5.02.2012

On Sending Money Home

For those of you who are of African and Asian descent, living in the West, you're more than likely familiar with the practice of sending money home to relatives.  What I am about to discuss is from an African perspective; our Asian siblings can feel free to compare and contrast.  When this practice initially began, it was husbands sending money home to their wives and children.  Then as more women branched out into the West, it was parents primarily sending money home to their children.  Then as more immigrants bore and raised their kids in the West, money was primarily sent home to wizened old parents and siblings who were still very young.

It was an honorable practice, at least in the beginning.  The original intent was to support the family and build it up.  Which meant no excuses about going to school or buying land or even starting a business.  The whole point was to move people forward.

The practice is still going on, but I've noticed something with some Africans who receive money from relatives in the West.  They're not doing anything with their lives.

They're not tilling farms or even cultivating small gardens to supplement the family's food supply.  They're not going to school, even though a few hundred dollars here is a year's worth of college tuition there.  They're not starting businesses.  What they are doing, however, is having kids they can't afford while sitting and waiting for relatives abroad to cut them a check.

Sound familiar?

The roommate and I were discussing whether or not the practice of sending money home is becoming outdated.  It's not having the same impact it used to; in fact, in some ways, it's making things worse.  My roommate, for example, reports that when relatives call her - and some call all the time - she already knows they want money.  They don't ask how she is or what she's up to; some probably don't even know what she does for a living, where she lives, or even her marital status.  All they know is that she lives in America, and they want their cut.  They feel like because you live in a Western country - or were born in one - you automatically "owe" them, and that they shouldn't have to work hard because they're not in the West.

Seriously.

I've noticed also noticed sense of entitlement.  For example, some Africans living here are very selective about whom they send money to.  If you are young and able-bodied, you're not getting a check.  However, if you are old enough to remember colonial rule, there's a good chance some grandchild or great-grandchild is sending you money every month.  And here's where things get really awful; a lot of these old-timers don't speak English or French very well and can't go collect the money themselves.  They have to send someone they can trust and every so often, a relative will "intercept" that money and spend it all on themselves.  These are usually the ones with no jobs and no schooling, but they have a bunch of kids.  They take that unearned money without shame or hesitation, which often puts elderly relatives in dire straights.

Another problem is resentment.  Some of you have met Africans who have left Africa, and when I say left I mean "left".  Like many African immigrants, they are ambitious and well-educated.  But they're looking only for white spouses, and they have no intention of ever returning home or speaking to their relatives.  Some of these are Africans who think that because they're not living in America in a big house, driving a Ranger Rover, and talking on an iPhone while sipping coffee from Starbucks, they're not living "a good life."  They are the ones easily lured by shiny things, and they will sell their kin down the river for them.

This begets Africans who've given up entirely on their relatives.  Because their families have not set an appropriate example in terms of hard work and building the family up, they've given up hope not just on their kin, but Africans overall.  They think that people outside of Africa aren't having these problems.  These are the ones who think a "white" life will be better, so they move to the first Western country they can find, marry the first white person who will have them, and cut all ancestral ties - cultural, familial, and linguistic.

What annoys me is that a lot of Africans living here aren't living as well as their relatives assume.  We don't all have six-figure salaries and big houses, and education in America is ridiculously expensive.  Sending money home isn't as easy as it used to be, but the Africans living at home and expecting their money don't know, don't care, and wouldn't even believe you if you tried to explain the economic situation.

Meanwhile, the economies in Africa are ironically booming, showing unprecedented growth since the pre-colonial era.  Just like many Asian Americans are packing their bags and heading home, many Africans are returning home to build businesses.  There's opportunity now that wasn't there before.

I tend to cite my roommate's mother as an exemplary businesswoman.  She's older, with grandkids, but she's a millionaire in Kenya.  She didn't come from money; in fact, her family experienced extreme poverty.  She has a 7th grade education; her own parents were completely illiterate.  She tried to establish a business 8 times before she succeeded in establishing her empire.  She works non-stop to this day, and accomplished this long before the economy in Kenya became what it is today.

And she did all this as an unmarried mother of three, completely unheard of her in tribe.

So when I talk to Africans who are stressing about sending what little money they have home, I want to tell them to just stop.  This isn't the old days; one person's salary is not solely responsible for dozens of relatives.  Some Africans here - after sending pretty much all their money home - have to borrow from friends and relatives just to pay rent.  They're in debt, and they have no savings, no retirement.  It makes no sense to me, especially since they've been sending money to the same people, year after year, without witnessing one stitch of progress.

For those of you familiar with this custom, what are your thoughts?  For those of you blinking at this post, what are your questions?

19 comments:

  1. I think there is a similar problem in the US, in which various members of extended family will live in one household while one member supports all of the others. It seems that in situations of poverty, the sole family member who has "made it" is immediately responsible for the financial support of the others.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes.
    Sending money isn't the only outdated practice, there is also the coveted citizenship. Uprooting a family from the tropical agrigarian/metros of VN to the cookie-cutter suburbs of CA is an instant recipe for disaster, depression, suicide, etc. Some of the most dysfunctional people I know are refugees or relatives of refugees who were brought over afterward.

    Some of our family in VN make more money than my American parents. They're able to send multiple kids abroad for school, yet my parents and their American dollars are expected to pay for any and all family outings, dinners and vacations. My parent's pain of losing their country will never be recognized over there. Their night-shifts, odd jobs, endurance of racism and all such obstacles that displaced immigrants face here will never be recognized. They just want that new iPhone. And a new computer too.

    Money sent to grandpa gets waylaid. The only couriers my parents trust now are other VN-Americans.

    I haven't observed that any VNese are giving up on themselves, though they do suffer from colorism. I'm not sure if this colorism was something we learned from being colonized for so long, by the Chinese (fair-skinned snow people as opposed to us tropical jungle, sun-burnt, half-naked SEAsians), force-fed French whiteness, or American media whiteness. Yes, it's all of the above but like everything, it's complicated. Sry, I've digressed.

    Good? Bad? I don't know. Free money = ugly? Yea.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm familiar with this custom through my friends from Mexico. One of my friends came over to work and send money back to his ailing mother. It takes him weeks to make the money for her medicine back in Mexico but here it takes him 2 to 3 days. Another friend (this sounds like a movie plot) came over because her younger brother was kidnapped and she needed fast money. She sends money back as she makes it. I have so many stories to tell.

    Ironically many of my friends are going back home because the economy is getting so bad here that they see no point being here away from family for just a few more dollars. I'll miss them, but they always promise me a place to stay in Mexico if I ever need it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The same mentality plagues us in Jamaica. You have those who think that Family Member A must be living the good life since they're in 'foreign;, and turn into the biggest set of parasites on that poor soul's skin. It's even worse if said family member lives in the UK, as the pound is worth a lot of money here (Canadian being a close second). Never mind that their overseas kin is likely working four/five jobs under trying conditions to earn said currency; they want to sit here and live off of them. Oh, and ask if they don't have inflated demands, too!

    ReplyDelete
  5. anonymousJ

    I have noticed how hard so many of the people who come here from places like Africa work to make it, and also at considerable sacrifice to themselves send money home to family. I also noticed that at times it was pretty burdensome for the people who are here.

    ReplyDelete
  6. During these hard economic times, the idea of the American Dream is now a lie.

    Not too long ago, there was a topic on here on who American children of at immigrant parents was leaving to live in their folks homeland. Some of my brothers friends and even some of my American friends are so dismayed about the states that they are moving to other countries because the US isn't what it was in the past. A friend of my mine who is from Senegal was showing me some CD's of his trip in his homeland. He was also discussing about what 1700 dollars could get you there. I don't know how true it was,but judging the his CD's, it made me want to live there. Eventually,he got the real picture of the states and he wishes to live in his homeland.

    Maybe they could have said that they lived the good life in the past,but not now. What some of them may see, may not always be what they get. When the US has a financial debt to China, you know just how " prosperous" we truly are.

    ReplyDelete
  7. There are people still asking for money back home? I mean I'm more used to folks in Nigeria asking their family abroad not to send them money, but to buy them stuff, like cars, houses, they are not pretending that they need/want the money to set up businesses and stuff. This is what happens when people get used to charity, and are living under capitalism.

    I'm young and sheltered so nobody is going to be asking me for money when I'm out of the country but I've seen many family members who go through this. When I paid a visit to my aunt in Connecticut, she was in the process of avoiding calls from my great-uncle who wanted a little something to celebrate his 80th birthday. She told me that people were hounding her for money even when she wasn't doing so well in the USA.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This hits a very close and personal spot for me. Let's see if I can do this without breaking down into an incoherent mess of rage and frustration:

    What I am noticing among so many Africans of my parent's generation is that women are commonly the higher income earner in the household. It's the case for my parents. I also notice that among some families, it is expected that the money sent go to mostly benefit the husband's family more than the wife's, if at all. This also is the case with my folks. It enrages me in a way I can't even begin to describe. My mother had relatives who were gravely ill, needed medical care (they don't do pro bono work over there), but couldn't send any money because all their resources were allocated to fund *HIS* family's siphoning habits. He even said that it was "inappropriate" for my mother's family to ask her for money, that they should have sent their own sons to America. There were times that my mother decided to raid my stash of scholarship money (without my consent, which she could do in that US state because I was underage at the time) in order to send her relatives funds *RATHER* than talk to my father about some kind of agreement. The sexist disenfranchisement is so strong in the culture, it really warps people's behaviors.

    Currently, my parents are both bringing in incomes far and above the national average, and one would think that this should make life easier. Nope! They are just sending more of their money overseas to these relatives who always have their hands out. And it's always the men who are demanding more things, rarely ever the women.

    At one point, I was being electronically stalked by a male cousin of mine who would also call me and demand money and a cell phone, right after calling American-born women "whores". (You should have seen my face at that point, but I give myself props for keeping my cool). Never did he ask how I was doing, what I was doing, or any niceties like that. It was all gimme gimme gimme. I told my father about this, and he told me to "ask him what he wants, and to be nice to him, he's your cousin". Since my phone number is always unlisted, I know someone gave my cousin my number, and I strongly suspect it was my father since the rest of my immediately family members who had my number (all women BTW)found my cousin to be highly untrustworthy. But sure, I should just be nice to him and kindly listen to my cousin's demands since he is a male.

    I too considered just giving up on my ancestral land, until I began to see glimmers of the good in people. Maybe not in my father's side of the family, but just the hope and vibrancy of the Old Country in general. My parents may have been a walking contradiction: Speaking to us almost exclusively in English and not wanting us to pick up a foreign accent by speaking their tongue, but being frustrated that we don't magically know their native language and can't fully communicate with the elders. Wanting my sisters and I to be successful and independent women financially and professionally, so that we can turn around and fund our leeching relatives to lessen their burden before we become some other man's family money-making machine.

    Yeah, there was a noble sentiment back in the day, but such things always get corrupted by misogyny, materialism, and still-colonized minds. The change that I'm starting to see is that we "second gen-ers" are starting to lend our money and support into infrastructure, causes, and actual personal endeavors for the advancement of the Old Country rather than just into the hands of relatives who simply treat Western relatives as an ATM. Many times, the elder relatives don't even see that money when they send a younger one to fetch it. It's a maddening thing to see your parents keep sending hard earned money to people that won't appreciate what it took for them to have it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My parents may have been a walking contradiction: Speaking to us almost exclusively in English and not wanting us to pick up a foreign accent by speaking their tongue, but being frustrated that we don't magically know their native language and can't fully communicate with the elders. Wanting my sisters and I to be successful and independent women financially and professionally, so that we can turn around and fund our leeching relatives to lessen their burden before we become some other man's family money-making machine.

      THIS!!! It's funny how many people I know, me included, that are just learning their native dialects now. At least we're in our 20s so it is not too late. I wonder why middle- and upper- class Africans raise their kids in English at the expense of our local languages. Damn.

      Delete
    2. Because such Africans think our numerous dialects are expendable, and speaking fluent English only (or French) is considered like a status symbol of sorts.

      Thank goodness a lot of young Africans have decided to abandon that colonial mentality and embrace their dialects as an integral part of their identity.

      Delete
  9. I remember my ex-boyfriend had this problem. He was a native guy from Oaxaca, working in the states to support his ailing mother. He used to own a cantina but sold it and came here to get up some capital for a bigger business he wanted to start. I remember when he got word that his mother was very sick and needed care. He had to travel all the way from NJ to the southernmost tip of Mexico to personally buy her the medicine. I suggested sending it via money transfer, but he told me his father would drink every penny if there was any cash in the house! He had not a single soul he could trust to go and buy medicine for his mom. He made that trip, bought her the medicine, and came all the way back here... because of all the worthless scumbag leeches in his family.

    I can see this being a HUGE source of conflict in a relationship with a man who wants to send money home. It wasn't with him because he already knew I'm not on board. I'm NOT sending one nickel of my money to any able bodied person anywhere for any reason, period. I don't even believe in lending money within families or to friends- much less donating. I am fully opposed to supporting leeches. Very few things disgust me more than a bum. Any man I'm with is going to have to be on the same page, because I simply refuse to be used.

    Now, here is the benefit of being an African-American woman- if I were African, or an American-born Asian girl, then a man's family might feel entitled to access my resources, because they would think I'd been raised to comply. Since I'm 350% American, they have no reason to expect me to have been trained to give away my money. They might try, but I expect they'll give up eventually because I'm not giving up one thin dime.

    With my ex-husband, his family in Japan was doing way better than the family here, so nobody asked for any money to be sent. Thank god, too, because I would have told them exactly where to go.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks to everyone who's shared their experiences so far. Wow...this practice really is a problem, but I'm glad to meet so many folks who can relate.

    Asians make up 60% of the human species. Africa is home to 1 billion people. Obviously, people aren't starving to death. We're nowhere near extinction, so those of us in the West need to figure out how to get home and get a good job.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I am an American working overseas to make money. I send money to my grandmother to pay her back for paying my last bit of tuition in cash. After that I possibly, will not be sending her any more money because I hear from my Mom (who had to get two jobs again to support herself and Grandma because Mom is paying for everything at Grandma's house) that the money Grandma does have she gives to my aunt who is using the excuse that she is bipolar to not work and get everything paid for by Grandpa (No idea) and Grandma (70's). My best friend ins bipolar and she works and gets stuff done. Heck, My aunt used to be awesome. (I'll rant more about this in my blog.) As for the money grubbing, there is my Uncle (who used to be awesome) who works for CARTIER. When I went home for a week, he came to Grandma's house (never comes to Grandma's house unless to use it as storage and they live maybe an hour or two away while Mom lives in another state.) He was BSing around talking about how you can get stuff cheap in Korea and then started asking if I knew where to get blankets. Mom knew where he was going but decided to let me handle it. I pretty much told him. I am not getting anything for you. Don't ask me again. End of discussion. It most likely came out much more blunt but he was messing around with my play time ( I just bought an Ipod touch - Love electronics - and I was fiddling around with it... either that or playing with my Nintendo DSXLite) He now knows my patience is short and my temper is 10x's more worst than my Mom's. My blood family is shrinking by the year in my perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  12. As Amaya always says, family's the first to fuck you over.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Too damn true! Then they expect the fact that you share DNA to guarantee instant forgiveness for their bullshyt.

      Delete
  13. Preach!!! I know this post is mainly aimed at those with foreign relatives who ask for money but let me say that this bs mentality is strong in America too. I know because my family is damn near ruined because of it.

    You see, my mother and her family grew up in the projects. But she moved to a better neighborhood shortly after I was born and my brothers were still young. She and my father had fairly decent jobs and thus live a semi-comfortable life. Her relatives seem to feel that because of this, we need to support them. Not a month passes without someone waltzing up with their hands out. I will give three examples of this crap, which is why I don't even want to go to family functions.

    One of relatives has diabetes and works for a place that 1. pays her shit and has bad coverage, and 2. is kind of far from her. She is 5 credits from a Ph.D and could have easily found a better job, but refused to. She lives in the projects and has to pay for her meds at least half out of pocket. She has been asking my mom for rent and med money since I could walk. Now I am 22, so that's a good amount of cash. So tell me why she is behind 15K in rent and her kidneys are shot from, you guessed it, not taking meds? Meds are one thing, but rent in the projects is not expensive Where did the cash go? Her own kids told us she spent it on handbags, makeup, and eating out with her friends. But my mom still gives her money and yells at us for even asking her to reconsider.

    Another example is that my cousin wanted a baby shower. I get there and help set up because we had the burners to heat the food. Now, before the big day, I heard my mom talking to people on the phone all hush hush trying to negotiate a deal of sorts. So I was already pissed and expected fuckery. But when I ate the food, I recognized it from a restaurant we love. So I asked her if she had it catered. She confessed and told me not to tell my father or brothers. Now that kills me particularly because she was in a car accident recently and required multiple surgeries, thus putting her out of work. She mainly now gets money from my dad and brother. Basically, they paid for the shower. It hurts because we are struggling to pay bills without mom's income and yet this ish came first. I was also fed because my relatives knew this, never visited her, and STILL came to us palms out. And it was a male cousin's shower, so we shouldn't have had to put out that much.

    This last one has a special place in my rage core, because it shows how my relatives are brainwashing their kids, my cousins, to continue this ish to the next generation. My little cousins and I were at Six Flags (mom paid and drove, of course) and they start flat out demanding I buy them shit. They just start pointing out stuff and telling me to get it. Keep in mind, I was a broke 20 year old college student and they're 8,11,and 15. I tell them nicely that I have no money and then they all say "But y'all always got all the money. Y'all rich.". I report this to mom, who then buys it for them and ACTUALLY chastises me for correcting them.

    Listen, I know I'm ranting but it needed to come out. My dad's pension, my brother's savings, my school money, and the rent money have been drained multiple times to support grown people. Some of them make more than we do, but still ask us for cash. And whenever we complain, we get the "We're family." spiel from mom. We're family, but they're grown ass men and women who should exercise some damn responsibility.

    The kicker is I have foreign relatives in Cuba on my dad's side. They. Don't. Ask. For. Shit. My aunt (father's side) went over there years ago and they never asked for nothing. They were just making it, but never begged and even felt guilty about my aunt buying them food.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I don't have any family abroad but it seems to be a common problem where one hard working family member ends up supporting a bunch of free loaders. In my family it is my Mom. She is the only child out of 4 providing for my grandmother. She has also helped other relatives out by cosigning on a car (never again), paying rent, buying their children school clothes and letting them rent from her for a huge discount. I've already put the word out that when my mother passes the gravy train ends. I'm not supporting any of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've already put the word out that when my mother passes the gravy train ends. I'm not supporting any of them.

      *dead*

      Delete
  15. "They're not doing anything with their lives.....They're not starting businesses. What they are doing, however, is having kids they can't afford while sitting and waiting for relatives abroad to cut them a check."

    Your words above is what nailed the coffin for me because this is a HUGE problem as well in the Caribbean especially in Haiti. I told my brother if he has one more child I will excommunicate his behind and drop him like a bag of chips. There's no sense of personal accountability and strong work ethic...everybody wants a hand out instead of a hand up.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are no longer accepted.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.