I want to preface this post by saying that I deeply appreciate that my friends and family members want to buy me gifts, that they take the time and effort to come up with something I might like, or they think of me when they see a certain cool T-shirt at a political event. I’ve coveted certain shirts since I was about 11 and my mother wouldn’t let me wear T-shirts, I guess because she thought they looked sloppy. My first T was a gift from family friends. I’m pretty sure it had a Goofy iron-on transfer, and it’s possible they bought it on a trip to Disney World; my family never visited places like that, so for me this was a collector’s item. I wore the thing until it was misshapen and faded, perhaps confirming my mother’s fears.
I don’t know where those Disney shirts were made almost 40 years ago; probably the United States. Now when I receive a T-shirt as a gift, or see one I like at a political rally, I check the tag to see where it’s from. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to find ones made in the US. I have about a half-dozen T-shirts I bought at the Madres de Plaza de Mayo bookshop and the independent book festival (la FLIA) in Buenos Aires. But the vast majority of the ones I own were sewed in sweatshops in the Global South. I’ve been trying to buy more fair-trade goods and I’ve always obtained the majority of my possessions at yard sales, so I feel appalled lately when I find that the shirts I receive as gifts are made in Haiti – to use the latest one as an example.
And of course my irony alarm bells went off on Christmas morning when I saw that my relatives, bless their hearts, had gone to Café Press and bought me a lavender T with a gaudy Argentina logo. (I wouldn’t be caught in it in Buenos Aires, but I’ll wear it around Western Mass, mostly to give a chuckle to my friends who are so sick of hearing about you-know-what-country, they’ll probably stuff a sock in my mouth soon.) Guess where the shirt was made? Honduras, the latest nation to suffer through a US-supported coup d’état – hence the latest to be made safe for multinationals to set up more maquiladoras that employ more women for pennies an hour to sew clothes for USians under horrid conditions.
In other words, the relatives wanted to please me by giving me a gift that reminded me of one of my favorite places – not understanding that what I love most about that place is how many of its citizens have stood up in the last 50 or so years and said no to global capitalist exploitation of human beings.