By Tara Tracy
“What happened in Mexico… always happens to me when I’m in Mexico.”
I saw this on a T-shirt in Mexico last month, I don’t even know what it means but it sure made me laugh. And when it comes to me and Mexican knick knacks, it’s totally true. PADDY-WHACKED every time!
First off, to resolutely resolve any unresolved issues regarding my Buy-Nothing-New resolution, may I direct you to point 4.0 of my original “List of Exceptions.” This trip was totally on the list. It’s not like I didn’t see this coming…
It’s weird how I have no desire to shop at IKEA but I’ll drive, fly, bus and haul home heaps of stuff from Mexico. Ceramic Mexican sinks, pottered water bottle holders, mosaic mirrors, hammocks and hanging chairs, crates of clay plates, bowls, towel holders and door knobs and a bajillion pounds of Mexican tile. And I’m not sure what’s worse, the fact that I’ve bought all these things over the past decade or the fact that nearly every piece is stowed away in dark and dank corners of storage facilities all across this province—from Granny’s basement, to uncle Bill’s barn, to our rental garage in Val Rita, and the house we rent out in west Toronto.
I’m a globalized magpie. I know it. But I can’t help myself.
Partly I believe it’s OK to buy stuff if I buy it from the people who actually made it …or act like they could have made it, or say they’re even distantly related to someone who used to make it… So on this recent trip to the gringo land that is Porty Vallardy, Mexico I spent heaps of time scouting out those one-of-a-kind Mexican finds that are total awesomeness—things I could never get at home—things that Ellia and the “next five of our friends who have babies’” babies are going to love and keep forever.
Like this jingle-jangle horsey toy:
This turtle toy(s):
And this embroidered dress (x4):
I got right into it—I was SPENDING my way to a SUSTAINABLE world! By week three I had unique little treasures squirreled away at tiendas and market stalls all over town.
But then three problemos happened: Uno, my husband. Dos, my brother. Tres, his wife. I was living with these people, and not only do they each have a conscience, but they’re into social justice and they talk about this stuff …A LOT!
Sure enough, this concept of “ethical consumerism” is something of an oxymoron. Just look up “consume” in the dictionary, it only means bad stuff ‘…to destroy, cause to vanish, or use up’. And then it sorta killed my buyer-buzz to be thinking about all the “unpaid costs” that came with my cheap finds …Like how the nice señora who made those little turtles also uprooted herself and kids from their home state of Chiapas in pursuit of bikini-clad tourist dollars a cultural world away…
It’s not like it would have been better to buy nothing at all from the señoras, but I needed a reminder that even supporting local hand-made—just like buying fair trade, or sweat-shop free—isn’t really fixing things for most poor people.
Even though we hear people like Bono (ever the willing spokesperson for poverty-related causes) saying that “shopping is politics” and “you vote every time you spend money”—there seems to be a fatal flaw in thinking that we can, or should, use our consumer power to bring about change. What happens if you’re NOT a consumer at all—if you’re thrifty or poor and you don’t buy stuff, are you are excluded from changing the world? And the same goes for rich countries—if shopping is politics, then the rich and privileged are totally hogging all the votes.
So there you have it. My feel-good Mexican shopping spree was a bit of a bust. Of course, buying more sustainable versions of the things I actually needed was OK’d, but this meant having to justify which things were more than just things I really wanted. And that left me with the horsey toy for Ellia’s 1st Birthday, a turtle for cousin Pontiac’s missed Birthday, and one dress for each for Granny’s summer memorial. (Friends with babies, watch your mail.)
And I’m back to believing that sometimes my most ethical shopping choice will be to buy nothing at all; to embrace the idea that less can be more. But no one is telling us this. Not NGOs, not government, business or the media. So if I remind YOU now, will you remind ME the next time I’m in Mexico?
I wish we didn’t live in a world where buying and selling things seems to have become almost more important than either producing or using them. – C S Lewis (1898-1963)