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Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King’s Day: Which “DREAM” is dying in America?

Today, Martin Luther King’s dream seems more unreachable than ever, and his aspirations for a more equal and inclusive society feels like a defeat in light of recent events in Washington DC. But is Dr. King’s Dream really the one that is dying?

Martin Luther King

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Photo By Yoichi Okamoto – Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Image Serial Number: A1030-17a. http://www.lbjlibrary.net/collections/photo-archive/photolab-detail.html?id=222, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1303469)

Thirty years ago, we moved to the United States seeking stability and a promise that our individual efforts would pay off to a better life for me and my children. We were tired of years of turmoil and unrest, violence and submission to anti-democratic regimes that took away our willingness to fulfill our dreams. We painfully left our family and friends believing that it was the right decision for our family.

When we decided to try the American Dream instead, little we knew that in the United States, the American Dream works if you meet certain conditions. The famous words of the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness” only works if you are white, or rich or educated in America -and even those conditions don’t work in all cases.

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds. Martin Luther King’s Speech “I Have a Dream”

After all those years of sacrifice, and working tirelessly to get ahead as immigrants and Latinos, we saw in dismay the assault to the Capitol by thousands of angry Americans who firmly believe there has been an attack to “their” democracy and voting rights.

It felt unreal. And then again, it was not.

Storming of the US Capitol, Martin Luther King

2021 Storming of the US Capitol (By Tyler Merbler – https://www.flickr.com/photos/37527185@N05/50812356151/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98641393)

Moreover, over 74 million people in this country voted for a President that has been the epitome of deceit and discrimination, enraging large portions of the population into believing that they have been left behind.

An they have been left behind, not by one party or by one government.

They are being left behind by history, and by economic forces that care little about their well-being. Donald Trump is just a messenger, a great marketer who was able to pack those pain points in the most successful branding campaign in the political history of this country.

Being left behind by history, the loss of the “White American Dream”

The U.S. population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, in numbers and its behavior. Minorities have reached new records in history. Latinos have now become the first majority minority, interracial marriage and births have grown at a fast pace -especially among post-Millennial generations-, immigration is now growing at a higher pace in the second and third generation of  the US born than from those coming from abroad, and women and minorities are flooding into a college education.

Americans have mixed views about how the country might change when minorities make up a majority of the population. Not everybody thinks it will be best for the country or for themselves.

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.” Martin Luther King’s Speech “I Have a Dream”

And social media has opened a window of opportunity for the country -and the world- to see how we as Americans behave in different circumstances. We cannot hold truth to our values of freedom and democracy, the “White American Dream”-which has certainly justified one too many interventions in foreign countries-;  we cannot judge other governments as anti-democratic or anti-human rights regimes when we show and brag on social media our darkest behavior in police brutality and assault to the nation’s site of government during an electoral process procedure.

Lastly, the archetypical American messages of “freedom” and “justice” have always been paired with “at any cost,” or “it’s not free,” or “by your own hands.”

From Westerns movies in the past to today’s normalization of injustice on popular crime TV series and the media, Americans are bombarded with messages that poison their minds into believing that “if it’s on TV, it must be true.”

The vivid power of images engages the brain in perceiving a “parallel reality” that might not even exist in the real world -a human brain feature that has been used by storytellers since the dawn of times. The brain has limited processing resources and relies on filtering mechanisms that process some external events at the expense of others. Those filtering mechanisms… well, they are acquired in childhood and with our life experiences, which brings us to the topic of poverty.

Westerns

Clint Eastwood in the Dollars Trilogy (marketed as “the Man with No Name” (By movie studio – eBay, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25888150)

Poverty and the economic forces behind the White American Dream

When you think “the poor,” or “poor people,” what image comes to mind? Men or women? White or Black of Hispanic? Old or young?

You probably do not think of yourself or your church’s friends, or even people who live down the block from you. Poverty is something that happens to people who do not work hard enough or do not save enough or they do not manage their finances in a reasonable way.

And then the pandemic hits and you lose your job or your business. You have some savings for maybe three months or have credit card debt or student debt because you thought an education will get you ahead.

Your rent or your mortgage payments fall behind, maybe your car payments or other lower priorities because your family needs food and heating and a connection to cable so the children can do home schooling.

You are now “officially poor.”

In 2018, the poverty threshold in the United States was defined at $25,000 or less for a four-person household earning but that means “abject poverty.” Main factors in being “officially poor” include place of birth and age, a person’s race, even their level of education and the role models they have seen at home.

Their health, family and their citizenship status are also big components of poverty in America, the so-called “richest country in the world,” which by 2019 had almost 11 million children living in poverty -and many were homeless.

“Most Americans fall into at least one of these conditions, while some might fit several. And while we might not think of ourselves as “poor people,” none of us are immune to poverty, now more than ever due to the pandemic and the economic crisis.

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.

“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” Martin Luther King’s Speech “I Have a Dream”

From there to here, when the “White American Dream” started to die?

The 3% of the richest population in America has grown 10 years in a row.

So, you start wondering why you have become poor while three percent of your American neighbors have grown super rich for the 10th year in a row. What are you doing wrong?

The economic disarray and vulnerability in which over 80% of the population in America lives today started in the eighties with the policies of “Reaganonics” that destroyed the American middle class, created the super wealthy, and paved the way for Trumpism, some economists agree.

After years of economic loss and feeling more vulnerable than ever, the American middle class is angry at everything and anything: immigrants, Blacks, China, you name it, Trump has brought it up. And fear brings the worst out in all of us -you flee or you fight.

Which brings us back to the recent events in DC on January 6.

You might be interested: La cultura de la pobreza, a stigma in minority communities

How we mend a “sick social body”

Somehow, we have all created the enemy from within, even those of us who believe in civil rights, social rights, equity and equality. We have created the enemy from within, the inside censor that prevents us to speak freely. “You don’t talk about politics or religion in any social encounter,” was one of the first warnings I learned from American culture.

We have come to think of others as a “basket of deplorables,” or people who “worship Satan and traffic children for sex,” both sides dropping a number of despicable offenses to each other including verbal and physical bullying and threats.

This is not the country I moved in 30 years ago, and the country I want for my American born granddaughters. As we teach them about their Latino roots, our past and our origin, we also help them understand that communication is key in a world that is getting sicker with hate and blame every day.

Because the real fight is not on the streets but forever in our minds and in our hearts. The love for people and country sits with us at the kitchen table every night. It may sound simple and it may look unimportant, but each word that comes out of our mouths in front of our children has the power to impact their minds, and that is no little task.

“We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time… Martin Luther King’s Speech “I Have a Dream”

You might be interested: How systemic racism is costing the U.S. trillions

 

 

 

 

 

savings 401K plan

Understanding how your 401(k) plan protects your children

savings 401K plan

It is culturally accepted that Latino children should take care of their aging parents; however, due to the last Great Recession creating high unemployment rates and the escalating cost of higher education, our children are facing already difficult challenges in taking care of themselves and starting their families. There is little room in that picture to fulfill the needs of aging parents.

Latino families used to have –and many still do– unspoken natural agreements in which grandma –or sometimes grandpa– would live at home to take care of the little ones and do home chores while the young couple would be working out of the house. Moving to another country, though, might have changed those rules. Our children move around for work or college, our extended family is not so extended any more –I know this because in the United States, my side of the family is my son and I, with a marvelous daughter-in-law and two adorable granddaughters.

Moreover, many aging Latinos live under the levels of poverty, depending exclusively on Social Security and their families to get by. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that older Latinos experience double the poverty rate than the general U.S. population age 65 and older, are more likely to rely on social security than other older adults, but are less likely to be eligible for social security benefits.

 

culture of poverty Latinos and social security

You can read, “La cultura de la pobreza, a stigma in minority communities.”

 

 

On the other hand, Latino families are many times compressed by the burden of an extended family sharing one roof, and the increasing cost of supporting two, even three generations with just a couple’s income. If you are in that situation, you are what I call the “sandwich generation.” You feel responsible for your parents but you have your priorities with your children. Been there, done that!

So I encourage you to start thinking a little about yourself and try to avoid this same conflict to your children. They already are facing a tough world out there! To start, let’s say you are working for a medium or large size company, and you have access to savings through a 401(k) plan. (If your company is smaller you might have access to a similar plan under a different name.) You never really paid attention to it because you take every penny you can home but now I encourage you to do.

What is a 401(k) plan?

According to CNN Money, “a 401(k) plan is a retirement plan offered to you through your employer. 401(k)s are the most common kind of defined contribution retirement plan.”

“Here’s how it works: You decide how much you want to contribute, and your employer puts the money into your individual account on your behalf. The investment happens through payroll deduction: You decide what percentage of your salary you’d like to contribute and, from then on, that amount comes straight out of your paycheck and goes into your account automatically, without you having to lift a finger. Your paycheck will be smaller as a result – though not as small as you might think, thanks to the tax benefits involved,” CNN Money explains.

In truth, there are a few benefits attached to this “forced savings plan.” You could be taking advantage of the benefits most plans include such as employer incentives, tax savings, and easy contributions. It is not that complicated once you understand the benefits, and it might not cost as much money as you think –in fact, you determine how much you want to save–, money that would eventually multiply overtime.

These are some of the benefits you want to find out if your company is offering:

  • Employer incentives: Companies typically offer these plans to encourage employees to stay in their jobs, and offer incentives for those participating in the plan. Companies sometimes match your participation up to a certain level. Not doing it is like giving up a portion of your paycheck!
  • Tax savings: You can save on taxes because you make a pre-tax contribution to most plans, which reduces your federal taxable income. You do not pay taxes on this money until you withdraw it many years later –and depending on your age and income, it will be a much lower tax rate.
  • Easy contribution: The plans are usually easy to contribute to. The money comes from your salary before it goes into your paycheck. You decide how much you want to contribute, and it goes directly into the plan after each paycheck you receive.

The numbers

As of 2014 (last year), you could contribute up  to $17,500 per year if you were less than 50 years old. If you were older than 50 you could contribute up to $23,000. Remember, every dollar you put in reduces your federal taxable income by the same amount.

This money is for your future and, eventually, to help your children at a difficult time. Even not being a burden is a way of helping them!

If take-home money is of concern, you might want to have a conversation with your family about it and plan your budget carefully so it will include these savings for your future. Then talk to your manager or human resource office to find out what options you have today.

Do not feel selfish for saving for your future. These plans and the laws that protect them were established to help aging Americans to have a well-deserved peace of mind after a lifetime of hard work.  Understanding why and making the decision to contribute today is one of the first steps towards avoiding stress and concerns in the future. There is not greater satisfaction than knowing you will take care of yourself when you’ll need it the most.

Thanks to Anthony Privetera, Financial Advisor at Morgan Stanley, for his guidance on writing this article.

Saving for life events

   You can read, “Financial planning a must to face life events”

 

culture of poverty Latinos and social security

La cultura de la pobreza, a stigma in minority communities

When I woke up this morning to the elections’ results, I remembered this concept of “la cultura de la pobreza” or culture of poverty, a theory that anthropologist Oscar Lewis developed in the 60s. I am a girl of the 70s, the time when everything seemed possible, and younger people might not remember but back then we gained a lot of terrain in women’s rights, civil rights and human rights.

culture of poverty

The culture of poverty is associated with race, age and gender in the US. (Photo Credit Free Commons)

In his work, Lewis mentioned some seventy characteristics distinctive of the culture of poverty, and he argued that:

“The people in the culture of poverty have a strong feeling of marginality, of helplessness, of dependency, of not belonging. They are like aliens in their own country, convinced that the existing institutions do not serve their interests and needs. Along with this feeling of powerlessness is a widespread feeling of inferiority, of personal unworthiness.”

Among other characteristics, the original theory described poor people as having distrust in institutions –police and government–, as strongly oriented to live in the present, and having little interest in planning their future.

The concept was introduced in American politics by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965, the assistant labor secretary during the Johnson administration, who described the urban black family as incapable of escaping the cycle of poverty, and the makers of their own bad by transmitting those values from one generation to the next. The same has been argued for other sectors of low-income and minority populations.

culture of poverty

Carol B Stack, Emeritus Professor at UC Berkeley (Photo credit UC Berkeley website)

The theory was harshly criticized for blaming the poor for being poor and for developing ways to cope with poverty. Anthropologist Carol B. Stack criticized the theory saying that this explanation was political in nature, and that it served conservative interests.

The truth is, whatever comes first, the egg or the chicken, the American ethos –the belief that freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and that upward social mobility is only achieved through hard work – has done a good job at reinforcing these ideas. Those who fail to make it have only to blame themselves because they do not make enough effort or they do not take advantage of opportunities.

In addition, large sums spent in pounding these ideas while discouraging people to have a saying only help to continue the status-quo.

Conservative strategies have proven time after time that they do not favor the interests of the working poor. While they continue to oppose decent minimum wages that would help families rise from the claws of poverty, keep undermining the chance for large parts of the immigrant population access to a lawful participation in the working and political life of this country, and avert the access of low-income people to higher education, to public healthcare and to better economic opportunities, the culture of poverty will continue to persist.