This week, I am publishing a series of essays on Guaranteed Income and the ways it would change five people’s lives. Today, an essay from Rosa Garcia, edited by Brooke Obie.
Rose Garcia is a single mom of a human child and a cat. She immigrated to the US at the age of 7 and was in the country undocumented for over 20 years before qualifying for DACA and then asylum. She recently graduated from business school with a bachelors degree and will be pursuing a graduate degree in finance. She believes in housing, food, and healthcare being a basic human right. She os passionate about helping others and eventually would like to start a scholarship foundation for single parents pursuing higher education because it takes a village to raise a child and ourselves.
I sit at my desk next to our living room that has no couch. I turn on my desk lamp and compulsively look at my budget. Can I pay all of the bills this month? Did I take into account the cost of my daughter’s camp? Did I remember the cost of school lunches? What is going to happen if she has to stay home again for the next full year of school?
Our empty living room has no place for her to sit and do her schoolwork. I am banking on school reopening and I don’t have a plan B. School is the best place for her; my social butterfly needs the in-person interaction. But she’s too young to get vaccinated and the pandemic isn’t ending any time soon. There is no good choice. That’s a familiar refrain that I never get used to; when you’re financially struggling, “choice” seems like a distant dream.
I remember when I was pregnant, well-meaning friends would tell me not to worry about being a single mom, that there were government benefits I would qualify for to help take care of us. I look around at how much we’ve struggled over the past few years and wonder what those friends could’ve possibly meant.
My community is made up of parents and the children we are raising. I think about how they too might have to go without or work extra hours in a pandemic just to make ends meet. As a formerly undocumented immigrant, I’m one of the “lucky” ones. I received asylum in America right before I started my degree at California State University. That luck brought me $30,000 in student loans. During that time, I earned $20 per hour but also paid $1,000 a month in daycare. Though I am grateful I was able to finish my degree and advance to better paying jobs at work, I still struggle with this debt on top of my other expenses.
I scour my budget and rack my brain to shake out any hidden cost or bill that I do not remember because if my calculations are off by even $5, that one mistake will incur me a hefty overdraft fee of $29.50. That one incident will also tell my bank I am not trustworthy, I can’t spend within my budget and therefore, I will never be able to get my credit score good enough to eventually buy a home. That train of thought haunts me every night.
What do other parents like me do in a world where one emergency can set us back months in debt? We end up working for “free” because the money we are working for has already been spent. There is no joy in getting paid. There is the momentary relief of not fearing an overdraft fee; there is the momentary relief that the hours we worked, the many times we snapped in frustration was worth it. But, was it? Once the money is drained again, the stress returns to its comfortable crevices in our hunched shoulders, in our grimaces and disappointment that the two steps we moved forward have only been replaced by three steps back.
When I have the chance to fantasize about what life would be without the fear of being destitute, I dream of being able to pay for bills without living paycheck to paycheck. I dream about having the afternoons off to make my crafts. I love painting. I love cooking. I dream of finally feeling like a good parent.
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I was barely scraping by. When I told people that I was pregnant, I received verbal support, but verbal support only goes so far. During my third trimester, I made the “choice” to move in with someone whom I thought was offering me help. Instead, I became trapped in a traumatic, exploitative, transactional relationship, where I would do administrative work for her company and “household chores” in exchange for room and board. The unpaid labor quickly devolved into me being her personal assistant. The lines between work and personal life were erased. She not only felt entitled to my time and unpaid labor, she also felt justified in criticizing my parenting. It was a crash course in the dangers of white saviorism, where her desire to be seen and rewarded for helping a marginalized single mom outweighed any actual, no-strings-attached help she ever offered me.
When my daughter was three months old, I knew I had to get us out of that situation and get myself a paying job where I could be free of exploitation. I thought, if I could only get some nice résumé paper, I could land the job I needed to take care of us well. I drove from store to store looking for the paper, my daughter in the backseat screaming the whole way because she hated her car seat. The task took me about three hours and towards the end, I was crying right alongside her. I convinced myself that I was not fit to parent because a good parent would not put their child through the trauma of driving from place to place for three hours looking for résumé paper. A good parent would have a partner who loved and supported them. A good parent would not need to urgently leave a place they thought would be safe. A good parent would not be scared every single moment of the day because they didn’t have money to escape.
My desperation to free us from the trap of that woman’s “help” led me to run into another situation that was less bad, but not better.
I left the state that I loved and where my daughter was born and moved in with friends. But eventually, their welcome ran out. The environment was volatile, tense. I was back in a cycle of being criticized for my parenting. The person who was providing childcare for my daughter quit with one day’s notice. I panicked. I had nowhere else to look. So, I did what I knew I could do, and that was to survive.
I found a new, $200 per week daycare that was half my pay and located in the opposite direction of my work, but I had a car and could just figure it out as I went. I dropped my daughter off after meeting them only once, hoping for the best and feeling the worst. A good parent would never do this.
Then, of course, my car broke down and I could not afford to fix it, but I relied on my car to take my daughter to daycare in order for me to work so I could pay the daycare. A vicious, unrelenting cycle.
I thought of my own mother who brought me to America without documentation and hasn’t been in my life for fifteen years. I had no parental support; my friends helped me file for a path to citizenship through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and secure better employment. The most terrifying time of my life was when Trump was elected and I was unsure of our future.
In 2018, my DACA work authorization lapsed and I was unemployed for three months while my renewal was processed. I relied on cleaning houses while my daughter attended daycare for one month. I met another single mom and she offered to help by letting us stay with her. I wound up putting us in another dangerous situation with a woke white woman whose “help” was more like score-keeping and a laundry list of what I owed her.
As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and a survivor of childhood trauma, I was granted asylum on July 12, 2018—a month before I began my degree program and qualified for financial aid.
I think of what I could have achieved if I’d had my parents’ support. I think of the kind of parent I could be if I had the funds to tend to my mental and emotional well-being, if I had the energy to heal from intergenerational trauma. If I didn’t have to stress about when bills were due or where we could move to next if we had to leave in a hurry, I could just be present for my daughter.
If I had steady income, I could get steady childcare and pursue the kinds of jobs that would give us financial freedom. I wouldn’t fear the seasons changing because I could afford the proper clothes for my daughter. I wouldn’t worry about being at the whims of someone else’ ulterior motives or exploitation because I would not be so vulnerable and could leave abusive situations at the first sign of danger with more ease.
We’re on our own now, as safe as we can be in our couchless apartment with no place for my daughter to do her schoolwork. She does her work at school and I do mine at home, at my desk, in between scouring over the bills, thinking about our future, and dreaming of a system that ensures a universal income, and a day when I could finally be good enough.