“Calladita te ves más bonita.” It translates to “You’re prettier when you keep your mouth shut” — and ugh! It makes my blood boil. If you’re Hispanic, you probably know the saying well. It’s so unfortunate how traditional it is in our communities for the father — or even just the oldest male relative — to have the greatest authority in a household. Women are expected to show submission.
I grew up in a loving household, first in Colombia, then, when we moved to the States, in Florida. The transition was not easy for my parents, who left the comfortable and the familiar for a new culture and language and so much hard work. My mom always motivated me to study and follow my dreams — she even managed most of our family’s finances. But as empowering a force as she was in my life, my dad still had the final say in most of our family decisions.
In over 40% of Hispanic households, women are the primary breadwinners for their families. But in this country, Latinas also experience the largest wage gap of any major racial or ethnic group, making just 57 cents to a non-Hispanic white man’s dollar. Even as women in our culture are increasingly responsible for our own financial well-being, men continue to be seen as the final decision-makers — and that belief has a serious ripple effect on us economically.
Unfortunately, the truth is, we’re behind when it comes to financial education. Many immigrants (and their children) are taught that investing means buying things you can see — things that'll keep their value for a rainy day, like gold or real estate. Discussions about bond or stock markets are uncommon. Psychologically, it’s understandable to only pursue financial opportunities in what you know, in what feels safe, especially if you’ve watched your parents struggle and sacrifice and burn out. When you’re constantly focused on short-term essentials, like putting food on the table, it can feel too risky to do things like invest in the stock market, or even something as simple as negotiating a salary or hourly wage, even if you also have long-term goals like owning your home.
But that mindset can be just as risky. Back in 2008, for example, my parents put their life savings into a home. Little did they know, this was the height of the housing crisis. The language barrier, combined with their newness to the American financial industry, led them to a predatory lender, who promised them a lower monthly mortgage payment for a fee. It was only later, when I was studying finance and wanted to review their mortgage documents, did I discover they’d unwittingly agreed to a balloon mortgage — a low monthly payment that also came with a $225,000 lump-sum bill at the end of the plan. My parents were devastated. Their belief that real estate was one of the only solid investments they could make is what made it easy for this lender to take advantage of them.
They were far from the only Hispanic family to fall victim to predatory lending — one 2016 analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Hispanic Americans were 78% more likely to have high-cost home mortgages than white Americans. Another from 2019 found that Hispanic homebuyers end up paying 43% more to close on a home loan than white applicants, plus 30% more in loan interest. So it’s not just financial literacy holding Hispanic people back economically — it’s also plain old racism.
The rocky road to financial leadership
Another reason Hispanic people struggle to get ahead: financial advisors who understand us and our needs are in painfully short supply. In 2020, we made up 18.4% of the total US population, but just 2.46% of CFP® Professionals. That’s partly why I became one.
Finance is a tough industry to break into, especially for women of color. Even with a formal education in finance, I still encountered plenty of adversity. The mansplaining I endured was never-ending. Recruiters couldn’t believe I’d been president of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance & Accounting at my university (I was the first woman in the role). And as the first woman investment analyst on one of the top teams at Merrill Lynch, I was still asked to get people coffee in meetings I was running. Even my upbeat attitude drew criticism — at one point, another woman pulled me aside and told me I needed to act more like a man if I wanted to get ahead.
But I couldn’t change who I am — my outlook is part of what makes me good at my job. I passed both my Series 7 and Series 66 as soon as I onboarded at Merrill, got my CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional certification , and became an expert in estate planning, wealth management strategies, and the development of personal financial plans, all to provide my clients the guidance I wish my family had received.
You don’t need to go it alone
As a daughter of immigrants, I get it. It’s not easy seeing your parents move to the United States, struggle to learn the language, and get taken advantage of simply because they didn’t have access to the right information or cultural context. It’s not easy to move beyond that cash-under-the-mattress mindset we were taught growing up, beyond the idea that we should focus on our household and leave the investing and wealth decisions to our partners. But you are not alone. My experience has taught me that the key to unlocking our financial confidence — and financial success — lies in overcoming those limiting beliefs.
My advice: Surround yourself with a financial team that understands you. Who you are, where you come from, what’s important to you, and where you want to go in your life. The right financial advisor(s) will be able to help you understand exactly what you are invested in, and why. They’ll know what money means to you and will act in your best interest no matter what. I know I, along with the rest of the Private Wealth Management team here at Ellevest, certainly do — and will.
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