Mexican-American and Latino-American Rotating Credit Associations in Southern
Rosalba Gama, Delma Medrano and Luis Medrano
The monetary practice we chose to focus on for our project is the tanda.
The tanda is a form of rotating credit association and a monetary practice
that we, as Chicanos, have grown up knowing but never really understood
the details, except that our parents or other relatives participated in
them. That is why we have chosen to research the tanda, which is rooted
deeply in the Mexican and Latin American culture and has evolved into
a common practice within Mexican-American and Latino-American enclaves
in southern California.
The term “rotating credit associations” refers to "an
association formed upon a core of participants who agree to make regular
contributions to a fund which is given in whole or in part to each contributor
in rotation" (Cope and Kurtz 213). The basic definition given here
explains the foundation for the manner in which a tanda functions, but
specifically for the tanda. What is left out of this definition is the
fact that in a tanda the association is built mostly on trust. "Without
a willingness to engage in generalized reciprocal relations based on mutual
trust, the associations could not function" (Velez-Ibañez
7). Confianza, or trust, is the key aspect of the tanda and is what allows
this type of credit association to exists within the community. How did
this type of association begin? Where did the tanda come from? How is
it that a group of people, sometimes strangers, contribute their hard
earned money to a pot in which they and the other participants expect
to receive the tanda amount on their given date?
Rotating credit associations exist in various parts of the world. Let's
recall that rotating credit association is the general term used to the
type of association that can be formed by any given peoples. The specific
ways in which these rotating credit associations function and who participates
in them vary from culture to culture. Because rotating credit associations
are a form of reciprocity or gift giving among peoples, similar practices
can be traced back hundreds of years among numerous cultures around the
world. The tanda, a form of rotating credit association, originated in
Mexico and is known among the Mexican American and Latino American community
of southern California and various other parts of southwestern United
Practices involving rotating credit associations including the tanda are
known to have originated from people who lived in agrarian societies.
These people then shifted from a traditional agrarian society to a commercial
one and in this transition formed credit associations, influenced by the
dominant commercial society (Velez-Ibañez 7). This suggests that
the tanda is formed solely for economic purposes. The tanda usually involves
people who are interested in developing a money saving system and more
importantly in building relationships with the organizers of the tanda
and all other participants. In Mexico, the origins of the tanda and similar
practices involve the need for the people of the working class, and in
some cases the middle class, to rotate scarce resources among themselves,
in this case money. In the United States, specifically southern California,
the tanda was introduced through migration from the working class of Mexico
to the United States. This practice has survived in the United States
because the immigrants that migrated from Mexico to the United States
continued to be of the working class and being immigrants, relied on the
tanda as a form of money saving.
The origins of the tanda in Mexico are said to have begun in and around
Puebla, Mexico. The manner in which the practice of credit associations
arrived in Mexico is postulated to have come from the Chinese. Velez-Ibañez
states that, "when Chinese contract workers established residence
in Mexico after 1899, they brought with them a Chinese version of rotating
credit association known as the hui" (16). Chinese labor was known
to have been distributed in many areas of Mexico and their practice could
have made some contribution to the emergence of the tanda years later.
Tanda is the name that has become dominant among the people who participate
in it in Mexico and those in the United States. The word tanda literally
means turn or alternative order. However, there are various other names
that have been given to this practice of rotating credit association.
Another name that is widely used, probably second to tanda, is cundina.
In Spanish “cundir” means to spread. Other names that have
been used according to area include: quiniela in Chihuahua, mutualista
in Yucatan, vaca in Texas, and bolita in Veracruz. Interestingly enough,
prisoners from the Leucunberry prison, a prison in Mexico, have created
their own form of rotating credit association. They have coined it cannabis
mexicana vacas, which was a cooperative savings group organized to buy
larger amounts of marijuana for a discount. Unlike the Tanda, this was
not made up of individual equal shares, and because of this, the amount
of marijuana given was equal to the amount of money contributed (Velez-Ibañez
Other interesting names that have been used are tanda de cuates, cuates
meaning pals, and coperacha, or cooperative. In the tanda de cuates, about
five people are involved whose specific goal is to purchase alcoholic
beverages, from which results an unintended consequence prestige for the
person who can consume the most alcohol without becoming intoxicated (Velez-Ibañez
23). The coperacha is a more general than the tanda de cuates because
the money contributions are used for things like family dinners or for
financial assistance to a friend in need. What remains certain is that
all of these names are only variants of the most dominant term, the tanda,
which is what has persisted in the United States.
Process: How it Works Today
In our search to get the most up-to-date and accurate information about
tandas we interviewed four people who have participated in these tandas
for a minimum of four years. Participants A, B, and C are female immigrants
from Mexico and Participant D is an immigrant from El Salvador. All four
women live in Santa Ana, California. Our interview questions revolved
around their interest in participating, their experience, the organization
and procedure, possible risks, and their role within the tanda. The women’s
interests and perception of possible risks are similar, but there were
a variety of organizational concepts that correlated with the woman’s
status within the tanda.
Participant A, a Mexican immigrant now living in southern California defines
the terms “tanda” and “cundina,” which she uses
interchangeably, as a community composed of people you know and trust.
She began participating at the age of 15 and has been a constant participant
in tandas for the last 16 years. Participant A considers the tanda to
be a very effective way to save money and control needless expenditures.
She also claims that she is so used to participating and following the
tanda routine that she does not want to stop. Although this may resemble
an addiction, Participant A perceives the continuous participation in
tandas positively because it serves as an incentive to save money for
paying off debts, traveling, and/or preparing for big parties or ceremonies
such as quinceañeras and weddings.
The amount of credit that rotates within the tanda can vary in amount.
The total contributions of the tanda she participated in 16 years ago
participants summed up to $200. This means that every week x number of
people would all pitch in a pre-determined amount of money to compile
$200 each week. Every week a different person would get the $200. Currently
she was participating in a tanda that would amount to $2,000 every week.
There were ten participants in this tanda, and every week they would pitch
in $200. One of the ten different participants would receive the $2,000
each week, for ten weeks. Speaking specifically about her community’s
tanda, she stated that seniority determined the weekly order of who received
the tanda amount, as opposed to random selection. The names of the people
that had been selected were then written on a weekly time sheet, and were
crossed off as each person received their tanda amount. It was also common
in their tanda for people to participate twice. However, this meant that
their contribution would be doubled. For example that participant in the
tanda would receive $4,000, by the end of the entire process, but would
also have had to contribute $400 every week.
Because of her long experience Participant A was currently an organizer
of the tanda. This means that she participates within the tanda, but is
in charge of deciding the sequence of payments according to seniority,
keeping the weekly time sheet and keeping track of who gets paid when,
making sure everybody makes their payments on time every week, collecting
and distributing the money. She mentioned that her position as the organizer
could sometimes be problematic when a friend she knows to be irresponsible
wants to join. While the decision to not let this friend participate in
the tanda may sour the friendship, it gains the organizer respect and
trust from the other participants.
Because of her strict regulation of the participants, there had not been
anyone who had defaulted, but if that were the case, as organizer, she
would have to take over the payments. In some instances when people had
paid their contributions late, she collected a late fee of $20 for the
inconvenience but also to set an example. In fact she mentioned it was
not uncommon for participants who did not have for the weekly payments,
to borrow from other participants in order to make payments and prevent
the tanda from falling apart. It was up to their discretion to repay each
other in timely fashion after getting paid from work or receiving their
share of the tanda.
Participant B, an immigrant from Jalisco, Mexico, also living in Santa
Ana, California has had 15 years of experience as a constant participant
in tandas. She has participated in at least one tanda per calendar year
since her migration to the United States. When asked why she participates
in tandas, Participant B echoed the response of Participant A, stating
that the tanda is a great way to save money, but also mentioned that it
is helpful in making big purchases when funds aren’t available.
She alluded to her ability to purchase a vehicle through the use of tandas.
She also explained that during the time that she wanted to purchase her
vehicle all of the other tanda participants were also interested in making
big purchases. In order to accommodate all of their needs, they organized
three tandas that year in which each person contributed $200.00 per week
for a total of 27 weeks (each tanda was 9 weeks long).
When asked about not choosing to save her money in a bank, but rather
within a rotating credit association, Participant B expressed her perception
of the bank as an institution that was waiting for any opportunity to
charge a fee for “safe keeping,” something that was not a
concern within the tanda. She explained that she preferred tandas because
the group had a better, more tangible control of the money and a personal
understanding of each other’s needs. The group of people she participates
in is constituted by her sisters, which, together, make up the total of
nine contributors to the tanda.
This particular family tanda is very exclusive and is only organized for
the use of the sisters. The sisters alternate to be organizers every time
a new tanda is proposed. To keep track of the contributions, an agenda-like
book is passed from organizer to organizer every time a new tanda is initiated.
Touching on the subject of fraud, Participant B shared that since the
participants in her group are all sisters, they have a moral responsibility
to follow through with the tanda. They cannot flake out because they are
bound by the same goal, to help each other out.
Our third interviewee, also from the state of Jalisco, Mexico, is currently
living in southern California and is an employee at a local factory in
Santa Ana, CA. She has participated in 5 tandas in the last four years,
since she was introduced to tandas in the workplace. Her reasons for participating
in the tanda include financial necessity but also the enduring hope that
she will increase the amount of money in her savings account. Up until
today though, she has been unable to accomplish that goal since she often
finds herself using the tanda money to pay the mortgage and other bills.
She mentioned that sometimes she has been able to increase her savings,
but then sometimes finds herself having to withdraw money from her account
to make payments on the tanda.
Participant C does prefer the tanda over banking institutions because
it allows her to count on the set tanda amount of money and not worry
about taxes or fees. However she believes that tandas aren’t that
effective because of the constant pressure to make the weekly payments.
She stated, “you’re always worrying about forgetting to pay
each week. Besides if we had that money in our account, we might be able
to gain more, like in interest or something, but we don’t leave
it there, in hopes that we will be able to save up a little money or hacerlo
rendir (make it last).”
The tanda in her workplace was particularly large. The tanda was made
up of 20-30 participants, including both gender. The tanda participants
were determined by the Lead, the person who delegates the daily tasks
to the workers and reports to the supervisor. The Lead opens participation
to whoever wants to participate, and from there selects those who have
more time working in the factory and have permanent working status. Participant
C also mentioned the use of personal knowledge of who will not cheat or
take off with the money. Once chosen, each participant contributes $50
each week, for a pre-determined set of weeks. Participant C’s pointed
out that it was beneficial to have more participants because the tanda
amount collected by each participant would be larger.
The order in which the tanda amount is collected every week is randomly
selected through drawing numbers out of a hat. As was the case with Participant
A, in this tanda community people are allowed to participate more than
once by drawing out more than one number. For example, if one person draws
3 numbers, she will be responsible for contributing $150 every week. The
Lead, as organizer is responsible for collecting and distributing the
money. She waits for everyone to hand in the money before distributing
it. Despite the size of this tanda community, there is no history of fraud.
Participant C attributes this to the fact that, “its is all people
we know, people that are trustworthy,” but also the fact that there
is no way of escaping the community in case of fraud, other than deliberately
losing employment. She mentioned that sometimes people don’t turn
their money in on time because, “ they are night shift workers and
they hand in their money the next day, or sometimes people turn in personal
checks instead of cash.”
Participant C stated that solidarity was difficult to attain in this tanda
community because people weren’t punctual in turning in their money
and some got resentful. It was in the case that somebody knew they were
going to miss work, when they called co-workers to ask for them to turn
her money in, that relationships were reinforced. In Participant C’s
case expressed that she would not let herself miss a week by paying in
advance if she knew she was gong to be absent.
Our fourth interviewee, Participant D, is from El Salvador and is also
residing in Santa Ana, California. Her case is somewhat different from
the three mentioned above. The primary reason for why she started participating
in the tanda ten years ago is because she was in desperate need of cash
and she knew a friend who was in charge of a tanda. Today Participant
D uses the tanda not only to get her bills and rent paid but also to invest
in her small business at the swap meet. After getting to know everyone
in the tanda community, she decided that she wanted to be the organizer
and gathered a group of people who she knew she could trust, like her
brothers, sisters and long-time co-workers. Now she participates in tandas
As the organizer, she gets to make her own rules. She usually gets two
places within the tanda roll sheet, the first and the last week. She does
this in case profits from her business are not substantial, in order to
take home some money at the end of the tanda. This particular participant
will only do tandas that last eleven weeks because she says it doesn’t
make sense to make it for less. For example, “when only ten memberships
(participants) contribute into a $1,000.00 tanda, the total amount of
the fund that is rotated among the members in any given week is the sum
of the contribution from all memberships including the recipient for that
week. However, only $900.00 actually changes hands; the $1,000.00 includes
the $100.00 from the recipient. When the eleven memberships exist, the
total fund is met by the ten non-recipients (Kurtz and Showman, 68).”
When asked about the risks of this type of rotating credit association,
she said that for the most part people who participate do it because they
want to save money and leave their tanda savings for an emergency. There
have been occasions when she has misjudged a person’s character
and has been left with paying other members part of the contribution as
well as her own for the sake of keeping the tanda intact. She says that
these are risks her community is willing to take but that it is also cautious
of who is invited to participate.
When Participant D first joined the tandas, she was confidentially acting
as her friend within the organization. As was agreed, Participant D received
her friend’s share as long as she made payments every week, in the
place of her friend. Participant D’s friend took a significant risk,
the essence of the tanda, because Participant D had received the first
number. Had Participant D been shady, she could have taken off with the
money without making any payments, but the initial payment. Participant
D followed through with every payment as a result has since been seen
as someone trustworthy and responsible enough to partake in the tanda
community. In this way the tanda grows in participants and makes the participation
of all the members even more so appealing.
and Cundinas in anthropological perspective
The political and social position of Mexican Americans in the United States
is essential in the study of Tandas and Cundinas in southern California
primarily because of immigrant status and lack of social capital. Evident
in the interviews, Tandas and cundinas tend to emerge from social support
systems, more specifically ethnic support systems. This could be understood
as an effort by members of minority groups to become integrated into the
economy without having to deal with bank or government officials or as
resistance to bank institutions.
In learning about tandas and cundinas, two theories must be considered,
embeddedness theory and enclave-economy theory. Embeddedness theory states
that, “‘structures of social relations’ always influence
economic behavior, to the extent that overlooking their influence is a
grave error even when treating differentiated institutions in advanced
societies.” (Butler and Kozmetsky, 174) This theory obliges the
researcher to understand why it is that tandas are organized most often
in the workplace, and as mentioned above, by various ethnic groups. In
analyzing the social relations that influence economic behavior, the researcher
must understand the political and social context of the workplace and
why they lead to the formation of tandas and cundinas.
Mexican Americans have a long history of marginalization in the workplace.
Since the late 1800’s, American businesses, opportunistically, have
been bringing thousands of uprooted farmers, peasants, and other laborers
to the United States. The prosperity of these businesses has depended
on low wage, flexible labor. In order to preserve this type of labor,
employers recognize the advantage of keeping workers in need, in fear
of losing their jobs. To ensure necessity and fear within workers, employers
limit benefits, guarantees, progress, and do not allow the laborer to
decide the type of work she will engage in. The treatment of Mexican Americans
in the workplace is reflective of their treatment within educational and
court systems in the United States. The educational and court systems
contribute to the cheap labor pool vital to American businesses through
the mistreatment, tracking into vocational studies and criminalization
of Mexican American youth.
This treatment and marginalization of Mexican Americans within the workplace
and the nation is a primary factor in the creation of tandas. In order
for Mexican Americans to survive and succeed within a society that seeks
to oppress and exploit them, they must develop social support systems.
In her book, The Unmaking of Soviet Life, Caroline Humphrey gives an ideal
example of a social support system providing economic aid. Humphrey states
that “over 30 percent of the population of Russia has an income
below the ‘threshold of survival,’ that is, they must use
existing stocks, sales of property, or loans from kin and friends to stay
alive,” (Humphrey, 41). Because of social connections and relations,
Russians have been able to participate and survive in the national economy.
This underlines the importance of social relations in the participation
of Mexican Americans within the US economy.
This position of dispossession and marginalization of particular ethnic
groups encourages the formation of ethnic enclave support groups, like
the tanda. In Immigrant and Minority Entrepreneurship, Min Zhou speaks
of ethnic enclave support groups, as those bound by a, “common nationhood,
familiar cultural environment, and densely knit networks,” and defines
the enclave itself as, “an integrated cultural entity maintained
by bounded solidarity and enforceable trust- a form of social capital
necessary for ethnic entrepreneurship,” (Butler and Kozmetsky, 41).
These groups form out of necessity, to encourage assistance amongst members
who share the lack of opportunity within the larger economic system. Through
these groups, members share experiences, knowledge and support regarding
the system that denies them based on what seems to be ethnicity.
The role of Mexican Americans in the US economy is that of a people who
are dispossessed, especially those who have recently entered the country
and have not yet obtained documents. Although they contribute significantly
to the US economy, they are not recognized and therefore cannot participate
in a variety of public institutions and cannot reap benefits generally
available to citizens. Humphrey discusses the importance of status and
documentation, in regards to people who are accepted and embraced by larger
society and those who are dispossessed. She defines the dispossessed people
in Russia as, “people who have no connections or support from the
system,” and it is because of this lack of connections that, “they
do not want to participate in the bureaucracy or institutions within the
dominant system,” (Humphrey, 31). And part of the reason because
they do not want to participate is because they lack the documentation
to do so. Documents in Russia, like in the United States, confirm identity
and validate contributions to the nation.
Without documents an immigrant cannot seek employment legitimately, open
a bank account, or collect income tax. “The dispossessed, we can
now see, come in many categories, signaled by deprivation of one or another
document; but what is important is that a loss of one official status
threatens the unraveling of the whole edifice, that is the descent into
the wilderness of having no entitlements at all,” (Humphrey, 26).
This is parallel to the situation of Mexican Americans in southern California.
Without one document (i.e. green card) the immigrant cannot obtain any
other. For example, she cannot obtain a social security card without proof
of residence, which will then prevent the possibility of applying for
employment or a bank account. Reasons why Mexican Americans do not have
equal access to economic and employment opportunities as a result of lack
of documentation, include, “lack of credit ratings, collateral,
or are the victims of ethno-racial discrimination,” (Butler and
Kozmetsky, 171). Whereas Mexican Americans do not have equal access to
economic or employment opportunities, they feel compelled to abandon the
larger banking institutions and develop their own support groups within
their ethnic enclave.
Butler, John Sibley and George Kozmetsky, ed. Immigrant and Minority Entrepreneurship:
The Contunious Rebirth of American Communities. Praeger. Westport: 2004.
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Caroline. The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies After Socialism.
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