There’s an interesting store in the local mall that had intrigued me for a long time. I’ve never been inside until today; I just passed by the window display and tried to ignore it every time. Occasionally I took pictures of the same two t-shirts, a red and a green one. One day the store was empty and another merchant was occupying the space. I made a mental note of relief that it was gone.
Today I found “Native Roots” in a different part of the mall, occupying a slightly larger space. I decided to go inside and strike up a conversation with the shop assistant. I passed by beautiful hand-made native knick-knacks, adorned leather, some beads, jewelry, some colorful dresses, wooden boxes, belts, and other unique items you can’t find anywhere else.
An entire wall had nicely folded t-shirts on wooden shelves, the very same two t-shirts I had passed by for years in the window of the previous location. I assumed such native items are very popular in the upscale mall in Fairfax County, one of the richest counties in the nation. How else could they afford the expensive rent?
The shop assistant was a native Ecuadorian who was proud of their help for the native tribe whose wares they were selling. She did not mention the name of the tribe or whether the tribe was Native American or an indigenous tribe from Ecuador. I only hope their stuff was not made in China.
I brought up the two t-shirts that had bothered me for a long time – still prominently displayed and sold in numerous colors. One was adorned with pictures of Indian chiefs with the phrase, “Homeland Security – Fighting Terrorism since 1492.” The second t-shirt was a composite of four Indian chiefs superimposed over the American Presidents on Mount Rushmore, with the words, “The Original Founding Fathers.”
I am a naturalized American citizen and I certainly resent the fact that I and my fellow Americans are called terrorists by these people. I asked the woman how she felt about those t-shirts. She responded that this is the Native Americans’ country and we are all terrorists because we took it away from them in 1492 when Columbus discovered America. What does that make you, I asked her? She gave me a blank stare.
I also asked her what the name of the country was when Columbus discovered it. Which tribe was killing their neighboring tribe for supremacy at the time? Do nomadic tribes living here and there make up a country and how do you claim a country? Do borders, language, and culture make up a country? If not, how do you define a country? She did not answer any of my questions, she just shrugged her shoulders.
I am not sure what these Indian chiefs, “original founding fathers,” have founded. She wasn’t able to clarify that matter either.
I tried to explain to her that commerce is based on appeasing all customers; she and the owner of the store must be appeasing the hate-fringe in America who believes that we have no right to our own country because we took it unjustly from natives. There is not one country on the planet that was not established either by occupation, conquest through war, or through a massive land purchase.
How did she expect the rest of America to buy her hand-made merchandise when she is calling her customers terrorists? What kind of business model is this? It seems to me like a business model built on hate, on disrespecting the country that has taken her in as a resident, legal or illegal.
She told me in her broken English that I should address those questions to her Ecuadorian boss.