad, the passion is in creating detailed designs with his landscaping projects. Even after his cancer diagnosis in 2019, he continues his work by making planters and arrangements.

My parents are experts at what they do,

but even still, they were missing a piece of this financial success puzzle. Although my father could create beautiful scenery that would have doors swinging open for his business, he wasn’t confident enough in the safety of the financial system to set up his own business. Although my mother could cook a meal fit for royalty, she didn’t feel safe in pursuing her dreams of opening a food truck. The system wasn’t built with people like mi familia in mind, and the cultural barriers seemed too cemented to break through.

When I was a teenager, my middle school even offered a motivational class for parents wanting to learn how to start a business. One of the first trips was to visit a bank and ask about a personal loan to help initiate their project. I remember my mother being so afraid of going into the bank that her entrepreneurial spark was extinguished before it could even ignite. I started to really see their perspective better around this time. I was more open-minded about banking in America, but that distrust was so ingrained within me that I still felt disconnected and that my money was only safe con la familia.

In my previous blog, I share my experience in finding a bank and about how in opening an account with the first one I saw, I never got that personal, positive connection. Instead, I got fee charges and a lack of financial education on how to avoid them or how to improve my situation.

It made me wonder if my parents had always been right.

What has always made me proud about mi cultura is the strength of spirit and support I have always had. As I got older and started working and building my own family, I knew that I had to find a way to break the cycle. I took that spirit of resilience of my Mexican heritage and flipped the status quo. There was another way to deal with money that didn’t involve hiding it in clothes or secret crevices around the house, and I was determined to claim it. I started by finding a credit union that met MY needs instead of just their own. Once I felt the  credit union cared about me as more than a number, I started to become comfortable keeping my money in the account. The next step was building trust enough to start building a savings account and being able to budget for long-term plans.

According to the Federal Reserve, 23% of the US Hispanic community currently has  insufficient access to banking. We still have a long way to go to make banking more accessible to all people. As in any relationship, trust is earned by how we’re treated by others, but we also need to allow ourselves to develop that trust and speak out when we feel underserved. With nearly 61 million Hispanic Americans, we have more power than ever to make our voices heard.

Share with us what we can do to make banking more accessible for all of our communities across southern Arizona. Visit us on our website or any of our social media platforms to submit your questions or suggestions.

September 30, 2021

Published by SunWest Credit Union

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