Posted on July 3, 2019
SPRINGFIELD --- The Durans had spent an hour answering questions about their journey from the Dominican Republic to Springfield. The interviewer was closing his notebook when 16-year-old Ambar Duran pointed out they had not been asked the most obvious question of all.
“What is the American dream?”
Ambar felt this was important because the answers would capture the gamble her father José had taken to come here, the determination her mother Anne displayed in keeping the family together, and the dreams she and her younger brother Roberto now have.
Their story begins when José Duran came to the U.S. by himself because he wanted a better life for his children. He drove a taxi in New York City and then came to Springfield, where he worked as a machine operator in a mattress factory. Back in the Dominican Republic, Anne was raising two infants and missing her husband. “Sometimes, it hurt,” she said.
Life got somewhat better in 2011 when Anne, Ambar and Roberto joined José in Springfield. Now U.S. citizens, they remember this as a time of different uncertainties. Ambar and Roberto were in English classes with students who didn’t share their passion for learning. They felt held back. “I wanted to be in the other classes,” said Roberto.
Meanwhile, they were living in an apartment in the Forest Park section of Springfield, primarily a renter-dominated, absentee-landlord part of the city. José and Anne felt frustrated that they couldn’t paint the rooms without permission and that their children had to share a bedroom. José remembers his wife telling him every day that they had to buy a house.
José and Anne took a first-time homebuyer class through Way Finders, the top housing nonprofit in Springfield. They learned they could own a home and have a mortgage payment that would be less than the $1,100 they were paying in rent each month. They met loan officer Ben Cartagena of Citizens’ Bank, who advised them that MHP’s ONE Mortgage could help them realize their dream, as it has done for over 21,000 lowand moderate-income first-time buyers.
Armed with the knowledge that they could afford it, the Durans made their home search a family affair. Anne set the ground rules, saying all four would have to agree. The unanimous choice was a three-bedroom $155,000 Cape on a quiet suburban street in Springfield’s Six Acres neighborhood. Using their own funds plus local down payment assistance, they put $7,000 down. Their all-in monthly fixed-rate mortgage payment is $889 per month.
On the November Sunday in 2018 when the Duran family sat down and told us their story, the signs of pride were everywhere. A windy rainstorm had swept through the day before, covering all the neighborhood lawns with leaves – except for the Durans. Their front yard was green, the grass lying down in complete surrender to the vigorous raking the family had just done. New mums were on the doorstep. Each room was tastefully decorated and freshly painted, a product of uncles, aunts and cousins coming over on weekends to help them renovate the entire house.
Sitting together on the couch in their living room, José and Anne Duran said they were excited about starting their own business selling a line of kitchen products. They looked at their children with pride. Who could blame them? Ambar is a senior at Putnam Vocational-Technical High School, captain of the girls’ volleyball team, manager of the boys’ team, involved in many other activities and a top student who is applying to college. Roberto attends charter school and is a talented cello player who is hoping to be selected into a district orchestra that will rehearse and play in New York City this summer. No wonder Ambar Duran insisted that the last question be about the American Dream. So we asked them.
Roberto said it was having an education and doing something he’s happy with. José said it’s seeing progress, how you are growing and how successful you are. Ambar said it’s doing something you love, having a family and owning your own business. Anne summed it all up for the family.
“Being happy together in a house,” she said. “That’s all we wanted.”
(This essay appeared in the recently published MHP annual report. If you would prefer to hold one in your hand and read other essays like this, or leave a copy in your office for others to read, email Rus Lodi and he'll mail you one or two).