I have been trying to articulate a post about classism and money for the past hour. And I am really struggling to write about this without sounding like brat. Here is the initial introduction I wrote for this post:
I get really quiet when people talk about their grandparents. I don’t think anyone has really picked up on it, which is great news for me because the last thing I want to talk about is how classism and money are the reasons why my grandparents are not that great. Family drama is always too hard to put into words. So, I will spare you the details. We can talk over a drink some time. What I would like for you to know is that my grandfathers are millionaires, and that their wealth has played no role in my financial future, as I learned very early that their money would never be inherited.
Both of my parents claimed bachelor’s degrees from DePaul University. My father owned a restaurant for 18 years and has worked in food distribution (product import/export) since 2011. My mother has always been an accountant and has always worked. In other words, I have only ever known my parents to be part of the working class.
I grew up knowing that I would have to work to earn a living. I used to work at our restaurant so that I could get gas money from my dad. I used to babysit my little sister so that my parents did not have to pay someone else. I worked in college. And I work two jobs now.
The readings this week really have me wondering about how my experience in college has differed from that of my parents. I went to a liberal arts institution located in an affluent suburban neighborhood. I have decent loans from undergrad, and I am grateful that my parents want to help me pay off those loans. Graduate school, however, was not in their budget. I pay my own rent, I pay my own bills, and I will have to pay for graduate school.
And I think they feel bad.
My paternal grandfather was one of the first to export Greek olives to other countries. We discussed the adjective “crazy” in class recently. I just want to be clear that my paternal grandfather was crazy; crazy about money. He was so crazy about his money that he made sure to blow it all away before he died so that his wife, four children, and five grandchildren would never reap the fruits of his labors. As a child, my father traveled to countries, like Egypt, spent summers in Italy, and attended an English school. His parents paid for him to get an education in the United States and do whatever else he wanted.
My maternal grandfather immigrated to the United States and made a lot of money through his real estate and grocery store. Like my paternal grandfather, he was also crazy about money. Greek immigrants with families struggled to make a living in Chicago. My grandfather wasn’t just making a better living than other Greek immigrants, he was succeeding. But his hunger for money meant that he would make choices that affected his family. He lived in a small home in the city with his wife and four children because it was cheap. He never encouraged his children to go to school because it would be a waste of his earnings. My mother had to fight him to pay for her education at DePaul University. Yet, she grew up knowing that money would never be an issue.
I do not rely on mommy and daddy financially or emotionally. I do not know what it’s like to be rich. My parents raised me with the idea that if you can provide for your children, then you should.
The relationships my grandfathers had with money ultimately decided their class and the class of their children. Their identities are rooted in the amount of money they were able to make. I think my parents have struggled with their inability to provide in the way that their parents did for them.
My father never experienced real discontinuity in college. Yes, he was an international student, but his father paid for everything and he lived with his aunt and uncle, who let him do whatever he wanted. He had a solid pass from professors. I do not say this to discredit my father’s hard work or insult his intelligence. I say this because his classism created a very different experience for him as a college student.
School was easy for my mother. She got good grades and was an average student. She studied accounting… perhaps there is some irony there.
What I have to force myself to remember is that my parents grew up in different countries in very different time periods. Education was so much cheaper then than it is now. No matter how much money their fathers made, their tuition was always going to be cheaper than mine. They attended college during a time when young adults were not as educated. EVERYTHING was cheaper–gas, parking, produce, THE COST OF LIVING. They lived with their families in cities near Chicago and commuted to school. They cannot expect their salaries (which have not increased in the way that college tuition has over the years) to support those same things for their children in today’s world.
I have no relationship with any of my grandparents for a number of reasons, but classism certainly plays a role. My maternal grandfather judges my father for not being able to make as much money as he did in his life. My paternal grandfather judged my mother because her parents had to move to America to make a living.
I know that classism in this sense is a little different than what the readings discussed. But this is how I chose to reflect on it.