Work and Money
Listen: First-Gen Immigrant Women Really Need Your Help
First-generation immigrant women like me face unique financial stresses. We go to American schools and are taught certain cultural norms that differ from what our parents and elders have learned. Navigating those differences as well as often having to help keep our families afloat financially can make it difficult to amass wealth. Additionally, we may not get paid what we are worth because we haven’t been exposed to the mainstream middle-class financial culture. Here are some factors that cause some financial hurdles for first-generation immigrant women and how these things can be navigated:
Many cultures around the world expect women, especially eldest daughters, to handle a significant portion of the day-to-day tasks American-born parents normally outsource or do themselves. Taking care of siblings, translating during doctor’s appointments, understanding bank statements, or filling out college/university financial forms are often things first-generation immigrant women are responsible for. Growing up, I had many friends who were expected to do chores their brothers were not to partake in. They were also often expected to look after men in their families when their mother wasn’t home.
Many first-generation immigrants — regardless of their sex or gender — contribute to family expenses and/or send remittances to relatives in their home country. First-generation immigrant women may also be expected to take time off work to care for relatives, all of which can affect their finances, time, or work prospects.
2Lack of Social Capital
People often surround themselves with others like them, and this can be a disadvantage for first-generation immigrant women who seek better-paying jobs. For example, working at a white collar job can feel like a major culture shift for someone who only knows adults who worked blue collar jobs. Going to college to increase social capital may pose an additional challenge as first-generation immigrant students may need extra help signing up for tests like the ACT or SAT, filling out forms such as the FAFSA, and applying. For these reasons, there are special barriers first-generation immigrants face when it comes to ascending a class status.
3Issues with Financial Literacy
Immigrant families often save money and make do by spending less than they earn. This is sound financial advice for anyone, but first-generation immigrant women may have access to wealth-building tools they can use that their parents didn’t. For example, 401(K)s, FSA’s, IRA, Roth IRA, and brokerage accounts may feel new and confusing, and aren’t always understood by their parents who then won’t be able to pass down this knowledge. Creating a budget can be nerve-wracking for people who suddenly earn more money than their parents. Learning to invest and save is a journey they may have to navigate alone, and while this is a good problem to have, it can still be stressful.
4Sexism in the Workplace
The salaries of women of color have been a hot topic that has been addressed through various means, such as Equal Pay Days and studies. Sexism at work not only means that women face a wage gap, but that they may also be expected to perform emotional labor and other unpaid tasks, such as bringing coffee, cleaning up after meetings, or planning office parties. Women of color may also face more policing when it comes to their appearance, causing them to spend more money in order to comply with office department requirements.
Navigating These Hurdles
Thankfully, all is not lost. Credit unions servicing marginalized communities have often stepped up to help clients gain financial literacy. Social media is also becoming a useful tool to learn about budgeting and investing responsibly, and how to negotiate for a better salary. Twitter hashtags such as #EqualPayDay and #GiveWomenYourMoney have opened up discussions about the pay disparities all women face — including first-generation immigrant women.
Financial health can also have an impact on the mental health of first-generation immigrant women, and many culturally competent therapists and mental health advocates have created grants, support groups, and come up with other ways to help first-generation immigrants strengthen their relationship with money.
For my part, I’ve had to unlearn unhealthy behaviors surrounding work. I now talk about rates with other writers, have invested heavily in learning how to read work contracts, and keep better track of my milestones so I can consider these when negotiating pay. It hasn’t been easy, but starting conversations has helped immensely. I too watch a lot of videos, listen to podcasts, read books, and have joined support groups. Little by little, I’ve learned to lean on financial and de-stressing tools for support. Supporting and giving each other a voice is often a great, simple first step.