Investigating My Grandparent’s Mortgage Loan Status in 1958

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Background

My father immigrated to the United States in 1968 from Lima, Peru. He was 5 years old at the time; the fifth of sixth children in his immediate family. Both of my father’s parents families descended from Germany and had settled in Peru. 

My great grandparents with three of my father’s older siblings in Lima, Peru

My father’s family contributed to issues of inequality in Peru and for that reason left the country in 1968 due to numerous political disputes. My grandmother came from a family that owned a large sugar plantation about 350 miles north of Lima. A great deal of this land was seized from my grandmother’s family in the 1968 Peruvian coup d’etat. One of my father’s older sisters was also battling polio, and medical care in the United States succeeded that of the medical care in Peru. My father’s parents agreed it was a good time to leave Peru, and they looked to the United States for a fresh start. This ironically happens to be the exact year that the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) banned racial discrimination in its housing program in the United States.

Prior to 1968, the United States’ federal government utilized the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) between the years of 1935 and 1940 to evaluate residential neighborhoods across the nation. These evaluations were funded to determine various urban neighborhood’s “mortgage security”. These residential evaluations deemed the various risks and advantages associated with the specified neighborhoods. They were created to help banks and other mortgage lenders determine what demographic was allowed to exist in various neighborhoods. They were created to systemically marginalize the urban residents of the United States. 

What if my father’s family had decided to leave Peru ten years prior, in the year 1958? Would they have been able to establish residence in the neighborhood I’m currently living in? 

While exploring the HOLC archived map of Portland, I noticed descriptions of the “infiltration” were viewed as “subversive,” “lower grade,” or “undesirable”. This is direct evidence that the HOLC was identifying all foreign immigration as an unwanted characteristic of a residential locality. 

While my father’s grandparents in Peru were wealthy, my father’s parents did not inherit the financial benefits associated with their parent’s “old money”. I am told that my grandfather was in search of work the year they arrived in America. This is in indication that my father’s family would have requested a loan in order to establish residence.

My neighborhood: St. Johns, Portland OR (Section C2)

I live at the crossroads of N Ivanhoe St and N New York Ave. This section (polygon) of the St. Johns neighborhood is labeled “C2” on Portland’s HOLC map. The HOLC included numerous characteristics on their evaluation of Portland’s C2 polygon. The characteristics listed include a geographic description, information on the infrastructure and the demographics of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. Under section 2c, the neighborhood’s “foreign-born families” percentage is listed as “none subversive”. This leads me to believe that immigrants were not particularly welcome in this neighborhood. 

Screen Capture of Portland’s C2 Polygon on the HOLC Archive

The 1940 census shows that a vast majority of the people living in this neighborhood were born in the United States. I found two families that showed record of having at the status of immigrants. One family living at 9415 N Ivanhoe St included a forty-two year old man born in Turkey, and another family living at 9207 N Ivanhoe St included a father and a son who were born in Russia. The screen capture below shows the census documentation of the family members born in Russia. 

1940 Census depicting the residents at 9207 N Ivanhoe St

The Bank’s Decision

It’s difficult to determine whether or not my father’s family would have been approved to live in St Johns in 1958. Due to the fact that the 1940 census indicates there were other white immigrants living in the C2 polygon during this time, I presume my father’s family would have likely been approved for a mortgage loan. I am told that both of my grandparents spoke very broken English, and had a difficult time assimilating to American culture. 

My Father’s Family at Christmas Dinner in California Sometime in the Early 1970s (My father on the right with the red bowtie)

My grandparent’s family was culturally tied to Peru, however they were white. This would obviously benefit them while applying for a mortgage loan in 1958. What if their ethnicity resembled less of that from their German ancestry and more from their Peruvian ancestry? How would that have effected their mortgage security status?

2 Replies to “Investigating My Grandparent’s Mortgage Loan Status in 1958”

  1. Jacob, your sleuthing has uncovered a fascinating link between your family history and the legacy of redlining. You raise an interesting questions about whether your grandparents would have been excluded by the old redlining standards. “What if their ethnicity resembled less of that from their German ancestry and more from their Peruvian ancestry?”

    It insightful research makes for an interesting look at one families connection to the Redlined America. Well-written and documented.

    It’s easy for us to forget the discrimination faced by many immigrant groups. Forexample – the Irish – who came to America in the mid 19th century and faced the twin legacy of being Catholics and considered peasants by their British overlords.

    My Greek immigrant grandparents arrived in America prior to the immigration law of 1924 which created an annual quota of only a few hundred Greeks per year. In that era, American eugenists were trying to document the inferiority of southern and Eastern Europeans. And of course they considered Asians, Latin Americans, Native Americans and Blacks even lower on the list.

    And we need to remember that in addition to the infamous lynchings of thousands of Black Americans – there were frequent lynchings of Chinese, Native Americans, Latin Americans, Greeks, Italians and Jews.

  2. Wow, what a fascinating story, Jacob! It is interesting to think how your grandparents’ story would have potentially changed had they appeared more Peruvian.

    I have a somewhat similar story on my mom’s side of the family! My mom and her parents immigrated from Germany to the Tabor district in SE Portland at around the same time as your family. They didn’t have a problem securing a loan, likely because they were white. Had they come from a “less desirable” country, or not appear white, I also wonder if their story would have changed? While your grandparents’ story isn’t entirely similar to my grandparents’ story, I see some parallels! Your research is tempting me to search 1940 Census data about the neighborhood my grandparents settled in around the 70s! Perhaps for another research project 🙂

    Once again, great job!!!

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