I never understood how lucky I am.
My father (papi) was born in Barrio Mexico, one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. Raised by his mother and alcoholic father, he and his two brothers shared an outhouse with the entire block. Even after being adopted and moving to Palo Alto, California at the age of 15 (one of the richest places in the United States), after attending UC Berkeley and Stanford, and now even 50 years after moving out of Latin America, I’m sure he still remembers his childhood well.
My mother grew up in a middle-class household Los Angeles, but lived in Mexico for six months. She has seen poverty firsthand, and has never had more money than she knew what do with.
For as long as I can recall, my family’s refrigerator has always been full. We’ve always had the luxury of hopping on a plane to visit la familia (the family) in Costa Rica, or enabling my brother to study abroad in Rome. In fact, my parents are coming to Senegal in about a month, and we will stay in hotels and dine in restaurants.
But throughout this upbringing in tree-covered Northwest Washington, DC, my parents have tried to instill a mindset of resourcefulness and caution with money in my brothers and me. Mom never bought us a PlayStation, Gameboy or iPhone, no matter how much we pleaded. My high school allowance of $20 a month paled in comparison to my friends’ allowances. Every time I would lazily play on my computer while my papi prepared dinner, he would flip an internal switch and chastise me with rich boy tourist!” and occasionally “ungrateful gringo!” (gringo is a slightly derogatory term for Caucasians).