Honoring Hispanic Heritage
As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, we’d like to take a moment to celebrate a few individuals here at Mariner Wealth Advisors. In this episode, George Fernandez speaks to Valerie Escobar and Alejandro Zayas about the culture that influences who they are today and the financial experiences they’ve had along the way.
George Fernandez: Welcome to another episode of Your Life, Simplified. My name is George Fernandez, and I’ll be your host for this episode. Today, we’re bringing a very special Your Life, Simplified episode to you. Right now, we’re in the middle of Hispanic Heritage month, and for some of our advisors and our clients, it represents a very special time for us as we celebrate with our families, our Hispanic heritage and exchange stories. And so we thought, why not have a couple of our very own Mariner Wealth Advisor associates come and share their stories. And along the way, I’ll probably share a few of my own as well.
So today I’d like to introduce you to two of our wealth advisors, Valerie Escobar and Alejandro Zayas. It’s great to have you guys here. And you know, the very first thing that we’re going to mention, as we go through our stories today, it’s going to give our listeners a really great opportunity to hear from some different perspectives. You see, each of us comes from a different country and my family comes from Mexico. And we’re going to learn a little bit about Valerie, where your family’s from and Alejandro, where your family’s from. And in addition to that, we also represent three very unique generational differences too. When my family came here in the early 1900s, it was a lot different than coming here in the last 20 years. I think will that’ll come out a little bit in our stories as well. Let’s go ahead and get started with our conversation today. What I’d like to do first is have each of you share a little bit about yourself and the story of your family coming to the United States. Valerie, why don’t we start with you?
Valerie Escobar: I am from El Salvador. My family is from El Salvador. I was born there, and we came here when I was very young. I was probably two or three. It was during the Civil War in El Salvador. I consider myself more of a second-generation immigrant because I grew up here. I don’t remember being born in El Salvador. We arrived here under refugee status so we had very little at the time. My parents were trying to learn English, figure out jobs and everything when they got here. But I was very fortunate in that they put us in school. I started kindergarten in the United States and learned English very quickly and just grew up knowing this country as my home country, although we traveled back and forth to El Salvador quite a bit.
George: That’s great. And Alejandro, how about you?
Alejandro Zayas: Well, thank you for having us. It’s really a great pleasure to be here. I’ll tell you a little bit about myself. I am a Certified Financial Planner® and a wealth advisor in the Coral Gables, Florida, area. I’ve been in the financial planning industry since 2014 and became a part of the Mariner family back in 2019. I’m a big fan of music, movies, sports. I’m a first-generation Cuban-American. So, I was born and raised in Cuba. My family immigrated to the United States back in 1998, and I was 14 years old at the time. After finishing high school, I studied business administration and graduated from Florida International University with a major in finance while working my way through college. Many times I found myself talking with my friends and co-workers about what I was learning in school and basically passing on a lot of that good advice and ideas that I was learning onto them. Fast forward a few years later, and I discovered the CFP profession and the type of work that it entails. I just fell in love with the concept of getting to help people make some of the most important decisions in their lives when it comes to the finances. I studied some more. I passed my exams, got some more experience on that. Here I am today.
George: That’s great. Valerie, you are a wealth advisor as well. And how long have you been a wealth advisor here with Mariner now?
Valerie: I’m also a Certified Financial Planner®. I started with Mariner about eight years ago, so I’ve been in the industry for just over a decade.
George: Just over a decade. Okay. So, you guys have a lot of experience bringing this into it. Now as your families, came to the United States a little bit different, again, my grandparents came here in 1918. As I said before, it was a lot different than coming in in the last 20 years. When they came, it was literally right at the middle of the Spanish flu. It was really interesting, despite what’s going on right now, this topic never came up in my family. I never knew this until now. It never dawned on me, but it was a lot different back then when families came to the United States. I’m curious to understand when your families came and as you got here, you had to learn the language. You had to bring your customs with you at the same time, but also had to come into a different culture, a different world, if you will. Help me understand a little bit about how the time period in which you came, how that impacted your youth, and as you grew up, as well as that work ethic that you have and in your family structure. How did all of those things converge?
Alejandro: In the case of my family, the way we came through the United States was because my father back in 1991, he had a brother who had immigrated before him. This was back in 1980. You might remember the Mario Tabraue. Our listeners might recognize this from the movie Scarface, the very popular movie. That was the beginning. Well my family took the opportunity to come here. My father’s brother, he was an engineer in Cuba, but basically, he felt like the system that they were establishing, it wasn’t going to work for his family, so he left. A few years later, he was able to claim my dad to come to the United States. And because it’s a family member status. And then my father, because of the laws at the time, he was able to claim political asylum due the Cuban situation for many, many years. So, after that, my father became a resident. He started working. He worked many different jobs, of course, trying to establish himself. And after he became a citizen, five years later, he was able to claim the rest of us, my mom, my brother and myself. And that’s when we immigrated, all of us together, after him.
George: So, he was here for a number of years before you came here?
Alejandro: Correct, for about seven years.
George: Seven years. Okay. I don’t know if folks sometimes realize how long sometimes it takes for one family member to get here and then how long it takes for the rest of the family to come alongside of you. It sounds like you all came at the same time if I understood that correctly?
Valerie: Yeah. It was in the early 80s, a different conflict, but very similar situation. We came as I mentioned, it was refugee status because of that Civil War. Basically, there were threats to our lives at that point. And so it was a very quick situation that we came. I don’t think my parents ever planned on leaving El Salvador because they do love that country. They love the pace of life there. And so, when they came, I think it was just a shock to their system, especially for my mom.
My dad was a little bit more familiar with the customs here and he had a bit more grasp of the language. But she never was able to finish her education. And so, it was this complete shift for her. I remember as a kid growing up and feeling that insecurity that she had, to some extent, that she’s trying to bridge this gap. And then also, you’re trying to raise your kids and be a strong, good example for them. But at the same time, you’re asking them to really conquer a world that you don’t know anything about. You mentioned about that length of time that it takes. I have an uncle, my mom’s brother, him and his family, they’ve been trying for, I think about 20 years now to come to the United States. But because there isn’t that emergency status now, just going through the regular system, it’s incredibly painstaking, and it takes a long time. In some ways maybe we were lucky in that we were able to take advantage of the situation and we were able to move quickly.
George: When my grandfather came to the United States in 1918, he actually came, it was simply, it was essentially an invitation from Santa Fe Railroad. They were bringing a lot of Mexican immigrants up to Kansas City and the Midwest at that time. Everything with ancestry.com, we came across his border crossing documentation, and it was really interesting from 1918, he was 18 years old, and it said he was a musician, and he was a cobbler. If you don’t know what a cobbler is that as somebody who fixes shoes. And so that was his daytime job, but he actually got a job at the railroad and that was, again, a completely different time. My dad grew up in the United States. He was actually born here in 1928, right before the great depression. One of the things I remember hearing stories about was how their pathway drove their work style, their views of the future views of retirement and the interactions and way they supported their families. How did that manifest in your family?
Valerie: I think for my family, they did shift that. Their parents never retired. My father’s father, he was killed in an accident in his 60s, so it was much younger. It basically was sort of a custom that you don’t retire. You just keep working and then your children will take care of you. But I think as they started to get older, they realized that this is different in the United States, and how they’ve been planning they’re far behind the curve on that. And so, their retirement planning is nowhere near as robust as they would have liked if they could have started much earlier. My dad actually retired and moved back to El Salvador because of the cost of living. Everything that he tried to do here, didn’t amount to enough to support him here. My mom’s still working and trying to make that come true, but I think she is depending on us to help. That’s always sort of been our expectation within the Hispanic, Latino communities that you help your family. That’s just a given, that they’re going to need our support.
Alejandro: By the way, that’s absolutely true—what Valerie just pointed out. My family history is a little bit different. It all starts with my grandpa. My grandpa, paternal grandparents, my grandmother, she was very entrepreneurial. She had her own business and I remember certain things from when I was little growing up in the province that we were we all from. Even though we’ve lived in Havana, we’re from a province that is on the east of Cuba. She used to have a printing press business that she had from home. I remember it being a big house and she would make ribbons for funeral procession. She would make party signs. That was her business. My granddad, he started at the bottom in the electrical company in that province Matanzas, Cuba. He went from sweeping the floors all the way to the president of the company. And this all changed obviously after 1959, the Cuban revolution they took over. Basically, everybody thank you for everything you’ve done will take over from here. So basically, took over the company. And so that started to change my family’s perspective.
Obviously as things progressed, a lot of our listeners might know what ended up happening and everything that followed with after the Cuban revolution of Fidel Castro and the economy, how it collapsed basically, the USSR, that dichotomy that took over really the work ethic that was established by my grandmother. That was one of the things that endured, meaning she always taught us the value of saving because she went through it, and she grew up during the great depression as well. It affected Cuba tremendously back then too. So, my brother and I, we grew up knowing that we would eventually one day come here for a long time. Like I said, seven years after my father left, we knew that we were going to come here. In a lot of ways, we knew we weren’t going to go into the labor force, but once we got here, we did carry over some of that work ethic that my grandmother instilled in us so that we could make a better life here. Unfortunately, she had to stay behind, but we’re thankful that we took the step obviously, and that we’re happy to be here.
George: Great stories very similar to my family as well. My grandfather and my brother and my father, their work ethic, it’s almost the origins of the portfolio careers, right? Because you just do what you have to do to feed the family and to go after your dreams. When it comes to money, what we do every day, we help our clients manage their lives and we help them manage their finances. What are some important money lessons that you learned along the way that you feel like coming to the United States gave to you that you’re passing onto your clients? What are some key things that you’re doing today? Alejandro, we’ll start with you.
Alejandro: Number one is might sound like an old cliche because we hear so much, but it’s basically pay yourself first. That is the number one thing to do. Always, obviously, save part of your earnings. We all have bills to pay. We all have different commitments, but basically pay yourself first. Don’t live beyond your means, always live within your means and make sure you save for rainy day because you will thank yourself many years down the road. If you do this, you will always be in a great shape to make decisions, if you have to change careers, change jobs, things like that. You want to have that flexibility. Basically, you want to have that money in the bank.
George: Do you find that being cash centric is a big part of that as well for your families, for what you learn along the way as having cash in the bank is really, really important? Versus maybe taking the time to invest those dollars to have them grown for you rather than just sitting there.
Alejandro: Yes, initially, yes, that is the original idea is basically save your money on just always having money in the bank. I can tell you from personal experience in the Hispanic community, at least the people I normally deal with, that’s not always the case. There is a lot of people who are doubtful of a stock market. For example, they do not trust putting their money in the stock market because they think it might be something that is too risky, might be more like gambling or casino. They make that connection a lot of times. They prefer a lot of times also to invest in real estate, something tangible, either that or their own business, and they grow their business. We all know the success stories out there and people become very successful. But for the most part, they tend to stay away from the stock market in general.
George: Yeah, I understand. And Valerie, how about you?
Valerie: Yeah, I would agree that the entrepreneurial sense is really strong. When you go back to El Salvador, every other person has a little area in their garage that they sell whatever they’re going to sell and they really depend on understanding their cash flows. I get cash in, and this is how I use my cash to spend over here. Maybe investing and really understanding employee stock purchase plans or some of those complexities that they can evolve out of having a business and really figuring out how to stay for the long term. Those aren’t quite as familiar. Going back to El Salvador and evolving through that initial crisis mode where it’s just, we have to get what we can and then we can eat and then try again tomorrow to try and get more money. Just evolving from that, you start to understand that you need to save and then also that living within your means can mean so much because your means, well, clearly, we were able to do it with much less. And so now my income has grown so much more, isn’t it possible that I could still live that same lifestyle? Oftentimes we see people struggle that they’re making tons and tons of money, and yet they still feel like they’re living paycheck to paycheck. And so that’s something that shift in your mindset about what living within your means, what that really means is something that I try to communicate. I think that’s a difficult concept to really evolve and capture it in your head, but maybe that’s one of the advantages is that we’ve seen some of that style of life evolve firsthand.
Alejandro: Yeah, sure. To add to what Valerie just said, it’s also the fact that we live in a society where credit is so accessible. It also makes us deviate from that concept of living within your means because credit is so accessible. A lot of times we’ll feel, “Hey, let’s get that gratification now because we can put it on a credit card,” instead of knowing how to use your credit, how to build your credit for the bigger things, home ownership or sending your kids through college, things like that. Taking on debt that is more of a value other than just put things on a credit card and just live day to day. I agree with Valerie a hundred percent.
George: Valerie, you just shared a little bit about your family and the importance of family. What else can you share about what’s a little bit different, the way that your family interacts with even family back home in El Salvador. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer for everyone to get here. What are the things that you’re working with your families with on that?
Valerie: Within the Hispanic culture, especially for immigrants, is that oftentimes we want to support our family that is back home. It’s just an expectation, and it’s ingrained within us that that’s just part of life. And so, sending money back home is a common part of the financial plan. And it’s just part of what we’re going to do. And then of course caring for our elders. A lot of times people, when we talk about retirement, how that’s not really a part of what we do, it’s coming to life at estate planning is in fact important. Previously it just came that you could live with your kids and then when someone would die, maybe you would fundraise among your neighbors that you could pay for funeral expenses. But now it’s really becoming too burdensome to do things that way. Looking at life insurance and making a plan for leaving some money behind to help pay for those expenses is much more vital than ever before. And even things that are important within the community, like maybe weddings or a Quinceañera, that are hundreds and hundreds of people, all of those are expenses that really need to be planned for in advance. Many of the clients need to incorporate that in their financial plan.
George: It’s a really great point. I don’t know that people realize that Quinceañeras can be almost as expensive as the whole wedding. So, really great point. I love what you’re doing there is helping them plan because that’s what we do in our wealth management role is to help our clients plan, not just for their wealth, but also things are going on in their life. Alejandro, you mentioned a little bit earlier about the importance of having the right amount of money in cash and paying yourself, can you dig just a little bit deeper and help us understand where does investing come in? When does it come in and why?
Alejandro: So obviously as part of any comprehensive financial plan, you will always have investments as part of that plan, especially in the world we live in today where a lot of our wealth is tied to the market one way or the other, especially with even for those working people who are just starting out, they are just becoming participants in their 401(k)s at work or they have an IRA. They fund their own retirement that way. There is a lot of places that we can take the opportunity to invest. What I’ve found is that a lot of the times, usually people just keep the money in cash, not having apprehensions about the market, but it’s really the place to go when it comes to wealth creation. You can think back over many hundreds of years in the history of the United States and the world, really. And you can think about the great oil companies, railroad companies, airlines, the big engines that have created wealth for humankind. There’s nothing that comes even close to the stock market. We’re talking about trillions and trillions of dollars, especially now that everything is so connected worldwide. So, what I would say to our audiences always think of not only your savings and have the savings there to support you in case you need it emergencies. And whether you’re in transition from one job to another, but really you want to think about growth and when it comes to growth, nothing compared to the stock market. It’s really something that you should focus on and obviously educate yourself as best you can because there’s a lot of places that you can invest within the world of stocks or the world of bonds, for example. It’s really something that a financial advisor can help you with because there’s so many choices to choose from, so many avenues to go through.
George: Well, thank both of you very much. You really provided us with some empowering words of advice for our listeners. I think most importantly, some of the things that I’m taking away, or themes, is number one…just go after your dreams and have a strategy. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s trusting others, I think is really important. Build those trusting relationships with others to learn. But you also mentioned things like the importance of family and how that comes into play, the importance of paying yourself first, making sure that you’re not living beyond your means having the right kind of emergency reserves. But I think equally as important in all of that is having a plan. Don’t just haphazardly go about all of this. Have a plan to engage yourself and your family that all can come into that. You both are very good at bringing the family as well as their overall personal plan into play. So that’s going to include things like your legacy planning, your estate planning that Valerie was talking about, your overall wealth planning.
But in addition, that’s your investment strategies like Alejandro, you were talking about the importance of investing and the way in which you go about that has to be a sound approach. It can’t just be throwing things out there, right? It has to be a sound approach and how that helps out in the long run. I really appreciate all the words of wisdom that you’ve shared with us today. Well, we could probably spend another couple hours talking about this topic, but I know we don’t have a couple of hours to go. As we conclude our conversation today, I want to thank you for sharing some of these insights into your families, but I want to end on something else. We typically talk about at the very end of our conversations on a podcast is what’s your biggest money lesson, but I think we’ve already talked about that. So, I won’t go back to that. I’d like to end on something a little bit different than what we typically do, and that is, I’d like to understand your favorite tradition growing up as it relates to the family, a cultural tradition or food tradition that you have. Valerie, why don’t we start with you on that?
Valerie: Yeah, I think maybe because I love food, my traditions definitely are very food centric whenever we go back. My sisters and I, pupusas, those are obviously the national food of El Salvador and that’s like a fat tortilla with things inside. You just them get on every street corner. They’re super cheap, and they’re so good. I love it though. Atol De Elote, which is like a corn-based drink. It’s a hot drink. That sounds gross when I say it that way, but it’s so good. All the different foods that there are and getting together and just sharing time together is absolutely my favorite.
Alejandro: For me, my taste after becoming more and more American every day has changed. So I don’t eat a lot of the same food that I used to eat, but there’s one thing that has stayed with me that I do appreciate every single holiday season, usually towards the parties that usually the family had on the 31st of December is the roasted pig. That is something that I always eat and dressing that we put on it. It’s just something that I always will love. As long as I live, I will never get tired of eating that.
George: And for me personally, you know the traditions that we have when I grew up, when my grandparents came to the country, there really weren’t very many traditions that they brought with them other than two things, and that was faith and food. We spent a lot of times going to Spanish mass. I remember growing up as a child and we’d always have a big celebration around Christmas and tamales around Christmas. That was always a very special time. I would say for me, for food, there’s two foods that really strike me. If I ever go to a Mexican restaurant, this is what I always order. If they have it, it’s my kind of my litmus test. Do you have fideo, which is kind of a vermicelli spaghetti. It’s either in a soup format or kind of a spaghetti side dish format and Chile, and Chile is a basically braised pork in Manteca, which is lard. By the way, everything is cooked in lard. You braise it in lard, and then you mix it with tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, garlic and salt. It just simmers in a stew, and it’s so good. It tenderizes the meat so much. And then of course you always have to have tortillas with it. My family, we always had flour tortillas, which corn is really common today. It was common back then, but my grandparents couldn’t get corn, so they only had flour. That’s what my grandmother used to tell me anyway, but these are great stories. I love sharing these stories with our listeners. I look forward to sharing many more.
I want to thank you guys, Alejandro, Valerie. This has been really a lot of fun and thank you all for listening today. We hope you found this episode enjoyable, and as always, we’d love to hear from you. So, let us know by giving us some feedback. And if you have any ideas for future podcasts, let us know that too, by emailing us at [email protected]. As always, we encourage you to share the podcast with family and friends. And of course, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a future episode of Your Life, Simplified. We look forward to being with you again soon.