National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15) is an opportunity to recognize the stories, contributions, and lived experiences of Hispanics in the United States.
Featuring Melissa Correa, Business Development Manager, Winter Park, Florida
I was born in New Jersey and spent six months of every year in Colombia, where my parents are from. I grew up in both countries. I have three brothers, but just my younger brother and I would make the annual trip to Medellin, Colombia, with our aunt. My parents were undocumented immigrants, so they weren't able to go with us.
My parents come from big, loving families, so it was important to them that we understand our culture and heritage. Mom has 13 brothers and sisters, and my dad has six siblings, and they all live in Colombia.
When I was in Colombia, I never wanted to leave. Every weekend we would have cookouts with all my cousins and aunts and uncles. My cousins were like brothers and sisters. All my family lived nearby, and I could walk to their houses. We were always together.
My parents owned a house in New Jersey and then in Orlando. When they first came to this country, they both cleaned offices, and eventually, they both got jobs in manufacturing. They struggled during the Great Recession. They had an adjustable mortgage rate, and they had trouble making their monthly payments. My dad thought that the bank was helping him try to keep their home, but that wasn't the case. They went into foreclosure, and their house was sold. They had to move to an apartment. My dad never adjusted to living in the U.S., and he felt that his home was taken away from him. After they retired, they moved back to Colombia.
Photo: Melissa (in pink dress) celebrates their move to Orlando, Florida in 1993 with her dad, three brothers, and two cousins who were visiting from Colombia for the first time.
I'm in the mortgage business because of my parents' experience. I want to help people avoid the heartache and financial devastation of losing their homes.
People of Hispanic origin who come to the U.S. to start a new life are accustomed to living in a little tribe where everyone knows and helps each other. So it's a big shock for them when they get here. They have many challenges: they must learn a new culture, a new language, and a new physical environment. They must make new friends and new connections. They come to us, they don't know anyone, and they are really homesick.
It can become especially troublesome when they want to buy a house. In addition to the language barrier, the process of purchasing a home is different here. In Colombia and other countries, when you buy a home, you only deal with one person who helps facilitate everything. This person doesn't need a professional license so they can help you find a home and help you get a mortgage. As a result, many people expect the same service here. I spend time educating and helping our Hispanic customers feel comfortable working with a realtor to find a home. And I ensure they are comfortable working with our team to get the best mortgage for their needs.
Also, the home mortgage documents are in a foreign language. This makes it difficult for Spanish-speaking customers to feel comfortable and confident about the mortgage process. I sit down and translate and explan what the documents mean so that they can understand the terms of their mortgage agreement. I help them overcome their mistrust of financial institutions. They think they need a lot of money and excellent credit to qualify for a mortgage. As a result, many Hispanic consumers think homeownership is unaffordable or too complicated.
Amerifirst Home Mortgage created our Ameriuno division to help Spanish-speaking people get past these obstacles and reach their homeownership goals. I speak Spanish, I provide financial education, and I coach them through the homebuying process. We provide educational materials in Spanish, and the emails I send our customers are in Spanish. I provide access to home loan products specifically designed to help first-time homebuyers qualify for a home loan. This includes programs that offer flexible credit guidelines, low down payment options, and lower overall costs.
Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S., and I'm proud to share this close-knit community's heritage, values, and culture. Like so many Hispanic-Americans, I've been working since I was 15-years-old because I needed to help my parents. I have three beautiful kids, ages one, four, and 13. I love spending time with my family at the beach and teaching my kids our culture and the importance of family.
I understand the difficulties immigrants face when coming to the United States. I love what I do because I get to help our Hispanic customers achieve their goals in this new country. And that means I get to celebrate with them when they become homeowners – a dream they thought they could never achieve.*
Meet the Ameriuno Team
The Ameriuno team is located in Winter Park, Florida (L to R): Pedro Wong, Mignellie Tores Rivera, Perla Pilarte, Melissa Correa, Jennifer Calderon, Maria Navarro, Aileen Capellan and Flavio Espinal Nunez.
About Amerifirst Financial Corporation
Amerifirst Financial Corporation offers financial services through its Amerifirst Home Mortgage and Ameriuno divisions. It employs over 800 team members and provides home financing opportunities for thousands of individuals and families each year, especially in rural and underserved communities. It operates in branches across the U.S. and is recognized by Inc. 5000 for its 78 percent growth over a three-year period. Its mission is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.
*(as told to Janet Veach)