I have a dream. It’s been steeping for quite a while. I think the idea was hatched, or at least strengthened, one Fourth of July holiday three or four years ago.
My son and I went to the parade and picnic in Piedmont, a small, wealthy community tucked within the boundaries of Oakland.
We spread our blanket beneath the benevolent branches of an ancient oak. Nearby a large, mixed-race group with multiple baskets laden with fragrant picnic food and wine kindly offered us pieces of tender jerk chicken, squares of ambrosiac black cake, and cups of wine.
The group was mostly from Jamaica and Nigeria. We spoke about their journeys to the U.S. and were fortunate to hear some of their tales.
They told us they did something typical in immigrant communities like theirs: They came one-by-one, established themselves, then reached back for the one next in line.
They told us they act as the bank for the next family member or friend to arrive. As soon as they have their basic needs met, they begin putting money away for the next person.
And this wasn’t just a little cache of cash. Dave, the devilishly handsome member of the group, told us that they lived together with several to a room, bunk-house style, until they had amassed enough money to buy a house for the person who came first. Once that person had their house, they all put money into the pot for the next person’s house, and so on. Not one of them used a bank or credit of any kind. The family was the bank. The community was the bank.
I told my friend Michael about this. He’d lived in China for more than a decade. He said, “Yes, that’s how the Chinese do it too. The family is the bank.”
This intrigued me greatly.
How could I be the bank? How could we make the family the bank?
I’d gotten burned more than once — by student loans, by a bad mortgage, by an unfair and sudden increase in property taxes when my ex and I separated, and certainly numerous times by the IRS.
I wanted to keep as much of our money for ourselves as possible. I learned the hard way, with shock and astonishment, that the U.S…