Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Close to home

"Ma also gave me $2.99 to buy a paperback Webster's dictionary.  This cost us almost two hundred finished skirts, since we were paid 1.5 cents per skirt.  For years, I calculated whether or not something was expensive by how many skirts it cost.  In those days, the subway was 100 skirst just to get to the factory and back, a package of gum cost 7 skirts, a hot dog was 50 skirts, and a new toy could range from 300 to 2,000 skirts.  I even measured friendship in skirts.  I learned you had to buy Christmas and birthday presents for friends, which cost at least a few hundred skirts each.  It was a good thing I only had Annette as a friend."

- Kwok, Jean. Girl in Translation.

The above quote is an excerpt from a beautifully written work of fiction, which I highly recommend to you all.  The following quote is from the author herself:

We lost all our money in the move to the United States.  My family started working in a sweatshop in Chinatown.  My father took me there every day after school and we all emerged many hours later, soaked in sweat and covered in fabric dust.  Our apartment swarmed with insects and rats.  In the winter, we kept the oven door open day and night because there was no other heat in the apartment. 
-Jean Kwok

With all of my recent talk about foreign factory labor, unions, the importance of local suppliers, etc.  Here's the kicker: I read the about the author page on the web, after seeing her familiar face with a link on a high school friend's Facebook page. The high school the author went to?  Same as my own.  I didn't know her personally, although the classes were small,  (at least, I don't remember - my apologies if you see this somehow, Jean if that isn't true, but I certainly know your face!) since we were a year apart. 

The hard truth is this:  You have no idea what kind of hardship your neighbor may be facing. With enough food worldwide to fill everyone's bellies, 1 in 8 people is hungry.  This shocking statistic is amplified when visiting the Our Global Food exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City right now.  With our closets and drawers overflowing, and workers are sometimes risking even death to make even more clothing for those of us privileged enough to buy even more stuff, without even thinking twice. A family friend who works as a home health aid had a nearly impossible time trying to find an appropriate school for her autistic son, so she could simply earn a modest living.

The fact is, this is about far more than clothing.

What can we do?  Well, we don't need an official "movement", since everyone can take steps of his/her own.  Here's what my (literal) sister is doing. How about you?

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