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Middle-Class Immigrant Family Says Greed Is Eclipsing The American Dream

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I think most people hate to think of themselves as middle-class.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Have what you need, but maybe not everything you want.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We have a car, but we live in an apartment. That's middle class.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If you add a boat, then you're not middle class anymore. That's what changes it right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The middle class are families who are earning six figures.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: $30,000, $35,000 probably.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: That means me (laughter). And it means I'm in trouble (laughter).



This is Hanging On, our continuing series about the American middle class. Today we go to Charlotte, N.C., where we visited Las Delicias Bakery. It's on the East Side of Charlotte, which is home to many of the city's Latino immigrants, including a man named Manolo Betancur and his wife, Zhenia Martinez. They own the bakery, which sells churros and tres leches cakes to grocery stores across the state. Betancur is from Colombia. Martinez is from Mexico. They have both been American citizens for years. But for them, in this moment, the American dream feels fragile.

MANOLO BETANCUR: I came to his country just with two pants, two shirts, my pair of shoes and $100 in my pocket, and I didn't even speak any English. And I was able to get my college degree here, and I was able to become American citizen. And now we own this business. And, you know, we never thought that we will have our cakes in one of the biggest and coolest supermarkets here in Charlotte and in North Carolina. So yeah, the American dream is still there. It's maybe harder to find now. You got to work a little bit harder to find it. But also there is the feeling that American greed is taking over the American dream.

MARTIN: So you've gotten everything you wanted?

BETANCUR: (Laughter) That's a good question. Depends what you mean with that. You know, if you - I got everything that I wanted, you know, if you mean about happiness. Because, you know, the business, the car, the dollars that you put in pocket, it's nothing compared, you know, to having my kids around. You know, that's the love of our lives. So you meaning that, yes, I got everything I want, you know?

If you mean, like, in an economic way, well, it's getting better, yes - better than many countries around the world. But if you mean it, like, anger and everything for the government and for the politicians, no, I'm not. I'm not, you know, because I hate that feeling that the government is just always helping and being nice with big corporations. And everybody, they feel so proud. We help the small businesses, you know? Go to Bank of America or Wells Fargo, these huge corporations and get bail out from the government. How easy it is for us to get a loan from them? It's very hard, you know.

ZHENIA MARTINEZ: I want to say that I think - I think happiness is within. So I think I have gotten what I want. But I think as a community and as a country, we could do so much better because I think it's the working class that's been forgotten. You see a lot of people that can't even pay their bills. And that's just - it's sad. I mean, as a mother I can't imagine what they have to go through. And it's just not something that should happen when you have CEOs that are earning millions of dollars, as simple as that.

You know, it's - overall, the working class - more companies are moving to having part-time jobs basically because it benefits them financially. You know, if they have part-time positions, they don't have to provide health care. They don't have to provide retirement. Something needs to change in that perspective. We need to start focusing more on the people that do everything and make the country move as a whole and step away from focusing on the greed that has taken over.

MARTIN: I asked Manolo Betancur and Zhenia Martinez how they're doing now, if they feel like they are on good footing financially. Manolo said the recession was hard on them. Their family had to close three bakeries. No one was coming. It took a while to recover, but now they sell their breads and pastries in a major grocery store chain around the state.

As we talk, their 6-year-old daughter fidgets in Manolo's arms. He brushes her long brown hair from her forehead. He tells me he became an American citizen in 2008.

BETANCUR: Yeah. I'm very proud. Don't take me - don't take us wrong. We love this country. We are very happy that our kids are born in this country, are raised in this country. We work hard, and we love this country. But, like, that doesn't mean that, like any place around the world, there are things that we can do better.

MARTIN: That was Manolo Betancur and Zhenia Martinez. You'll hear more of their story on today's For the Record when we look at how immigrants in North Carolina are thinking about their presidential choices. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.