For mortgage banker Robert Bouapaengphan, bridging the cultural gap is bringing home ownership to first-generation people of color, just like him. According to data from Minnesota Compass, approximately 73% of Minnesotans own a home, but only 42% of BIPOC Minnesotans own a home.
Robert’s family moved to the U.S. from Laos three months before he was born. Growing up, he spoke Lao at home and relied on his sponsor and slightly older brother to help him with school and homework.
As a first-generation Asian-American, he witnessed his parents suffer a few home-related crises that drove him to the mortgage industry with the goal to help prevent the same thing from happening to other first-generation Americans, immigrants and underserved communities.
“I remember as a young adult, my parents’ basement flooded. They weren’t too worried at first because they had insurance, but once they started working with the insurance company, they were denied the claim. They didn’t have the coverage they thought they did because of the language barrier,” Robert explains.
Fast forward only a couple months to the 2008 housing crash and his parents were in another pickle with their mortgage. They had drained their savings recovering their home from the flood damage and were unable to refinance their mortgage, partly due to the language barrier and cultural misunderstandings throughout the relationship with the lender. Robert wanted to learn all that he could about homeownership, protection and wealth building. He had an eager desire to be able to provide safety and security to families like his. First, he got his insurance license. He then went on to become a mortgage banker and continues to help people understand the responsibilities that come with home ownership, whether English is their first language or not.
“My goal is to help people recognize that owning a home and building wealth are possible, even for first-generation Americans, immigrants and underserved communities.” Robert says. “Through firsthand experience as an Asian-America, I help break down the cultural barrier and bridge the gap. I try to truly help my clients understand what they are getting into and help them get into the right home and mortgage loan for them.”
Robert continues to read mail, decipher bills, interpret medical documents and more for his parents. When he meets with clients, he is transparent and informative with them, just as he is with his immigrant parents. He builds a relationship with them to help them into the right loan as there are options designed specifically for first-generation homebuyers.
Outside of mortgage, Robert served as an Olmsted county interpreter, sitting in on court cases and helping translate for other Lao immigrants. He is also a teacher for the Southeast Asian Diaspora (SEAD) project and an involved member of Rotary and Strive. His involvement with underserved youth stems from his own experiences as a kid. He grew up bridging the gap between American culture and how his parents were raised in Laos. Robert is married with two young kids. He hopes to continue sharing his Lao roots and language with his children as he believes it’s important for people to celebrate their diverse heritage and unique roots.