Op-Ed: Here’s How School Loan Forgiveness Would Help Latinas Like Me

Students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education on Hollywood Boulevard on September 22, 2012 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California. Citing bank bailouts, the protesters called for student debt cancelations. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

In 2014, a video of a son paying off his parents’ mortgage went viral. Joe Riquelme wrote a simple note under the video: “On Dec 25, 2014, I presented a gift to my parents in a small dog-eared envelope. Inside was a bank receipt and a note saying ‘Your house is paid off. Merry Xmas. – Joe.’”

As I watched him sit with his parents on their couch – his dad saying, quietly, “no, hijo” – I wondered if I could do the same for my mom one day. If I could hand her a card with the same feeling of anticipation. If we could cry together in that space where she hung family photos, including both of my graduation portraits.

Recently, in response to presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s student-loan forgiveness plan – which will help Black and Latinx students, in particular – I spoke about my student loan debt for an article on Refinery29. And I broke a cardinal rule, of course: I read the comments. One of them remarked that student loan debt was similar to their own experience taking out a loan for their mortgage. They would have to repay it on our own, so we did, too.

In other words: You have debt? Too bad, so sad. We all do.

One day, I hope to help my mom pay off her house, but the looming largeness of my student loan debt makes it feel impossible.

Another comment suggested that the people in the article just weren’t paying enough each month; that if we all saved half our paycheck like this commenter did, we would be debt-free before we knew it.

One day, I hope to help my mom pay off her house, but the looming largeness of my student loan debt makes it feel impossible. A National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report found that among the students who received a bachelor’s degree in 2007-2008, 62.1% of Hispanic students took out federal undergraduate loans. 24.1% took out federal graduate loans. 73.2% of Black students took out federal undergraduate loans and 37.3% took out federal graduate loans. In comparison, 59.2% of white students took out federal undergraduate loans and 21.8% took out federal graduate loans.

I get nervous, often, that if I put too much of my paycheck toward my student loan debt, I won’t put enough in savings for an emergency. Four years out of graduate school, I’m not quite in the financial standing where I can put a good chunk into my savings and student loans and then still be ready for unexpected costs.

Last year, I really hit my stride in terms of balancing a full-time job with freelancing. Nearly all of my freelance income (after I saved for taxes) went toward my smaller student loan. It’s my goal to pay that loan off completely by the end of the year – before moving on to the larger $34K one. According to my student loan site, I don’t actually owe another payment on my smaller loan until 2022 — a weird assurance that I ignore because I’m trying to pay it off as quickly as possible.

There were times I thought of dropping out of graduate school because I felt overwhelmed and stressed — about my coursework but also my financial situation, including the debt I was incurring.

According to think tank Demos, Latinx students with loans have a higher dropout rate than white students with loans. A 2009 report found that 67% of borrowing Latinx students dropped out of for-profit four-year institutions, compared to 46% of white students. Interestingly, the numbers even out more when it comes to public four-year institutions, with both groups at a 21% dropout rate.

Debt forgiveness would decrease a huge amount of my stress.

Even the prospect of paying my small loan on my own and then getting the larger one forgiven would make me feel elated. I didn’t take out a loan for an unnecessary luxury – although I absolutely recognize the privilege I had being able to attain higher education. I took out the loan because many people told me that an undergraduate degree might not be enough for a good job.

I took out a student loan because I wanted to continue my educational career, to one day be able to consider getting a PhD. I took out a loan thinking that if the degree helped me get a higher-paying job, I would use the income to help my mom – to support my nephews and nieces if they needed me. Debt forgiveness would help me get closer to these goals.

It’s a touchy subject to discuss salary and spending habits with other people (read: total strangers on the internet), but I’m confused about why we are judging people for trying to advance their career or pursue their academic passions.

Debt forgiveness would decrease a huge amount of my stress – but I know it would be even more life-changing for so many other people in debt.

Even people who might have taken out loans fully prepared to pay them back might have run into an undeniable fact: life happens. Emergencies happen. Things change and we find ourselves needing to take closer care of the people we love. The step we took toward a better life suddenly feels like a burden.