For Some Immigrants, a Balancing Act
Daisy Chavez's mother takes the slip and a wad of cash and wires the monthly gift of $100 to the elderly woman who relies on the money to survive.
Each time Daisy Chavez's mother, Margarita, sends that money, the teenager knows it is money that could be spent on clothes, a book or a weekend trip.
"Sometimes [my mother] says she's sorry that she didn't give me everything I wanted, but I understood," said Daisy Chavez, an aspiring chef. Years earlier she traveled to Mexico and witnessed the dire poverty her mother escaped and that persists around her grandmother. "I learned to accept that they need the money more than I do."
Manuel Orozco, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University said that as the younger generation matures, they develop an "amazement" for their parents' sense of duty that transcends borders.
"You develop a sense of respect and you see them as a role model in a heroic sense," he said. "In turn, it gives them a sense of belonging to a community that values family bonding."
Beverly Solorzano, 14, can quote the latest currency-exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Honduran lempira. She knows that her three siblings and grandmother can eat and live comfortably because of the $100 her mother sends every month. "That's family, and family comes first," Solorzano said.
At times, her mother, Susana Nunez, feels guilty about dividing her modest income as a caregiver for the elderly. She says after the bills are paid here and money sent back, she sometimes has to put off special requests for new sneakers or outings.
"You feel sad because they depend on you," she said. "But they have learned to wait for when I do have extra money."
Dilip Ratha, an economist at the World Bank, said it is difficult to predict the future of this multibillion-dollar economy or whether the next generation will assume the financial ties.
But New York's ethnic neighborhoods offer a glimpse of the future. The Irish and Polish associations, and Indian and Colombian collectives founded by immigrants, have survived for generations and are evolving into vehicles for policy advocacy and philanthropy. "Ties never go away," Ratha said. "In fact, second- and third-generation migrants continue to send money, maybe not to families, but through charities."
Lilliam Perez does not send remittances, except for holidays and birthdays. But she has inherited her mother's promise to remember the relatives she left behind. She became a community liaison for a New York state senator whose district includes a sizable Dominican American constituency, and she belongs to numerous advocacy groups that work to improve the economic conditions of Dominicans in the United States and on the island.
"Different events in our lives determine where we are and what we care about," she said. Her mother's devotion to maintaining the family connection "kept me in touch with how much people here and in the D.R. still need."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Daniel and Daisy take a walk outside their Manhattan apartment. The family wires a monthly gift of $100 to the siblings' grandmother, who relies on the money to survive. Of growing up in New York, Daniel says, "We needed the money here, and they still sent it back."
(Helayne Seidman - For The Washington Post)