In the summer of 1996, when I was 16, some friends found jobs at a local mall in Jacksonville, Florida. We all came from upper middle class families. Therefore, working was for building character and earning pocket money, not for working. out of economic necessity.
I loved music so much that while driving with my Iranian immigrant mother, I had the idea of working at Blockbuster Music, a now-defunct record store. When she heard this, she pulled her car off the road and angrily preached to me.
My mother said I should instead pursue internships and other activities that support my academic and career goals rather than get in the way of them. Making money was not yet important.
Shocked, I dropped the topic. My Iranian mother’s ideas about how the world works often conflicted with my education in America.
He understood that academic success was a way to get a job that would give him financial success.But for my mother, education was Success. She will support me financially until I get the degree I need. But I also realized that the more time I spent studying, the more I delayed my earning power, which is a greater measure of my status in American society.
For my mother, and many Iranian parents of means, the tradeoff is worth it. But if education doesn’t lead to high-paying jobs, so does my PhD. Not so in English literature. Their children can be blamed for long-term financial dependence.
Different aspects of my experience resonated with many Iranian-Americans I spoke with. Personal finance expert and author Farnoush Travi also heard the same expectations of education from his parents. Travi, 43, said her parents expected her to go to graduate school no matter what she intended to study. She ended up getting a master’s degree in journalism.
Jason Lezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post, received financial support from his grandfather. He also knew that his father, a Persian rug proprietor, would do everything in his power to support him when needed.
“My father would have done me a disservice if I tried to go to the bank to get a loan someday when I needed money,” said Lezaian, 47.
Immigrant parents supporting their adult children
According to Kevan Harris, an Iranian-American sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, most research on the finances of immigrant groups and individuals has focused on the filial piety children are expected to provide for their parents. The lack of research is the opposite, he said, with immigrant parents supporting their children well into adulthood.
My mother, an anesthesiologist, who was earning $250,000 a year at the peak of her career, probably invested more in my education than she did in other expenses. She paid for private school, my undergraduate and master’s degrees, and a small teaching fee until I completed my Ph.D.
She attributes her willingness to support me not only to our family history, but to Iranian culture in general. “This is my child,” she said. “I have money. And as long as I live, I have responsibilities.”
Further sporadic help came from his biological father, an American who earned much less as a county employee. He wanted me to get a job early and consider a more lucrative degree.
At 34, I got my degree, no job in the hot academic market, no plan B. I lived up to my mother’s expectations of getting an advanced degree, but it was an academic path that I loved dearly. However, they were unable to become financially independent. I felt that I had to become a worthy member of society.
Financial independence was not what I wanted because I felt controlled by my mother’s money. It wasn’t until I compared myself to the American ideal of successful adulthood—that I had a high-paying job—that I felt like a freeloader.
That doesn’t mean you don’t want to live well. However, thanks to my mother’s financial support, I was able to start over as a freelance writer without worrying about making ends meet. I am single and childless by my own choice, so I have been living with her and her stepfather since completing her PhD.
Multigenerational households are common in many immigrant cultures, although in America it is usually considered a temporary situation when adults live with their parents. Rezaian, who lived intermittently with his parents into adulthood, said that among Iranian-American families, “fully formed, fully capable, employed adults live with the family. ‘Look at the ‘is common,’ he said.
Culture over financial capital
a investigation According to a survey by the nonprofit Iranian-American Public Relations Alliance, 86 percent of Iranian-Americans have at least one college degree, and one in five Iranian-American households has an annual income of 10%. over a million dollars. Still, many Iranian Americans either work to support themselves or decide not to pursue a college degree when they are young.
Many Iranians come to the United States for higher education, but the pattern is started in the 1950s That was when the Iranian government encouraged them to study abroad so that their citizens could apply their expertise to the rapidly modernizing country. Mr. Rezaian’s father earned his MBA from San Francisco’s Golden Gate College in the 1960s.
Harris’ father met his American mother while studying microbiology in the United States in the 1970s, when a second wave of student immigration arrived in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent Iran-Iraq War. Ta. Travi’s father also arrived around this time to pursue a doctorate in physics.
Mr. Harris, Mr. Travi, and I followed in our parents’ footsteps with graduate degrees, while Mr. Lezaian and his brother, an IT entrepreneur, dropped out of school after earning a bachelor’s degree.
“If either of us had stuck with the idea that we had to keep going to school, I don’t think we would have made it this far in life,” Lezaian said.
But he believes his now-deceased father always regretted that neither of his brothers earned a graduate degree. “It just shows that someone is cultural and someone is secular,” Rezaian said. “And it’s still important for Iranians.”
various economic fears
My mother’s vague fear that my blockbuster music colleagues and shoppers would alienate me from my studies was essentially the immigrant parent’s fear that a culture they did not understand would corrupt their children. The fear of Her parents, Travi, weren’t afraid to let her work, but instilled in her a healthy fear of financial insecurity and her debts.
They paid for her bachelor’s degree, but their tuition was lower than other schools that accepted her, partly because she agreed to attend Pennsylvania State University, but when she ran into credit card debt. warned that they would not help her if she suffered a The only acceptable debt Travi could afford would be to invest in her master’s degree, they told her, “because it’s the degree that actually leads to your career.” When she went into debt to complete her master’s degree, her parents helped her make ends meet while starting her career.
Travi believes these fears motivated her to pursue financial independence and success, which she elaborates on in her forthcoming book.healthy panic’” Her brother took it a step further, turning down her parents’ offer to pay her half the rent after college.
“He didn’t want to feel like he had to consider their needs when making professional or personal decisions,” Trabi said.
She understands why many American parents are reluctant to provide significant financial support to their adult children.
“There’s a fear in American culture that you’re spoiling your child,” Trabi said. “I want to give you another scare. Imagine that you don’t help and instead they shoulder $100,000 in debt.” Rather than wait to leave that money as an inheritance, able parents should consider helping now if it will help them achieve a better quality of life for their children. .
“The idea of being kicked out of the house at 18 is the complete opposite of how most Iranians are raised,” Rezaian said. Noting that no one I know is really financially sound at this point, he said, “We are already entering an era where some of these more traditional Iranian-style values probably make more sense. ‘ added.
hold conflicting truths
As an Iranian-American, I straddle two very different, often bitterly contested worlds. Holding contradictory truths is central to my understanding of myself, and this perspective applies to my financial life as well.
I am both grateful and ashamed of my mother’s financial support. I’m not struggling with my daily payments, but I’m worried about my financial future. I have never equated my worth or the value of my work with the money I make, but it also makes unsustainable wages easier to accept.
I liked English and history much more than math and science, but I spent my high school days saying that I wanted to be a doctor like my mother, or if that didn’t work out, I wanted to be a lawyer or a businessman. What I meant was that I wanted a job that would bring financial capital and consequently social capital. Without my mother’s financial support and encouragement, I would never have pursued my love of literature. As Torabi-san pointed out, my mother’s love and money allowed me to focus only on things that made me happy.
“Your mother is who we all want to be,” Ms. Travi said. “We all want to help our kids do what they want and be financially prosperous. is.”