Despite my qualms about its conflicting image as workers’ rights champion/kiddie pornographer, I still sometimes shop at American Apparel. What can I say? They have decently priced basic items. Plus, I’d feel hypocritical criticizing only one brand when I’m not willing to grill the rest of my clothes on the ethics of their origins. (“What about you, French stripe tee? Are you made of organic cotton? Do you even speak French? YOU SICKEN ME.”)
All this to say that I’m on the company’s email list, which is why I recently received a promotion that made me laugh out loud:
Oh, American Apparel! Let me explain to you why this pitch is not suited to Mama Preocupada. “First of all,” began my sister when we discussed this, “she’s not even American.”
Wait, Internet! She totally is now! Don’t call anyone!
What she meant is that our mom, who truly is as super as this ad assumes, is also a two-time immigrant. She moved from Spain to Argentina and then from Argentina to the U.S., all by age 16 and in one instance, via boat. These life circumstances have imbued in her a pragmatism that rejects even the most banal indulgences, ones that don’t even register as such by her native-born daughters. For example, she didn’t give either of us a middle name. This was primarily because she saw the practice as a waste, but also because anticipated Americans “having enough trouble” pronouncing the names we already had.
This sadly prophetic explanation only scratches the surface of our mom’s practicality. We’re talking about a woman who uses her car’s emergency brake on flat streets, just in case. She re-uses cut-up T-shirts as cleaning rags. She’s kept every free toothbrush our family ever received from a dentist in a vase in her basement. In short, our mom is many wonderful things, but she is not fanciful.
Which is why, American Apparel, she would never wear the “Chiffon Secretary Blouse” you included in your email:
In fact, she’d have several questions for this secretary, chief among them why she’s not wearing a camisole to keep from getting cold from her office’s AC. Or why she didn’t instead buy something she didn’t have to dry-clean. Or what the frick she is generally thinking.
Nor would she dream of using these pajamas, chilly as they look, in addition to being wrinkle-prone:
And this change purse?
Oh, please. An entirely separate leather bag dedicated to coins, American Apparel? Just use an old film roll canister like normal people.
I point all of this out not to pick on my mom; in fact, I’m proud of how she’s refused to adopt a more typically American embrace of waste despite assimilating in so many other ways. On the other hand, this does make it hard to buy her gifts for Mother’s Day. How do you spoil someone whose sense of excess stops at eating dessert? Someone who winces at the suggestion of a massage and finds salon manicures too ephemeral to be enjoyable? (To be fair, I should admit that she’s still much easier to shop for than our dad, whose Christmas 2011 request for a long-handle shoehorn depressed all of us well into 2012.)
I know our situation isn’t unique. Throughout my life I’ve bonded with kids of immigrants from all over the world. We swap stories about food that confused our childhood peers, the intense pressure to succeed in school, and all the ways parental practicality informed life at home–all things we appreciate like crazy now that we’re adults. So I imagine that plenty of us out there scratch our heads at this time every year, wondering how to sneak an abundance of love and admiration into gifts austere enough for our moms to accept.
As a solution, I propose the following to American Apparel or any other retailer looking to snap up this market: First-Generation American Apparel®, a brand for parents with a distinctly non-native sense of value and the need for goods that embody it. Early offerings could include:
- an infinitely washable/reusable Ziploc bag (can also be converted into a shower cap, wallet, etc.);
- a purse made entirely of sleeves for store discount cards;
- perfectly good electronics that ungrateful children threw out because they JUST HAD to have the new version.
And these are just off the top of my head, folks–the possibilities are endless! Call me and we’ll get this launched by Father’s Day!
But first let me get back to this weekend. Ultimately, my sister and I decided to buy our mom tickets to a show that celebrates something she loves without regard for its uses: the music of Motown. We’re ready to override her protests of our spending too much by reminding her that matinees are much cheaper than night shows. If we feel hedonistic we may even ambush her with dinner afterward. It’s no Ziploc wallet, but for now it will have to do.