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Here's What We Really Do With Our Paychecks
By Maria Padilla
January 23, 2002
One of the best-kept secrets about Hispanics is the amount of money they send to family members still living in their home countries.
It's a lot of money, about $20 billion last year alone, with the largest amounts going to Mexico ($6.7 billion) and the Dominican Republic ($1.74 billion).
A report by the Inter-American Development Bank shows the amount of remittances dropped considerably after Sept. 11. This hurt many countries that have come to rely on the money transfers.
For instance, Mexico's almost $7 billion is the country's third-largest source of revenue, roughly equal to its tourism revenue. A lot of families in small villages, which are practically devoid of jobs, depend on money their relatives send home.
Many analysts lamented the decline in remittances, which resulted from the worsened recession.
But I also saw something else.
I began to wonder what the Hispanic community could do with $20 billion more to spend in the United States.
After all, that $20 billion is equivalent to about 4 percent of Hispanic annual spending in the United States, which this year is expected to top $500 billion nationwide for the first time.
Think of the homes that could be bought, boosting ownership rates. Think of the college educations that could be financed, boosting not only learning but also standards of living.
Think of the cozier retirements many Hispanics could look forward to, including better health care. Think of the new businesses that could be launched, creating an even larger entrepreneurial class.
It's pretty heady stuff . . . if only.
Then I came down to Earth. This scenario is unlikely. Hispanic immigrants, like many immigrants before them, are known for sacrificing their own immediate comforts to improve the lives of family members, wherever they may be.
It would be considered sacrilegious to do otherwise. That's why Salvadorans send home $1.58 billion; Ecuadoreans, $1.25 billion; Peruvians, $819 million; and Colombians, $612 million. Cuba wasn't included in the report, but other sources have put those remittances at between $800 million and $1 billion annually.
Puerto Rico also is not reflected because it's a U.S. territory. Sending money to Puerto Rico is the same as sending it to Indiana. In other words, it stays within the U.S. economy.
Still, these are amazing sums of money -- amounts that ought to impress upon the general public that Hispanic immigrants are more affluent than they may appear.
That fern worker who seems down on his luck is sending money home. He may drive an outdated car or have no transportation at all, but he is supporting his wife and children, possibly even his parents, back home.
Many immigrants may wear threadbare clothes, but rest assured, the family back home has clothes on its back.
Many immigrants live packed in small apartments or homes, but the money going back home is helping to build many dream homes.
In fact, if wire transfer businesses open in your neighborhood, that's a sure sign that you have immigrant newcomers.
Now you know how Hispanic immigrants spend their money, and why many are drawn to the United States. Work is plentiful here -- yes, even during a recession. And improving their socioeconomic status is a real possibility.
That's the American dream, Latino style.