Saturday, October 2, 2010

Made In (insert 3rd world country here)

Still trying to write every day. This will be a challenge. I was trying to think of something interesting to write about, but instead decided to put up my clothes that I had left lying on the floor in my room. As I picked them up, I remembered talking about globalization in my sociology of development class and thought it would be fun to check where all of my clothes were made from. I told myself I would stop when I found something that said "Made in the U.S.A." None of my jeans. I kept going. I found one fitted shirt. By this point, though, I was determined to check it all. Shoes, socks, underwear, bras, leggings, shorts, dresses, pants, shirts, belts, hats, coats, jackets, shin guards, gloves, and scarves. In addition to the one shirt, I found a leather belt, a pair of soccer shorts, and a short-sleeved jacket that were made in the U.S.A. I'm sure my roommate thinks I'm a bit touched.

Not surprisingly, most of my clothes were made in developing nations, with the exception of a vast amount of Chinese-made products. Many items were from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Macau, Mexico, Guatemala, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Nicaragua, and Lesotho. Almost all of my T-shirts were made in El Salvador and Honduras.


Why is nothing we wear in the U.S. actually made here, and why is it all made in developing countries? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that American companies are outsourcing and exploiting the peoples of other nations for cheap labor. I see no worth in this. We get cheaper goods, but is it worth the price that we make someone else pay? Is it worth it to exploit workers for 12 hours a day just to that I can buy my low-priced t-shirts and running shoes? From what I can gather so far, it isn't.

I have heard many say say that these factories give people jobs that they wouldn't have otherwise. I spoke to a man who, when I argued that clothing made by a machine instead of hand woven goods exemplifies a loss of culture, asked me, "But what is culture? None of us have culture. We're globalizing and we're all the same." When I opened my mouth to argue, he told me, "Jesus never said, 'Be ye diverse.'"

Toucher. Toucher, mon amie. I never did read a scripture containing those words from The Savior. But, did He not teach us to treat one another equally? Are we not all children of the same divine heritage? Or, at the very least, are we not all human? Why is it okay for a Bangladeshi woman to work 12 hours a day in a sweatshop hemming the skirt I will buy in a JC Penny, but for a man to do the same job in the United States is inhumane? Do we have the same standards for someone without an American birth certificate? I asked this man if he thought these kind of jobs benefitted these countries. He told me yes, because they would have nothing else to do if we didn't bring them jobs. Hmm. I find this hard to believe. Would they not find something else to do? Some other way to create jobs? Personally, I don't feel like American factories in the developing world are really making much of a difference to their economies.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Knowing and Seeing

Today I walked out of a movie. I've never done that before. I went to see Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices) at the international cinema on campus. It's a true story about the director or producer or writer (can't remember) during the El Salvadoran Civil War. It seemed like a good idea, since for one of my classes I am reading a book on collective action amongst campesinos in said war. The movie was violent, but not gory. There was bad language, but it was in Spanish so it did not affect me quite as much as hearing it in my native tongue. It was heart-wrenching, but no more than a few of the more emotional war films I have seen. What caused me to walk out occurred with less than 20 minutes left. 4 boys, ages 10-12, had been captured by the national military for being a part of the guerilla resistance. They were marched down the river and forced to kneel down with their hands behind their heads. A soldier put his gun to the back of the first child's head, but when he pulled the trigger, the camera stayed on the child's face. Before I knew where I was, I was standing outside of the theater, light-headed and slightly stunned.

I did not get up and walk out of the movie cursing under my breath about bad taste. I was not offended. I do not even feel that it was a conscious decision I made to leave. My body just knew to grab my backpack and walk away while my brain tried to process the swollen influx of emotion that I had seen on the child's face as he opened his mouth to sob but never had the time to release the sound. Why couldn't I handle it? Except for my professor and his family who left when one of the 12-year-old friends of the protagonist who had been recruited was cursing them and threatening them with his gun, I was the only one who did not have the will to stay in my seat.

I have heard it said that some things are so horrible that you can't help but look at them. Stare. I think I understand that principal. I think that sometimes, though, things are 10 times worse, and you know that if you keep watching you will lose a part of your innocence or at least composure. I couldn't look anymore, because part of me didn't want for this story to be true. That's a lie. All of me wanted it to be untrue. I knew that over 75,000 of a nation of 5 million died. I knew that all boys were kidnapped at age 12 to join the national military. I knew that U.S. military personnel trained the national military. I knew that it was hell on Earth. I had just never seen it.

Seeing is different from knowing. Knowing is a list of facts. Knowing does not require empathy. Knowing allows us to create our own mental image of the situation. Knowing allows us to imagine the details to fit what is easiest for us to grasp. Seeing allows no such freedoms. Seeing is a direct transfer of a true image to my brain for internalization. Seeing is not flexible. Seeing questions my will to seek and accept truth. Seeing dares me to look and not act.

The El Salvadoran Civil War is over. I cannot use what I saw in Voces Inocentes to blog about the injustices that the campesinos are facing there. So what good are these haunting images in my mind? A tragedy that exists in our world today is that these movies are produced after the nations regain order. What genocides are being committed that I don't know about? Who needs our help now, and not 15 years from now when we are watching the traumatic experiences of the director on a big screen? Why make these films when the time is past? What did the director intend for me to be inspired to do?

There are several nations with child soldiers today. There is a drug war raging just a nation away. There is an AIDS epidemic ravaging life in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are girls being kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery in Southeast Asia. There are people taunting homosexuals so viciously in the United States that victims are ending their own lives. Is the face of a child entering into mortality enough to stop the world in its tracks. What have we done to the world we were given? Can we bring it back to the way it should be?

I came, I saw, now what?