Legacy, Identity, and Money: An Interview with Rita-Soledad Fernandez Paulino of WealthParaTodos
We all have a unique relationship with money and an equally unique story about how that relationship made us who we are today. This season of the Nav.it podcast, we asked navigators in our community to share their journey with money. We hope these stories will help us all learn more about our common human experience, and dig deeper into our own financial journeys.
As the founder of Wealth Para Todos, Rita-Soledad Fernandez Paulino tackles her family’s legacy, overcoming trauma, and what gender identity has to do with it all.
I am a financial educator and coach, the founder of Wealth Para Todos, and I work one on one with clients to make sure they have a financial plan to retire early. I want black, indigenous, people of color women, and LGBTQ plus folks working because they want to, not because they have to. So that’s my that’s what I do. I also, you know, have a weekly newsletter. I’m present on social media on LinkedIn and Instagram primarily, but just making sure that I just spread the financial gospel.
Love it. Love it. Okay, so for someone who does so much work for so many people who need it, the first question I have to ask, as always is, what is your first money memory? Like, as a kid? When do you think was the first time that you were like, Yo, I need to know about this money thing?
I remember being young. And I don’t know if I remember this or so much it’s the story that my sister has told me repeatedly. But this definitely has shaped me.
We were at church, and there was a street vendor there was being arrested. They didn’t have papers. And my mom was, I believe, pregnant and went down… to advocate for her and went down to the police station. And I think like, my mom stayed there the entire time, to help serve as like a translator. So just support this woman.
And then, later on… my mom gave her money. And I liked telling this story because the story I’ve told a lot to people is that later on my parents got a divorce. And my mom didn’t have money to pay for milk on a credit card, and someone else paid for groceries or you know, our expenses. I remember thinking at that time, I want to be the type of lady that helps. You know, I want to be the type of person that can pay for someone else’s groceries or in a time of need, I want to be able to support them, right.
I told you all this first story because my mom was also that person. And I think a lot of times, you know, our childhood like well, we’ll stick to certain memories, maybe the most like traumatic memories, right? But I also just want to share that my mom was also that person too during different times in her life. And how often like for us to realize that our financial journeys, can go through so many different seasons, right?
Absolutely, absolutely. And I love that story. Because a lot of times they say, “Be who you needed at whatever point in your life” and like, your mom has been on both sides of that. You got to see that and it really inspired you. I love that. So as a kid, you see your mom do this, you see how generous she is – how much she wants to help? What was it like at home? Was she? Does she teach you these types of things? I guess purposefully or was she just living a generous life and you just kind of saw it, experienced it, and learn from it?
The thing is that once my parents got a divorce, my mom struggled a lot financially. And so in one way, I grew up in a home that you know, the kitchen sink didn’t work. So we were washing dishes in the bathtub. In one way, you know, there was we couldn’t afford to take care of like a rat problem. So there were like rats in the house. We didn’t always have any water. And so I remember like taking baths with the with a bucket and like a bowl, right.
And yet, my mom always reminded us of how good we had it because we own the house. And that’s the thing – the reason why my mom struggled so much that she was house poor.
And she strived to keep the house despite the divorce, despite the financial struggle. She wanted to keep the houses because she had grown up, you know, she was born in Mexico and came here to the United States. She had grown up living in different apartments. And I think she just was like, it doesn’t matter what the house looks like, it doesn’t matter, but at least you have a place.
And the nice thing is that I’m actually living in the same house I grew up in as a kid. And it’s now all done nice. You can see the video so you can see it’s completely different. You can tell to like the different journeys, the different seasons that we’ve experienced on our financial journey
That is incredible.
I was telling I’m sorry, I didn’t finish with that. What I wanted to say is that, in one sense, that’s what I experienced, those were some of the most challenging memories of my childhood of that, and yet also being driven to Mexico as a kid and visiting orphanages. And, you know, seeing kids without shoes on like my mom, like so it’s all in context, right?
Like in the United States, we were struggling financially. Compared to our family, you know, or people in Mexico, there was stability here. Like we got to go to, we got to go to school for free. That was something we were always reminded of that we got to go to school for free, even though like I mean, I graduated from a high school with a 54% dropout rate, there was a lot of gun violence, but still, I had access to education.
And you know, what, I appreciate the fact that even as a kid, you were shown. I remember growing up, I’m originally from New York, right? And you would hear, “well, there are starving kids out there,” or “finish your dinner” or “it could always be worse.” But a lot of times, especially when you grow up in someplace like America, you don’t see it. We often don’t have the opportunity to experience things outside of our social classes, so it doesn’t really hit the same. You really saw it and really got to feel like “yeah, it’s not great.”
Yeah, and it impacted me because I didn’t grow up thinking I was poor. I didn’t grow up thinking that I didn’t have money. I didn’t realize the spectrum of wealth, until I got older – as I started working in college, taking care of other people’s kids, and also cleaning houses. When I was working for other people and I was “the help” I started to realize… And even more when I moved to New York…I was a nanny, a tutor. I was working for people living on the Upper East Side on the Upper West Side, and that’s when I got to experience old money and wealth in the United States.
Now, you said your parents split. Was there any conversation with your dad? Was there anything that you maybe got from him? And, you know, his experiences with money outside of the home?
Yeah, it’s interesting. I was thinking about this today, too, because I was thinking about how my parents were both born in Mexico. I’m not the first person in my family to be born in the United States, I actually had their siblings… But [my parents] were the first ones to get a divorce in their family. Right? They were the first ones to go to college in their family. They were the first ones, you know, to navigate getting bank accounts and real estate. And they did so much.
And yet, you know, there are things that they just didn’t have the skillset or access to, to be able to provide us, right. And I don’t want like when I talk about my parents, I want to honor that they did the best they could.
For myself now moving forward, now I get to think about, you know, open communication with my children and talking about emotions and feelings, and, you know, normalizing therapy, and addressing trauma. My parents never got to address the trauma. They were able to survive from one trauma to another. And, and I’m fortunate that I’m able to do that work now. Like, that’s how I feel like I’m able to support my family.
So no, there was no talk about money. The only talk about money was with my mom. And it was that we didn’t have it. And that was okay. And then with my dad, it was with my dad, we definitely got to have certain experiences that we didn’t get to have with my mom. But there was also just a lot of like, “don’t talk about it.”
I remember we got to go to Chucky Cheese. And I knew not to talk about that experience with my mom, because it would make her sad, knowing that she couldn’t have that experience. And I also got the sense of like, and don’t tell Dad, how we’re struggling financially. And what the house is condition is, because that might make mom feel bad.
Why, right? And it’s, it’s so crazy. I feel like people don’t give kids enough credit for how observant and how resilient. There’s so much they don’t know, outright, you know, nothing’s being explained to them. So they have to piece it all together like, “well, I don’t want mom to feel bad that I had a great time at dad’s.” So it’s like that emotional intelligence that a kid can have is super underrated. Like you had a very, in my opinion, very unique situation here with your parents being split, and understanding the difference in their financial situations, understanding what you should and shouldn’t say, moving forward as you were getting older, since your parents were the first to go to college and stuff like that.
Was education talked about a lot, like was that a big expectation for you to like, go to college? And you know, get that degree?
Yeah, I mean, what I heard my mom tell me most often was like, that she was eager for me to get married and have children. And it and I think it’s because of her lived experience. She wanted to get married and have kids and my grandmother was like, “the whole reason we came to the United States was for you to go to school.” So my grandmother set this rule of no one can get married unless they go to college. And I think my mom kind of resented that.
And that’s the thing, right? Like, a lot of times when we don’t deal with our traumas or the things that we didn’t like, we start to try to give our children everything we wanted. Is this really what they want? Or what they need?
So my mom was was in her mind, like, “look it I’m not telling you what you have to do with your life.” And yet, all I wanted was some recognition and celebration about like the fact that I was, you know, a straight-A student in a neighborhood where I had peers who were getting pregnant peers who were going to jail.
I won’t say like, it wasn’t celebrated. Like it was like definitely acknowledged – there was a lot of “Oh, look at Rita-Soledad. Look at how much she is doing.”
But for me, I had heard in the ninth grade that if you’ve got straight A’s, you could go on a full scholarship, and I just wanted to leave.
So to me, my philosophy toward education was more similar to my grandmother, right? I think because I spent more time with my grandma, and my grandparents than I did with my actual parents those were the messages I was getting: “pay attention in school, get your education, you know, get these opportunities.”
So that really impacted how the choices I made. And so I did you know, I was a scholarship kid and I got accepted to several colleges, and did all of that. And yet, when I went to college, I struggled a lot because I didn’t feel like I fit in.
Wow, I didn’t think I belong because there I was like, you know, my Mexican blouses and huaraches in white spaces. And I didn’t grow up with that diversity in my neighborhood with so much low-income and poverty. In LA, it was very diverse, except there was diversity in terms of like, we have Filipinos we have Salvadoreans… Mexicans, some blacks but even then like a lot of immigrants. It was diverse, but not diverse because the only thing we didn’t have growing up was whites. There were no white students in my schools. There was white teachers. And so when I went to college, and all of a sudden, like, I was like, “Oh, I’m a minority.”
I also had a very interesting trek through school. At one point, I was in a private school. So I got the “you’re black” thing real early. What school did you go to college?
Straight out of high school, I went to Occidental, I eventually left. It’s a small liberal arts school, okay, and I left it. And then I went to Glendale Community College, and then I left and then eventually went to NYU. That’s where I got my bachelor’s and my master’s
Man, the culture shock had to be bananas for you. Oh, my God.
Well, by the time I went to New York, I had already experienced racism, sexism, and all of that in college at, you know, at Occidental. When I went to NYU and dealt with the same thing in the same like, like, money classes. I was like, “Okay. Now I know how it goes.” Okay. And then later on in terms of also just, you know, my queer identity…
Okay, and that’s another thing I want to touch on as well, like, your experience, you know, I mean, and culturally? Just how rough is that? Like, that’s, you getting it from all angles? When did you even realize, you know, your identity?
Well, I feel like it’s constantly evolving, right? It’s constantly adding different layers to it. In terms of like, my queer identity. I was 18 years old memories of coming out to my mom and her being pissed. Coming out to, you know, an aunt who was just like, “you know, I’m lesbian, too,” but kept it a secret. And I just learned, like, okay, it’s okay to be queer. But you don’t talk about it.
So I learned to compartmentalize my life. And I did that in so many ways. Because I also know that people don’t want to hear that there are high schools in the United States where 54% of the students are dropping out. They don’t want to hear about how overcrowding is, they don’t want to. They don’t want to hear about all these systemic barriers to building wealth. People don’t want to hear about it. They just don’t want to hear about it. And so I learned to silence it. And I learned, in order to even navigate certain spaces. to straighten my hair, to not wear hoop earrings. I was observant enough to consider, how do I hide parts of me so that I can have access to certain opportunities that my authentic self wouldn’t have access to?
Yeah, yeah. It’s terrible, it is not right. But that is reality, you know? You can’t, you can’t go into the world looking for the world you want, you have to go into the world understanding what it is. And unfortunately, you know, I’m pretty sure not the same exact experiences, but it’s, you know, it’s something you have to do you have to code-switch, you have to, you know, like you said, just your appearance, try to get as close as you can…
to whiteness, right? Whiteness, right, because of white supremacy. And I think for me, where I decided I’m not, I’m not playing that game anymore, was when I had my children. And my seven-year-old, at two years old, already started sharing different pronouns. And they’re non-gender conforming. They were born male but identified with the “she” pronouns, now grown to “they,” and navigating that with my family. Because even in so many ways, like they still don’t really know about my queer identity… I ended up marrying my husband. So it’s like, something that doesn’t necessarily have to be talked about.
But with my child, when I decided, “Oh, I’m going to protect their wholeness. And they’re not going to have to compartmentalize” – I made that decision.
And you know, another part of is like, my husband’s black Dominican. So my kids are also not passing. Where like, I could straighten my hair, there are things I could do that allow me to be more white-passing. My child, my, four-year-old, my youngest has very black features and starting to, like, navigate that with them… I made a decision pretty much like, as soon as I was going to protect my child, and my, my, both of them my children from all of these things outside, then “Honey, why aren’t you protecting yourself?”
Why are you out here… slicing yourself to fit into these different places, instead of deciding to be whole? If you want wholeness for your child? Then why are you sacrificing your wholeness?
So I love it that changed thing.
I think it helped me eventually to become an entrepreneur, and, you know, build my business and say, you know, what, my mission is to help black indigenous people of color women and LGBTQ folk.”
People will come at me. I get the trolls on social media. Like, oh, like, “Oh, you’re your prejudice. Would you work with the white man?” I was like, “Yeah, I would. I would. Because somebody who sees that mission, and like and is not threatened by it, they understand ‘Oh, it’s because of these systemic barriers that impact these marginalized people from building wealth.” Right.
That’s my focus. I want to shed light on that. I want everyone talking about that, that no, we don’t all have like this equal opportunity to build wealth. You can’t compare yourself to somebody else who is the same age, because there are so many factors that your ancestors have, have had to navigate, that have impacted their ability to build wealth impacts your ability to inherit generational wealth.
There are different money traumas and so many things that it’s just like, yeah, that’s my mission. And if you understand my mission, and understand that systemic barriers impact our wealth journeys, you’re not gonna get offended by it.
Writer, rhymer, gamer: the easiest way to define the man known as Kenneth Medford. I’m a simple man who loves to learn and loves to help and I wander the digital world trying to find ways to sate my hunger for both. Basically, I’m Galactus but helpful.
Check out my other work here or reach out to me on LinkedIn.