21st March 2008
Anyhow, from my research, I remembered a book of short stories by B. Traven, a mysterious German writer which little is known, who lived in Mexico and wrote stories about Mexico and the Mexican Indians. The story that jogged my memory is called “Assembly Line”. Here’s a link to the story and it is not long to read. http://academics.triton.edu/uc/traven.html Roughly the story runs: Mr. Winthrop a New Yorker is vacationing in Mexico and discovers an Indian making exquisite baskets for 50 centavos (four cents). The Indian is an artist: he collects bast fibers, plants, roots, insects (for dye) equalling a time of 20-30 hours per basket. He does not paint the designs onto the basket, he weaves the designs into the basket. He calls each basket a heartsong. Well, Mr. Winthrop’s eyes roll into his head as he calculates the profit he is about to fleece from contracting ten thousand baskets from the Indian. As per norm, while one basket is 50 centavos, ten thousand baskets would cost far less per basket, according to business procedures familiar to Mr. Winthrop – my good lordy, caballero, as the Indian calls him. The Indian who cannot even imagine what ten thousand baskets is, tallies the total like this, “The price is well calculated now without any mistake on my side. If I got to make one thousand castitas each will be three pesos. If I must make five thousand, each will cost nine pesos. And if have to make ten thousand, in such a case I can’t make them for less than fifteen pesos each.” B. Traven ends the story on a non-Friedmanite note, “And in this way it happened that American garbage cans escaped the fate of being turned into receptacles for empty, torn, and crumpled little multicolored canastitas into which an Indian of Mexico had woven dreams of his soul, throbs of his heart: his unsung poems.
I think the story is worth a read and seasonal as bulk packaging and chocolate consumption (a greatly contested source of exploitation) is synonymous with Easter celebrations.