Made in China

'We realized that our son, who was four at the time, needed new shoes," says Sara Bongiorni, author of A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy. "It's one of several examples of searching for an ordinary item that's not from China. After a weeks-long saga, we ended up getting tennis shoes from Italy. With shipping, it was almost $70, compared to $15 for kids' sneakers from Payless or Target." Bongiorni will discuss her book at Book Works in Del Mar on Thursday, July 26. "We were sitting in our living room at the end of 2004, a debris field of gifts and toys and wrapping paper all over. I just started looking at the stuff, at our room, and realized most of our stuff we'd received and given for Christmas was from China," remembers Bongiorni. "I thought it would be interesting to see if we could go a whole year, if it would even be possible, without buying anything with a label that said 'Made in China.'" She decided that her family could keep all the Chinese-made items they already had but would not purchase any new ones.

Bongiorni forgives her husband, who had agreed to a year of forgoing Chinese-made products, for his minor relapses, one of which occurred three months in. "He sold our boycott short for some Chinese paintbrushes. He tried to sneak them in behind my back and got caught red-handed." When the Padres played the Cincinnati Reds in Petco Park, the Welk family, of the Welk family resorts, was giving away promotional coolers. "Of course, I look at the label on the outside and it says, 'Made in China.' I loved this thing, and we had a gift exemption, but this wasn't really a gift," Bongiorni recalls. While she struggled to make a decision, Bongiorni's husband said, "I don't know what you're doing with yours, but I'm keeping mine."

"There were several showdowns with our son over things like monster trucks and lightswords. Almost all toys are made in China," says Bongiorni. In fact, she adds, "So many ordinary items, like phones, only come from China." Bongiorni's parents, who live in La Mesa, at first thought the boycott was silly. Her mother, who enjoyed mocking the boycott, once gave Bongiorni's son a sleeping bag made in China. "She had taken the box the sleeping bag came in and took a big black marker pen and changed the print outside so that instead of 'Made in China' it read 'Made in Chile.'"

Bongiorni learned from an encounter during the first month of her boycott to "keep her mouth shut" about it. "I went into a little shop here in Baton Rouge, and I was admiring Mardi Gras--themed jewelry on a rack on the counter. The owner was real sweet and said, 'Try them on,' and I said, 'I'm sorry, I'm not buying anything from China,' and she said, 'How are those three-year-olds in China going to survive without support from people like you? How are they going to make their economy stronger?' I had misgivings and second thoughts and self-doubts [throughout the year]."

According to the Associated Press, three million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the United States since 2000. In 2006, the U.S. purchased $288 billion worth of products from China, more than five times the amount China spent on imports from the U.S. It is estimated that 80 percent of toys now sold in America are made in China. Bongiorni found that the second largest exporter to the States is Taiwan. Most of the toys she had purchased were made in Taiwan or Thailand. A lot of clothing came from Peru or Egypt.

"What about 'Made in America'?" Bongiorni asks. "You'd see that label so rarely I'd start to think, 'How is it possible that it's the strongest economy in the world? What drives our economy?'"

While writing her book, Bongiorni did an informal investigation of Wal-Mart. Of the first 106 products she came across, 52 were from China, 23 were from the U.S., 4 from Honduras, and the remainder from Italy, Pakistan, and Turkey.

"I ran into a neighbor there, and when he asked me what I was doing, I didn't tell him. It's kind of embarrassing." -- Barbarella

  • A Year Without "Made in China"
  • Booksigning and discussion
  • Thursday, July 26
  • 7 p.m.
  • The Book Works
  • Flower Hill Promenade
  • 2670 Via De La Valle
  • Del Mar
  • Info: 858-755-3735 or
  • www.book-works.com

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