Jan 2, 2012  •  In Finance, Personal, Relationships

Financial Hardships, and Being a Child of Immigrants

The media keeps telling us that the economy is getting better, that the unemployment rate is decreasing and that there are brighter days ahead.

In my parents’ circle, this is not the case.

Because from what I can see, 2011 has been the most difficult for small business owners, especially immigrant groups who rely on dry cleaners, nail salons, delis, and grocery stores — previously some of the most stable small businesses  — for their livelihood.

My mother tells me that in the 20+ years she’s been in the dry cleaning business, she has never seen it this bad.

Two of her close friends are in default on their mortgages. My aunt’s family recently had her home foreclosed. Everyone else is dipping into, and depleting their savings and retirement funds just to stay afloat.

And my parents? They are two of the most hard-working, frugal people I know. Their credit scores were both above 800 even just a year ago. The regulars at their stores love them and constantly tell me that I should be proud to have such great people as my parents.

But this past year, they have struggled tremendously. They too have cashed out their retirement funds. Their credit ratings have suffered as a result of all the loans they took out — in addition to the loans they have applied for and have been rejected from. They cannot sell their stores because no one is willing, or has the money to buy. They are in danger of losing both their stores as well as their house.


Despite their own financial hardships, my parents never cease giving. Here is my dad
presenting Claire with her first LEGO set. 

The most frustrating part about all of this — at least, in my small and selfish mind — is that my parents cannot speak good English. So it’s me and my sister who have to deal with the calls to the bank, the letters from collection agencies, and the endless amount of paperwork.

It’s even more exasperating that our parents still do not quite understand how the American system works. They are still accustomed to the Korean way, where you can plead your case to the bank manager and perhaps receive a pardon for the month. They do not understand why some companies refuse to take personal checks, even when accompanied by a bank statement that shows there is plenty of money in the account. They do not understand how the representatives of the companies they deal with can be so careless and even irresponsible with their clients’ accounts.

Moreover, they do not understand how the American dream, which they had been so certain they had already fulfilled, can disintegrate so suddenly.

My father’s health continues to deteriorate. My mother grows older and more haggard with every passing day. I wish that they could retire, but they no longer have the means to. I wish that I can help them out, but we are in no financial situation to do so either. If it weren’t for the girls, I would get a job making even $30,000 a year just so that I can help support the two people who have supported me for the first quarter-century of my life.

I ask my mother how she does it. How does she get up to go to work every day knowing that she will only continue to go into debt?

“We have hope for the future,” she tells me. “We hope that things will get better soon. We also have hope in you and your sister, and in Claire and Aerin…and we continue to work in hopes that you may all be more comfortable in the future.”

“Besides,” she continues. “There are people out there who are much worse than us. We still have so much to be thankful for.”

I turn away my head as she says this so that she cannot see the tears welling up in my eyes.

16 Responses to “Financial Hardships, and Being a Child of Immigrants”

  1. Heartbreaking. I can’t imagine going through such a hard time, though your mother’s outlook is inspiring. I can only say that I hope things get better for your parents soon.

  2. Rachel G:

    I am so sorry to hear that your family is going through this. My father’s small business is also rapidly disintegrating although because he works through online sales and trade shows the impact on him has been less devastating than that of your parents. I don’t care what “they” say — I also, in my experiences, have not seen the economic situation getting better for most people. You are a wonderful daughter for helping them the way you do. I know it must be frustrating dealing with banks and all the stress and worry in addition to your two sweet girls. As another commenter said, your mom is inspiring–she is losing her American dream but still believes and hopes for the future all while caring about the plight of others.

  3. Susan:

    Your parents are amazing and beautiful people. God bless your family… I pray He will carry them through this time.
    Their attitude and work ethic is really inspiring!
    Thank you for this beautiful post.

  4. I hope that things can get better in this economy for your parents. What your mother said had me tearing up.

  5. Di:

    How heartbreaking. I’m so sorry to hear what your parents are going through.

  6. I pray that things improve soon for your family. Hugs xox

  7. Jenny, I’m so sorry. It is so tough to see your parents struggling for any reasons, but it is even more upsetting when it is due to financial reasons. I just feel like when you’ve worked this hard throughout your life, you deserve just to coast through and it is so frustrating when that doesn’t happen.

  8. raggedy-anne:

    my siblings and i, we’re also immigrants’ kids. please take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone! i know exactly what you mean when you say you feel the frustration in having to deal with the bureaucracy and the endless phone calls and paperwork. it’s the absolute worst especially when you get those automated phone responses that have you selecting options that apply to you, only to have you wait and wait.

    hang in there! there is light at the end of the tunnel. if not, know that your fans will at least shine a flashlight for you :)

  9. What a heartbreaking yet inspiring (your mother’s words) post – wishing for light at the end of the tunnel in this situation. Hugs!

  10. Helene:

    reading this has my eyes teared up. you have the greatest parents and that’s a blessing =)

  11. You are so lucky to have such amazing parents. It sounds like they did a great job on you :) And your girls are probably the most loved grandbabies on the planet!

  12. I’m so sorry to hear about your parents, and your deep desire to make it all go away, all better for them really resonated with me. It’s always been the hardest thing in the world for me to see my parents’ pain. When my dad lost his job when I was a junior in college, I literally had stomach pain thinking about my lovable, goofy, kind, nuclear physicist father humbling himself everyday in his search for a job and taking on odd jobs like substituting and other odd jobs to make all the ends meet.

    My thoughts are with your parents! I admire them, from afar.

  13. oh i wish with all my heart that things were easier for your parents. it sounds like they have amazing perspective on the situation, and i hope things turn around soon.

  14. So, so, sad. My parents, too, are small business owners and they haven’t seen the turnaround people seem to be talking about it. It makes me feel so helpless that we aren’t in a position to help out the people that helped me out so much. :(

  15. Oh Jenny I’m just seeing this and it’s breaking my heart. I teared up at your Mom’s words too! I too worry so much about my parents’ retirement and older years… it’s so hard. Hoping things will turn around for your family really soon!

  16. I’m so sorry to hear of your parents’ troubles. My own mother lost her home and retirement savings years ago due to health problems and a messy divorce, and I know how cruel it can be to find yourself in a place very different from where you imagined you would be in your “golden years” of life. It’s especially hard to look around to friends and others who still HAVE that comfortable retirement and think “why not me?”, so glad to hear your mom is keeping such a positive outlook. Good luck to you all.

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