This is the continuation of the interviews with peoples who grew up in a capitalist system and were raised by parents from a communist society. Click here, to read part one.
6. When did you feel most wealthy?
Vika (Russia): When I gave my grandmother some money that I earned myself for her birthday so that she could buy a couch for her apartment.
Victoria (Poland): When my grandmother would win small amounts of money from the lottery, she would get very excited and take us out on a trip to the dollar store. What was probably about $10-$20 dollars of spending money at the time was made to feel like this huge privilege.
Joanna (Poland): I would go back to Poland most summers. My parents would put me on the plane and my Grandma would get me on the other side. The first time I went back, I was 8. And over the ensuing years, even though the wall fell and communism retreated, things were bad. For a while, even worse, so when I went back, I could see how prosperous our life back in Canada seemed in comparison to the village I came from. Even though, compared to others in Canada we were still on the lower end.
7. When did you feel poorest?
Jennifer (South Vietnam): My elementary and middle school were closer to home, so I was surrounded by other lower-middle class families. I went to a higher income high school…and spent time as a teenager comparing myself. This made me feel very poor… like you can see how the other half lives and it’s shocking. Beautiful houses, expensive vacations, cottages, ~*cool~* parents who worked in the arts and drove nice cars and didn’t seem stressed about too much.
Eddie (Romania): I felt poorest when I realized I had 1k in the bank and loads of debt I didn’t even bother to start paying yet.
Joanna: The first five years here were hard. We lived in a crappy apartment, with very little, and everything was measured and budgeted. In comparison to where we came from it was worse (growing up in the village we didn’t have much but we had wildlife and family, and to a kid that’s the best. Even though Christmas presents were a bag of oranges) for me, but objectively it was better if not in reality, then in possibility and opportunity. But those first years I very much saw for the first time all the things that we were lacking, that others had.
8. What was hardest about growing up with parents who were raised in a different way financially than you? The easiest?
Jennifer: Hardest: seeing them so stressed about money 24/7. It rubs off on you. You just want to see them happy, but a part of you know it’s delayed. Thinking “my parents will finally rest, relax and be happy/proud when I make 250k as a fancy doctor. I’ll pay off the house, I’ll buy them anything they want!” As a child, you’re just worried and always waiting to pay them back for all the sacrifices they made. Any deviation from this path to success fills you with dread and guilt. You are the retirement plan, you are the security they need. You need to be financially successful.
Easiest: it made me reasonable and good with money. I had a few moments of “I’ve been so deprived! Fuck it, I am going to buy this stupid item!” but overall, despite growing up with not a lot of money… I have a good savings plan, I make good money, I am not in debt. I owe a lot of that to my mother.
Eddie: The hardest thing was the fact that we weren’t educated on money and what to do with it. The benefit was the fact that we didn’t care to buy things growing up so i don’t have bad spending habits whatsoever.
Joanna: The easiest? I think because in Communism you always had very little, and as a poor immigrant you had very little, I learned not to put too much stock in things. I didn’t really care that much as I grew older. Even now, a couple of years ago my husband asked if we should look into getting a new (used) car. And I replied, “Why? That one works fine.” And he pointed out that it was twenty years old, had rust in places, and one side mirror didn’t quite match in colour. And I pointed out that it worked just fine, so who cares? It gets you from place to place reliably. There was a greater focus on functionality, and repair, and that you don’t need the latest and greatest if what you have works just fine.
Vika: They CONSTANTLY emphasized the availability of things… like my mom told me how she would never forget when bananas fist became available: she was in her early 20s standing in a huge line for the greenest and most hard rock bananas. Or how she would have to go to a big city (take an hour train) to do groceries at the market.
9. What was the best thing that you learned from your parents about money?
Joanna: I never felt the pressure to pretend I had more than I did, and I was never embarrassed to say I couldn’t afford something, even as a grown-up.
Jennifer: Living below your means is not a source of shame. Flaunting obvious markers of wealth is nothing to be proud of. Giving to charity and supporting your community is important. “You never know, you could be poor one day and need help.”
Eddie: I don’t need as many things as we’re lead to believe.
10. How has being raised by your parents given you perspective on the capitalist system we live in?
Eddie: I realized that unless we know how to manage money and try to make effective moves with it, such as investing, we’ll remain stuck in the same financial situation for life.
Vika: The only thing I can say for sure: [my parents] enjoy the capitalism system we live in and because of that I personally don’t have much against capitalism myself.
Jennifer: My parents worked an obscene amount. They bought into the American/capitalist dream at times. Attending a wealthy high school made me experience the inequality in our city first-hand. At 13/14 years old, I envied many of my peers and wanted to “work hard” to reach this level of wealth as well.
As I got older, I was able to unpack the systemic injustices that marginalized groups continue to face living within late stage capitalism. I could understand why my parents could not keep up and collect the same amount of wealth as my upper-middle class white peers. This critical analysis of capitalism is something my parents weren’t equipped to do, as they were always in survival mode. It’s difficult though. I feel like I intellectually can deconstruct capitalist beliefs, but emotionally can still be more similar to my parents, feeling like I need a certain amount of capital to survive in an increasingly expensive Toronto. It can be hard to find that balance.
Joanna: That no society is perfect. That no system is perfect. That money and greed exist in humans, so regardless of the system set up, people will always try to take advantage. That strong government in my mind, is about enforcing equality and controlling corruption in an ideal world. Because Communism and Capitalism both make very little difference when left to the devices of opportunistic people.
Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator
Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.
She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.
Email Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org