This Latina Mom Went From Growing up Low-income Family To Being a Successful Voice in Tech
Meet the mom, known as Genuinely Genesis on TikTok, who is inspiring other first-generation college students to reach their goals in the face of adversity.
By Christina Montoya Fiedler
Life wasn’t always easy for Genesis Hinckley. Born into an immigrant family and raised by a single mother, she fought against the odds to step out of poverty and pursue a college degree, becoming the first person in her family to do so. Now, she’s one of the most successful first-generation women in tech and is using her platform to create relatable content for underrepresented communities, and people who grew up in low-income settings. For Hinkley, making them feel seen, heard, and affirmed is the ultimate goal. She has a big online presence as Genuinely Genesis, gaining more than 100k followers after just one year on TikTok.
Her latest project stems from a now viral TikTok video where Hinckley shared a touching experience in which she made her first Build-A-Bear at the ripe age of 25. It’s the fourth installment of her TikTok series devoted to things she never got to experience as a child in a low-income family. This video resonated with thousands, including the CEO of Mikoleon, an ethical fair trade shop that sells items made by artisans from Guatemala using raw, natural materials. The company is now partnering with Hinckley and Build-A-Bear, to give away one customizable bear to at least 20 children—one for each tassel they sell on their site.
Parents Latina sat down with Hinckley for an interview about her upbringing as a first generation Bolivian American and what brought her to her success today.
Tell us about your family.
I was born in Des Plaines, Illinois, but quickly moved to the Northern Virginia area. Although I was raised in the United States, I will never allow the cruceña in me to hide in the shadows. Both of my parents are Bolivian and I was raised speaking Spanish which is something I’m so grateful for. Now, I am raising my son in a Spanish speaking household because, although he’s 50% white and 50% Bolivian, I want him to always hold his roots close.
What was life like growing up for you?
My parents are divorced and my father wasn’t really part of my life growing up which made things very challenging. I didn’t really have a childhood and I know that sounds really sad, and it was, but that’s the truth. Growing up was hectic. We were constantly moving because either my older brother was getting into trouble, we couldn’t afford the rent, or the neighborhoods were too dangerous.
When I think of my childhood, I think of constantly worrying about money or being embarrassed about others potentially finding out we didn’t have money. I remember a lot of arguments, honestly, and us all sleeping in a bedroom. It’s funny though because at one point, we were able to live in a multi-bedroom apartment through government housing and we always ended up in my mom’s bed because that was just what we were used to.
Although we had lots of struggles and there was a lot of pain, I also remember cracking up with my two brothers and mom—roasting each other and being OK with it. My mom was always as present as she possibly could have been. There was a lot of love that she exemplified and that was evident. Statistically, none of my siblings and I should be as financially successful as we are today and I know that’s a result of my mother. We always viewed our circumstance as temporary and that’s what made all the difference.
What does it mean to be the first person in your family to go to college? What challenges did you face? Who did you turn to for help?
What challenges did I not face? To be the first person in my family to go to college is a pretty big deal and I will never take that accomplishment lightly. Each single first-gen college grad needs to climb up a mountain and shout it out that they are proud of themselves because Latino culture specifically is too humble to acknowledge their accomplishments.
I think money was the most difficult challenge. I had absolutely no idea how my family and I were going to pay for college. My mom was unable to save a dime for college and that says it all. Despite all the hurdles though, we have to realize there are resources out there for us. Designed for people like us and even if they’re not, we seek them out and tailor them to fit our circumstances.
For example, my mom was unable to help me with my homework. I’d end up getting frustrated trying to explain what certain things meant and how the U.S. ran its education system so I stopped asking. That’s OK, though; there were other people I could reach out to.
I’d like to say that the reason I’m successful today is because I asked questions. I asked stupid questions, bad questions, really thoughtful questions. I knew that in order to accomplish my dreams I needed help and that was truly the ultimate skill that led me to where I am today.
I leveraged my teachers and counselors in high school for homework and questions about the college admissions process. I even leveraged church leadership to help me with my college essays. When I tell you I found a way for people to hand-hold me through the process, I mean it. And I did it unapologetically because who cares what people think? I was always respectful and kind and did the work and I think that’s why people didn’t mind me coming back for more.
Did you always know you were interested in tech? Tell us about your current job.
Nope. I didn’t even really understand what the tech industry was all about, but as I was applying to internships and full-time jobs, I realized that the only companies I was excited to interview for were tech companies. Tech is where it’s at. From the work itself to the benefits, I’m honestly obsessed. I’m currently a DEI program insights specialist where I gather insights from hiring data to ensure our pipeline is representative. It’s a combination between a data analyst and program manager. Pretty neat. I’ve been working for Google for three years now and no end in sight. It’s a pretty bougie thing to work in tech, especially coming from my background. I will happily sit at a desk with fancy snacks I get from the micro kitchen for eight hours a day while doing what I love. But don’t worry, my side hustles are hustlin’ and there’s a lot more to me than my corporate job.
How do you use your job to encourage others?
I was rejected by every single application I submitted prior to receiving my internship with Google, and there was a clear difference in my preparation. I fail all the time. Like a lot. I have failed so much that I’m now good at failing. So good that people don’t even notice it’s a fail. My job showcases that you can make it (depending on your definition of making it). I came from practically nothing and now find myself generating $6K+ in passive income with my rental properties, $2-5K in content creation, and over six figures in tech.
Money isn’t everything but dang is it a huge part of life. Money has allowed me to live—not just survive.
How have you changed your money mindset from growing up low-income to abundance?
It’s really difficult to have an abundance mindset with money when you don’t have any. So it’s all been a gradual process. I think it really started when I started to make passive income through real estate. I provide a comfortable space for people to live in and they pay me for my services. These funds come in and I imagine money flowing to me and the flow never stops. By diversifying my income streams, the flows come from different directions requiring different levels of effort.
I’ve truly come full circle and grown a lot when it comes to money. I was frugal and used to hoard my money in my savings account. As I’ve become riskier with it and made educated investments, I’m more free and eager to treat myself to nice things and experiences. It’s important to be patient with yourself. You’re not going to be this abundance queen while being broke—or at least it will be extra challenging. There are different stages you’ll go through when it comes to your relationship with money and you just have to embrace each stage. Although I don’t have minor panic attacks at the cash register anymore, the anxiety is still there. So, it’s all just a growing game.
What would you tell other first-generation students thinking about heading to college in the fall? What advice do you have for them?
The one [piece of] advice that I truly believe prepared me for success was to challenge yourself. No, like really challenge yourself. If it doesn’t scare you, what’s the point of doing it? Audition for that role that you don’t think you’ll get. Try out for that sport you’ve always wanted to play but didn’t have the funds to do it as a child. Apply for that scholarship you don’t think you deserve. The mind is so powerful and if you challenge yourself often, you’ll get used to it and your mind will start to desire the scary things. Why? Because the accomplishment of those things will become addicting.
You’ll eventually realize that with the right preparation and right fit, you’ll get that role you wanted for that play. You’ll be playing D1 for that sport you’ve been searching for. And that scholarship you didn’t think you deserved will end up being the reason why you get more scholarships in the long run.
Do the scary things not because you have to but because you choose to.
Can you tell me more about your Build-A-Bear experience?
It all started with a video where I shared about my experience window shopping and always desiring to “build a bear” but never having the funds to do it. For Valentines Day in 2022, I decided I’d gift myself an experience that I didn’t know would actually make me feel so whole.
I shared my thoughts on TikTok and it quickly was viewed by millions of people. That video really allowed me to realize that, wow, my experiences are seen and it was so powerful to see over 300K people commenting on their experiences. I share what I share on social media because no one else does. I open the conversation of things we used to be embarrassed about because there are children who are currently living through the same experiences. I never want them to feel shame for something so worldly—so truly insignificant in the long run. I want them to know that these circumstances are temporary and, with the right attitude and drive, they will become circumstances that will make them stronger in the long run.
At Build-A-Bear, I ended up getting a Stitch from Lilo & Stitch because growing up, Lilo was one of the only characters I saw that kind of looked like me with her tan skin. Although I’m a grown woman, every time I see my Stitch, I hug him and a part of my inner child is healed. I truly believe that all experiences have their own timing and at 25, this one was mine.
Image Courtesy of Hinckley