The key to Latino empowerment starts with good credit.
One of the reasons my family was able to get by was because of tandas (some of you call them cundinas). For the unfamiliar, it’s basically a small group of people–usually neighbors or coworkers– lending small amounts of money to one another. Let’s say that 10 people agree to participate. Everyone agrees to chip in $100 every month for 10 months (one month for every person involved). At the start of every month, one person in the group takes the entire pool of money, $1,000. You do this until everyone gets to collect the pool of money.
This practice is basically a short term loan, the same kind of thing that banks and credit card companies do. The only difference is that there’s no interest collected (which is how financial institutions make money) and that it’s not reported to the credit agencies. This last part is what screws Latinos over. You can’t really do much in this country without good credit, and one way to establish good credit is by having a history of consistently paying off what you owe.
Which brings us to Jose A. Quiñonez. The former undocumented immigrant — he and his family came from Mexico and gained citizenship thanks to Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program — was recently named as one of the 23 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, which is best known and most commonly referred to as “the genius grant” and comes with a stipend of $625,000. And the reason for being named a genius? He created a system that basically reports tanda-like activity to the credit bureaus, helping countless Latinos build and improve their credit.
“We have this notion in our society that poor people are poor because they are broken, or bad, or making bad choices,” Quiñonez told the Los Angeles Times. “Here is a successful program based on completely different assumptions about poor people, that there is something good and honest in them, to survive and thrive regardless of the obstacles.”
I can’t stress how important this is. According to the Los Angeles Times, Quiñonez’s nonprofit organization, Mission Asset Fund, has helped the average participant’s credit score by a whopping 168 points. That’s a game changer. A poor credit score is anything below 600, whereas an excellent credit score is above 750. Those 168 can mean the difference between renting or owning, which is a big deal when you consider that the majority of a household’s wealth comes through home ownership. And it’s an even bigger deal when you take into account that Latinos are twice as likely to get rejected for a home loan. So not only Quiñonez worthy of being called a genius, but he should also be considered a saint.
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