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Being a “Good” Caribbean Daughter & the Burden of Generational Wealth

Being a “Good” Caribbean Daughter & the Burden of Generational Wealth

I’m finally letting the cat out the bag… I still live at home. Side eye me if you want but the lack of generational wealth struggle has been real. Sure, a lot of my peers are thriving without this elusive wealth that I speak of, but for me the issue of generational wealth and inheritance is layered and complex. I was born in Jamaica, but raised in America, and while I am technically an immigrant and Jamaica will always be home, I just about live and function as if I am first generation American.  

For the first few years after moving from Jamaica I slept in the same bed as my mother in my aunt’s two-family home. From 12 to 22, I slept on a daybed in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment in the aforementioned home. From 18 to 21, I enjoyed the “luxury” (a luxury I am still paying for) of having my own room while I was away at college. It would be another year before I had that luxury again.

My mother, like most Caribbean immigrants, came here with the hopes of making better lives for herself and her children. She came with a plan to hold things together as we awaited the arrival of my father, years later. When he arrived, it was almost as if she was still holding us together by herself and the all too familiar strong Black woman narrative played out right in front of my eyes.

My father’s highly anticipated arrival was supposed to mean that we were on our way to finally living the “American Dream,” but instead it rendered us stuck, further away from the dream than when my mom, brother and I arrived back in ’98. To avoid any confusion, my father did provide to an extent, but in his mind, he was only here to work toward a “Jamaican Dream”, I don’t know if that is a thing per se but that is what I am calling it. You know the dream where a Jamaican immigrant works extremely hard in America to either fix their house back on the island or build a new house from the ground up. The disconnect, however, was that my mom thought they would build a life together here.

To this day, my mom, now 67, is still disappointed that she has never owned a home in America. Perhaps some of that disappointment comes from knowing that there is nothing to be passed to the younger generations. Perhaps it comes from knowing that the burden is now on me to do the things that she hoped to. While I won’t bore you with the extensive back story of why I am still at home at this “big age”, I will say that as I try to come up with the best exit plan, I am grappling with the guilt of trying to be a good Caribbean daughter. I yearn to be independent but according to my family I am now responsible for both getting the home that we are all supposed to live in, and stacking all the money that will free us from debt and set the next generation up for success.

As I write this, there are many things that come to mind. The “fake” first generation in me is sometimes a bit angry, not because there isn’t this house or these things or money that could possibly be passed down, but because there is this pressure and responsibility that I do not want. If I am being honest, I guess the no place to truly call home bothered me a bit. I even had a friend ask me once why we never owned a home, and my response was more or less what I’ve already written— mom couldn’t afford one on her own.

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Now as I reflect and I think about my dad’s dream for the house back home, I wonder if there is in fact generational wealth that just looks different than what I imagined. He had been working on the house he was raised in, the home and land that goes back for generations, and while there are many cousins who would undoubtedly fight over what belongs to whom, it is still there. Maybe he had it right all along.

I cannot speak for everyone, but I think a lot of immigrants leave their homes to build a new life, leaving “wealth” because there is this unspoken promise of an even better life and even more wealth. The problem is, and I am obviously generalizing, most immigrants that look like me and my family, are entering a place where the chips are already stacked against them, and while America was built by people of the diaspora, it was not built for them.

What are your thoughts on having generational wealth? If you have it, how has it impacted your life for the better. If you don’t, how are you dealing… asking for a friend?

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