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Latinos Open Up About Income, Class, Social Mobility

Adeline Ortiz, 47, Financial Services Professional, College instructor, New York, NY

I see myself as an upper-middle-class working mother. I work in life insurance, wealth management, financial planning. The reason I was drawn to this path is because it’s an educational role; too many Latinos don’t realize we have these options.

My parents divorced when I was 9, and we went from middle class to living in a run-down tenement in the South Bronx. This was my life, but through a high school program every other week I went to work in downtown Manhattan, in plush accommodations surrounded by wealthy brilliant people at the heart of corporate America. I credit this experience as transforming me. I started to work on my vocabulary, writing skills. People in my community would say ‘why do you speak as a white person?’ as if this wasn’t available to us.

That is what has defined me - I never saw myself as less than anyone else. I said the only difference between them and me is time. That is why I love teaching so much. I’m in a position to make an impact. As far as my children, (12 and 13), they are now understanding that they are having a more privileged life than I had – they also see what they don’t have, and what attainable goals they can set for themselves that I cannot provide.

John Brecher / NBCNews.com

Aquiles Sanchez, 21, Restaurant food runner, North Bergen, NJ

I would say we are a lower-income family. I started out as a dishwasher at the restaurant where I work, then I became interested in what was happening in the dining area. I asked and got the opportunity to become a busboy. Then a position opened up to be a food runner, and I was promoted. I am very grateful the managers have given me an opportunity to keep advancing. I am trying to become a waiter one day.

I live with my parents and younger sisters. My father works for a cleaning services company.

This is a country of opportunity, it’s for people who want to keep fighting to get ahead. I would like to get married and have a family one day. I think that if one sets one’s mind to it one can reach the middle class with a lot of hard work

John O'boyle

Rob Alvarado, 38, CEO, Palo Alto Inc., Denver CO

I would consider myself upper income. It’s a balance between showing what is possible and what you can be proud of, but I kind of grew up with parents and grandparents where you learn to keep certain things to yourself and not talk too much about what you have.

I would say that absolutely there are a lot of challenges that exist today; I know when my family started their business venture, they would say it was as challenging as it is today. We are especially proud of the fact that we have many executives and operators who have been with us for several years; our VP of Operations began working with us at 14 as a Taco Bell team member.

Certainly economic barriers exist as well as the issue of equal access to the education system It is critical for those of us who have the means to stay active and stay involved and create opportunities. For me it’s been a passion of mine to get involved in early childhood education. Giving kids those opportunities, mentorship and support that they don’t have privilege or access to is crucial for the next generation to be successful. If they can picture what is capable with hard work and opportunity, I do think it’s incumbent on our community to have role models.

Peter Lockley

Ana Palmira Almanzar, 60, Realtor, Department Store Beauty Advisor, Miami, FL

I consider myself middle class. When there’s not a lot left over after paying the bills, that to me is middle class (laughing). The bills don’t stop. I was doing very well in real estate, and then the downturn came. My goal has always been to be in a higher class. I have a lot of perseverance. Right now I have two jobs, I work full-time at a makeup counter and I sell real estate. I am an admirer of Mary Kay Ash (the makeup company founder); she started a company at 54; she is my motivation.

My parents had good jobs in the Dominican Republic, my mother worked in the Central bank and my father was general manager at an American pharmaceutical laboratory. People tell stories and it sounds like bragging but we did live well. But circumstances change, and a person adapts to new realities. I have a 25-year-old son, and we live with my parents. We are united in good times and bad.

This is the country of opportunity, and no matter what people say, this country was made by immigrants. There is space for everyone here. The contributions of Latinos have been excellent.

Andrewinnerarity

Cesar Fuentes, 40, Organizer/community activist, Disability Services Professional , Brooklyn, NY

My wife and I both have Master’s degrees, but we consider ourselves working class. When you’re still in this realm where if you stop working after two or three months your life is hanging and you can lose your house and credit line, that is working class. I think the working class now encompasses white collar, mid-level workers, the ones who are not really movers and shakers.

I own my own house even though it’s a little house and we got it at 50 percent off because it’s a minority neighborhood. For my wife and I, economics has been a big factor in not having children yet. But as two working-class professionals with Master’s degrees, it’s something we wear with pride.

Apart from my work with disabled persons, I organize the Red Hook Food Vendors; I see myself as an advocate for persons like my parents who own a popular food truck. They are fighting for the American Dream as older Hispanics.

Luis Garza, 52, Associate at Call Center, San Antonio, TX

I guess I would say I’m low middle-class now, I went from making over $85,000 fifteen years ago down to mid-thirties. I do see myself as having the potential of earning more if the opportunity arises. I had it, we lost it, and I plan to get it again. I am looking for work in IT, where I used to work. The competition has gotten greater and salaries have gotten lower. I have a degree in mechanical engineering but our country stopped making things which is why I left the field and went into IT. Most people I know I graduated with feel like they’re not really using their engineering degrees.

I grew up middle class. I would say I have not been able to give my kids as many economic advantages as I got, but I’ve been able to give them more time and an emphasis on education.

I definitely worry there is greater disparity; I worry that another crash will happen and affect my kids. I worry more than my kids worry – my kids have a tremendous sense of optimism for their future and I don’t want to spoil that for them. Any child growing up with technology has a more equal playing field – I think the internet has provided them with a greater sense of diversity. Family is very important; I go to church every Sunday. It’s a great buffer, it’s a place to stand and know that we can stick together.

Cassandra Palacio, Actress, former Rockette, New York, NY

I’ve always seen myself as a middle-class adult, even when I was making a lot of money as a Rockette. As an actor, you usually have down time so I had a “normal” job also, but I was recently laid off. So I’m unemployed. I knew it would be hard because of the lifestyle I chose. I would say that my decision to become an entertainer has taken me on an amazing journey.

I would say I’ve done better than my parents. Everyone I grew up with, we’re all in better positions than our parents back then. Looking back I would say we were lower class or working class; my mother told me years after we had been on welfare when she went back to school. She later worked for many years and retired. I do help out my family, but they know not to ask me month to month if I’m not working a regular job; my rent comes first, and my emergency fund is for me in case I blow out a knee.

I do think my industry has changed. There are a lot of celebrities on TV that take away opportunities from us, actors that were only in movies before are now on tv. But I would say I’m optimistic. I know that there is a job out there for me. I know I will continue to work in the industry where I have a passion.

John Makely / NBC News