Mom and Dad will survive. But me?

Gustavo Arellano


Kai Ryssdal: Those hoping the housing market had hit bottom found out otherwise today. A pair of reports showed both sales and prices continue to fall, though they are getting worse more slowly. That's promising for buyers who hope to get in on the American dream of home ownership at bargain basement prices. A dream that remains elusive for some. And commentator Gustavo Arellano says it probably will for a while.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO: This September marks the 20th anniversary of my parents realizing the American dream. In 1989, they scraped together their tomato-canner and truck-driver salaries, and bought a three-bedroom, two-bath, one-pool house in a nice Anaheim neighborhood. Soon, their friends did the same. My parents' generation of Mexicans came to this country with nothing, many of them illegally. My daddy in a trunk of a Chevy. Yet all of my uncles, aunts and their middle-aged Mexican immigrant friends are secure homeowners.

Me? I have a white-collar career, a master's degree from UCLA and no debt or children, but I can barely pay the rent on my one-bedroom apartment. Many of my Latino peers still live at home or room with friends, and will for the foreseeable future. We don't even have the option anymore, as we used to laughingly threaten, to move back to our ancestral Mexican villages. Gracias very mucho, drug cartels!

So we're left with this fact: The immigrants of my parents' generation will better weather this recession than their educated, assimilated American kids.

These older Mexicans aren't moving anywhere. They bought into the market when real estate was cheaper, when mortgages were affordable, and they make the payments. Layoffs don't mean much. Been there, done that, used cow chips as fuel in Mexico when times were truly tough. Even though my mother stopped working full-time a decade ago, and my father lost his trucking job last month, they're making it work. Mom cuts hair, dad cleans pools. She takes care of kiddies; he mows lawns. Have job opportunity, will show up two hours early.

Me? I'm a newspaper reporter. We all know the stability of that industry. The generational gap couldn't be wider.

My parents and their amigos came from an existence of nothing, an existence in which the sword of poverty dangled above families daily, teaching them to always prepare for the worst. My amigos and I, spoiled on the Reagan-era notion of faith in money, stand at the edge of economic despair with few tools for coping other than witty Facebook status updates. Mom, Dad and my tios y tias will survive. Me? That bunk bed I shared with my brother for 15 years is sure looking good.

Ryssdal:Gustavo Arellano is a staff writer for the OC Weekly. He writes the syndicated column "Ask a Mexican."

Log in to post3 Comments

Another point to consider is the location you are in. The major urban centers now compete with other major urban centers for having costs of living that are in a "class" of their own. An Atlantic Monthly article from a few years back suggested that without significant resources and level of education most can no longer afford to live in major urban areas.
If you want to live beyond the bunk bed and the one bedroom, you'd best take your degree, white collar career and move out of that high rent stretch from LA to SD.

It is surprising that the author can't see a connection between his parents and aunts and uncles and other illegal immigrants undercutting wages for the past 30 years and his own current predicament. If wages and unions and collective bargaining wasn't derailed by a population of people eager to work for a non-living wage with no rights and no health care or other benefits, maybe the floor wouldn't be so low, and a college educated individual would still be able to afford a mortgage in this country.

Without systematic study, I suspect that Arellano's situation closely mirrors the situation of others in his age cohort. I'm not convinced that immigrant parents are a factor at all.

With Generous Support From...