By LAURA SANCHEZ, Opinions Editor
Fall weather is finally here, and of course, sweater and hoodie season is now in session. One of my favorite sweatshirts in my closet is one that has the phrase “We are the change that we seek” emblazoned on the front. Besides being extremely comfortable and warm, it embodies me quite well (pun intended). If I had to choose a life motto, that phrase would definitely be it.
Being an advocate for social justice, in terms of my Hispanic background and in terms of my future life goals involving gender and immigration policies, I like to think that I AM the change that I seek… or at least, that I’m getting there.
My sweatshirt might seem trivial in the grand scope of things, but it serves as a simple reminder that actions have consequences, and that I want my specific actions to create a change in SOMETHING, even if it’s a small ripple noticeable by a few.
But there’s a problem. Quite a big one, actually. I never really noticed the tags on my sweatshirt until quite recently. Those tags are the annoying, white labels that detail the washing instructions in multiple languages and explain that the materials are 98% cotton and 2% spandex and that, oh wait, this sweatshirt was made in Mexico. Alert, alert!
I’m not against clothes being made in Mexico, but what I am against are the working conditions in these factories. I KNOW people working in these factories. I know that they work crazy hours, usually ranging from late night until the early hours of the morning, that they earn less than minimum wage, and that their bosses can oftentimes be perverted creeps. As employees, they can’t try to change their working conditions or protest about their bosses. If they would, they’d lose their jobs.
These laborers have to work in these factories because opportunities are scarce. If they weren’t working in the factories, they’d have to work for the high-class, haughty Mexican bourgeoisie. If they weren’t working as domestic workers, they’d probably have to resort to other activities to provide for themselves and their families.
These workers, oftentimes women, are subject to these harsh working conditions in which they aren’t treated as human. They’re treated as objects. The factory owners could care less about such human conditions and care more about producing export material that is casually introduced to the United States, sold on artsy websites, and bought by mindless consumers who don’t really think about where their clothes come from. Or at least, don’t think about the origins of their clothing until they casually glance at the clothing labels, like I did the other day.
Therefore, I own a sweatshirt that was made in Mexico, probably made in a state neighboring mine, or even worse, perhaps made even in my neighborhood. In the worst case scenario, I could probably even know people who made the sweatshirt.
So if I want to be the change that I seek in the world, should I even be wearing this sweatshirt? Am I a walking contradiction? Or should I turn the other cheek and not care?
Well, the answer is complicated. If I were to boycott this sweatshirt, I might as well boycott all of my other clothes. While this particular country of origin resonated deeply with me, (mostly because it’s my homeland) like it or not, we’re all wearing clothes produced in sweatshops across the globe. Underpaid workers slave at machines all day just so we can be on trend, or at least, have clothing on our backs.
I feel helpless, but somebody told me the other day that when we feel helpless, we’re oftentimes not. In order to create a change in those conditions, it’s our responsibility as consumers and global citizens to advocate for these issues that are seemingly complicated and unresolvable.
While I can’t march down to Mexico right now and advocate for these workers’ rights or boycott clothing in its entirety, I can write articles like these and try to spread the word that these workplaces around the globe do exist and consequently involve economic, political, gender, and cultural issues that we cannot really ignore.
As for my sweatshirt, I’m going to keep wearing it as a reminder that these issues are particularly why I am the change that I seek.