Business students at Mi Casa Family Resource Center (l to r): Elena Vasconez, Luis Ramos, Ever Pizarro, Rosie Juarez, Luis Moreno, Patricia Lepiani, Beatriz Boulton. Credit: Lee Hill/Katharine Brenton
I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS has found that in some cases, gaps in income, home ownership and education are larger now than at the time of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. These findings have driven Colorado Public Radio’s “Losing Ground Series,” which examines the growing disparities between whites and minorities in Colorado. This series took reporters to those at the heart of these disparities and they turned to Mi Casa’s Éxito para Negocios (Business Success) class for insight.
Éxito para Negocios participants revealed immigrants face numerous challenges to starting a successful life in another country, which can result in economic struggle. In fact, on average for every dollar white families earn in Colorado, Latino families earn 50 cents. The challenges exposed in CPR’s discussion with Mi Casa are outlined below.
Lack of education can cause cyclical poverty.
“There is a cycle of poverty, often Hispanics earn less money because they have lower education,” said Patricia Lepiani, Mi Casa board member and president of The Idea Marketing. “When you don’t have much education, you cannot break the cycle of poverty.”
Mi Casa works to help immigrants and other struggling families overcome obstacles to success by providing opportunities for education and training, including business classes and counseling. But combating the barrier of education requires a community effort.
“We have to invest in education and parental engagement in their kids’ education,” said Patricia, explaining that immigrant parents are often unaware of how America’s educational system works or how to support their child’s education.
Education does not always transfer from one county to another, limiting the type and level of jobs immigrants are able to find.
“The American dream for me was freedom to live in a country where life is respected and to live without fear,” said Mi Casa business student and Venezuelan immigrant Beatriz Boulton. Beatriz left Venezuela to escape the country’s communist government and high prevalence of violence.
“Freedom is a very nice sensation, now I don’t have to be afraid that I will be killed just for my shoes, or for a cell phone,” said Beatriz. But she also said living in America hasn’t been a walk in the park.
“It has been hard for me to find a job at the same level as the one I had in Venezuela,” she said, explaining she discovered her marketing degree and job experience in Venezuela did not transfer over to America.
Elena Vasconez, director of Mi Casa’s Women’s Business Center, said Beatriz’s case far from an anomaly and many immigrants find their education is not validated by American employers.
The inability to speak English well inhibits many immigrants from gaining outside employment.
Lack of English skills drives many first generationers to start small businesses in order provide for their families. Often, taking the time to perfect their English to gain outside employment is not an option for immigrants with children.
“It’s hard to learn another language,” said Patricia, “When you have two kids at home you cannot wait five years to learn English well enough to get a job, you have to find one now.”
Prejudice and discrimination are still a reality for many immigrants.
“Many people believe that you not smart enough when you have an accent. I speak with an accent but I don’t think with an accent. My mind is brilliant,” said Patricia, who revealed many are surprised at her high educational attainment and career success due to her Hispanic heritage.
The mentality that Hispanics are second-level citizens can greatly affect economic and career success.
Luis Ramos, a Mexican immigrant who owns a concrete construction business, said discrimination has cost him jobs. He said though his estimates are typically the same or cheaper as white construction businesses, companies often choose white workers to do their jobs over minorities.
“One of the companies told me I do a much better job than the white guy, but we are going to give it to him,” said Luis.
Despite these obstacles, immigrants often display great strength and determination in the face of barriers and adversity.
“We can see the commitment of Mi Casa Business participants, for them it’s a matter of survival, it’s not a choice,” said Elena Vasconez, director of Mi Casa’s Women’s Business Center.
Beatriz explained the root of this determined commitment.
She said, “An immigrant has the power to believe and work harder than the people who were born in the country, we didn’t leave family, friends and a life in another country just to repeat the life we had.”
Do these reflections echo your own experiences, or do you have a different perspective? Share your thoughts at the CPR’s Public Insight Network.