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Purely Dominica

Purely Dominica

domelargeIllustration by:Jan Feindt

Editor’s note:This post was guest blogged by Dan Tanner of

The New York Times today had an article entitled “Trickledown Downsizing” talking about how, in the current recession, those who had hired domestic help were being forced to lay that help off. I noticed immediately that the first layoff mentioned involved a woman from Dominica.

I personally know of three Dominicans residing in the US who could face the same thing. One works as a nanny, the two others make their living in home renovations. The two in the renovation field don’t have regular long-term jobs with families as do domestics, but with incomes down, job insecurity up, and credit tight, their prospects for renovation contracts are severely dimmed.

Worse, all three of these hard workers are not legally entitled to live or work in the US. Thus, they’re worse off than even the legal working poor laid-off in the US, because they can’t claim unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc. without risking deportation. If things get worse for them in the US, although they had once not only supported themselves but also had rent money home to help their families, they may decide to return to Dominica and instead rely on their families for a place to live. At least you can’t easily starve in Dominica, and you certainly can’t freeze.

History repeats. My natural father arrived in the US from Hungary, a teenager with his family fleeing Nazi persecution, only to struggle with the Great Depression. My mother’s family came to America from Austria under the same circumstances, with my mother’s father previously having had to become an exile from Belarus, his birthplace because of tsarist anti-semitic pogroms. They did not have the option of return open to them. My adoptive father emigrated to the US from Switzerland to work on rich peoples’ estates as a landscaper and gardener, and the life savings he built up were lost in a depression-era bank failure. He could have returned to his homeland, but his first wife was too ill to make the trip. They stayed, she died, World War II intervened, he met my recently-divorced mother, they married, and so on.

I can’t say that everything happens for the best. We all are victims of circumstances, carried in the stream by forces larger than any of us — depressions, recessions, wars, life-and-death, chance meetings. We must simply all make do. I’m writing this two days before we move to Dominica to live in retirement. We were lucky to have sold our house in the US (although it would have fetched more a few years ago, and took longer to sell), and our invested savings, upon which we will depend on for old-age income, are worth perhaps 60% of what they were a year or two ago, at least we can make the move. In old age, recovery isn’t available.

At least the lessons my wife learned from her parents and which I also learned from mine and my adoptive father too set us up well enough to get by. They taught us to be thrifty; to know the difference between what we need and what we want, and between what we could afford and what we could not. They also taught us that education was a way out of poverty and upward through economic class; that is something that we could always use, which would become more valuable through experience and wisdom gained, and which we could pass to our children, share, sell, or give away yet leave us richer, not poorer.

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This post was guest blogged by Dan Tanner of

Here in America, where everyone has credit cards and automatic teller machines (ATMs) and the Internet make banking and purchasing a 24-hour/7-day-per-week proposition, people are supposed to be somewhat sophisticated, or at least not completely naïve, financially. But that is not the case, and as a result our economy is in crisis, not just from the cost of the war in Iraq and Bush’s deficit spending and the imbalance of trade, but also because people consistently make bad choices against their own self interest. The home finance market meltdown is but one example. Sure, everyone in the picture – borrowers, lenders, brokers, bankers, traders, bond insurers, and even politicians – share in the blame, but none of it could have happened if the borrowers had exercised common sense in the first place.

Dominicans can learn from the miserable American example. My wife Ruth and I have weathered hard economic times and avoided these pitfalls. Both of had parents who were tempered by world wars and the Great Depression, and passed on to lessons that we heeded and which I’ll now share. Remember these three rules:

  • 1.Know the difference between what you want and what you need.
  • 2.Be patient.
  • 3.Nothing is free.

I’ll illustrate these rules by giving examples:

Know the difference between what you want and what you need. My mother had an older brother and one younger. My older uncle did well in business and would make loans to his younger brothers and sisters if they needed money. He would always ask what the money was being borrowed for. It had always been for some real need; a rent payment, to pay a doctor, etc. Payback of the loans was always a matter of honor. A payment might be missed, but that was infrequent.

It was never stated, but well understood, that if for some reason a loan could not be paid back, my older uncle would not be putting his younger relatives and their families out on the street – he was not like a bank. One day his youngest brother asked for a loan and when asked what it would be for, he replied that he wanted to buy a TV set. My older uncle refused him the loan, telling his young brother that he did not need a TV set, he merely wanted one. Too often, people can’t make that distinction, and then they can’t wait for what they want, leading to the second rule.


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