His experiences mirror those of other immigrants, like 25-year-old Jose Luis Zelaya.
“It’s been a very difficult journey,” says Zelaya. “Being homeless in Honduras and not being able to survive in my home country. Seeing my brother pass away because we didn’t have money to take him to the hospital.”
Living on the streets of Honduras, Zelaya saw an old woman doing crochet. He asked her to teach him. But she refused, telling him that it’s “woman’s work.” Undeterred, he taught himself to crochet.
Zelaya kept at it even after he moved to Houston when he was 14.
“I had a crazy idea that I wanted to go to college, but I was faced with the obstacle of not being able to work, and being too afraid to work with fake documentation,” says Zelaya. “I have never had a loan from a bank. I was not able to apply due to my immigration status. So I relied on crocheting and I started making a lot of beanies and scarves and headbands.” Zelaya sold his crochet beanies at flea markets.
Now he’s a grad student at Texas A&M.
And even though he’s been given a legal work permit through the Deferred Action program, he still sells his crochet online. “It made life a bit more difficult, not being able to pay for school through loans. Or not being able to apply for a credit card,” says Zelaya. “Through crocheting, I have been able to pay for my books. It has also paid for my rent. It has paid for my food. But it has also paid for my sister’s tuition, and all of her books.”
In Los Angeles, Miguel Carvente paid for his education at UCLA by holding raffles and throwing parties with a cover charge. At the time, he was jealous of friends who got student loans. But now they owe as much as $60,000.
“Now I find myself in the very privileged position of having very close to a Master’s degree and have zero debt,” says Carvente.
Others get around the lack of formal credit by participating in savings clubs. In Mexico, it’s known as a “tanda.” In El Salvador, it’s called a “cundina.” Either way, it’s the same idea. A group of people agree to contribute a certain amount of money to the collective pool every month. And over the course of a year, they take turns taking home that pool of cash.
Mario Escobar remembers his uncle buying a new pick-up truck for his gardening business. His uncle paid $8,000. Escobar asked if he paid with credit. His uncle replied, “No, no, no. I paid in full. Now I only need to repay my friends in the ‘cundina.’”
Sometimes, undocumented immigrants get around restrictions on credit through, shall we say, “creative financing.”
“I simply want to take it back to the old-school. You have what you earn. And that’s it,” says Escobar.
He doesn’t believe in credit. Or handouts. He even says he’s proud to pay taxes.
“I personally do not believe in the welfare system,” says Escobar.
Welfare for him is similar to credit; he says they both drain a person of creativity. Escobar sees the need to pay the rent as a chance to kick-start inspiration.