Richer Than Mami? Ay, the Guilt!

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As more U.S.-born Latinas attain the American Dream and the financial freedom that comes along with it, they have to deal with the guilt of having more money than the immigrant parents who sacrificed all to help them thrive.

When Angelica Rios* is networking with her multimillion-dollar clients and the topic of her childhood comes up, she quickly changes the subject. Rios, a director of private wealth management at a major global bank, is careful to never reveal where she grew up or what her single mother still does for a living. Her mom, an orphan who immigrated to the United States from Honduras at age 18, raised Rios and her younger sister in one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Yonkers, N.Y. Abandoned by Rios’s biological father while still pregnant and without a formal education to fall back on, she turned to cleaning houses to support her two girls. Growing up, Rios didn’t think anything of it and often accompanied her mother as a teenager. It wasn’t until a high school boyfriend made a fuss about it that Rios began having issues with her class status.

“He said that he didn’t want his girlfriend cleaning houses. That I was better than that.” Although she felt it was her duty to help her mother, Rios shared the sentiment. “I thought he was right—I shouldn’t be cleaning houses. I was getting an education, I was going to graduate from high school and I was going to go to a good university. I was on track to have a career—that really shouldn’t be my place.”

Today, Rios, 36, is a successful banker who lives in one of the richest counties in the country. Even though her annual household income is close to half a million dollars, the perceived stigma of being the daughter of a poor, uneducated immigrant housekeeper still haunts her. She struggles to admit her true feelings and is moved to tears when she says, “I have a very different perception of who I am at work. I rarely talk about my past or my family. It’s definitely embarrassing, but it shouldn’t be. It’s not like she’s selling drugs or she’s a prostitute. She’s working really hard to make a living, but it is embarrassing—even now.”

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