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Margaret's Musings: Is it too late to buy "Made in America"?

Yes, I still have this keepsake from my youth. The transistor radio, given to me when I awoke from surgery, I knew even at that young age, it represented a difficult decision for my dad to buy something made in Japan. Maybe that's why I still have it after all these years.

Along with many other things in life that 'date' us, besides our chronological age, are the remembrances of growing up.

Today, in the global economy with practically everyone wondering when and why did nearly all of our manufacturing migrate overseas, I remember when buying something "made in Japan" was tantamount to a "sin."

My dad, a WWII vet and a proud IBEW union member, was determined everything we bought should be made in America. So it was that after I awoke from a childhood surgery, I was amazed to find a small transistor radio that was, yes, made in Japan. This was back when transistors were new and amazing, allowing portability we had never experienced with electric goods.

For the most part my parents stuck to the motto to buy "made in America." In 1972 Japan literally landed on my childhood home's doorstep when Kikkoman Soy Sauce bought a neighboring farm and built, what else, a soy sauce plant.

While I remember it as "traumatic" for my dad and perhaps for many other residents, it turned out to be a very, very good thing for the area. It's now a major employer when most of the other area manufacturers are gone. Kikkoman has not only been a good corporate neighbor, they have expanded numerous times and supported many community activities in addition to paying their substantial tax bill every year.

Even the sweet nutty smell of roasting soybeans that occasionally floats over my parents' house is a welcome reminder that I am back home. And, in an ironic twist of fate, we can buy "made in America" soy sauce. Even while traveling overseas, we have found bottles of it on tables, proudly labeled "Made in Walworth, Wisconsin, USA."

I wish today's consumers still had the option of only buying goods made in America, but sadly we don't. Today, it seems nearly everything comes from somewhere else, especially China. I'm not sure when I started to look at labels again, but I remain dismayed that nearly everything that used to be made here - and for that matter in other parts of the world including Japan - are now made in China.

With a high school class reunion coming up, I started looking for that miracle cream; you know, something that would take years off my face without having requiring me to have an injection. I found most of those products are also made in China or are labeled "distributed by" with no indication of where they are manufactured either on the packaging or on the company websites.

Now, I would not claim to be an Asian expert, but the media has made it clear that oversight in the manufacturing processes in China occasionally causes issues, such as lead and cadmium in the paint on children's toys or jewelry, toxic substances in dog food and baby formula and, the latest, drywall found to be emitting hydrogen sulfite.

This is not a criticism of the country, culture or the people of Chinese descent living overseas or in China. It's more of a thought to ponder, about what we do not know. However, what even the casual observer of the international scene should be aware of is that Chinese leaders have chosen a well-thought-out path to incorporate capitalism into their society to the benefit of their country.

In fact, years ago, when we were guests in China, our little group of journalists saw the hand writing on the wall. While at that time, in 1991, most Beijing residents were still on bicycles, we left with the knowledge that China was moving ahead at lightning speed to become a major player on the world stage. A meeting with government officials left us chastised. "Who are you (America) to tell us what to do, you are 200 years old, we (our country) are 6,000 years old."

The next stop was a manufacturing concern where we were politely told, in essence, that they were laughing all the way to the bank; why would we (Americans) pay them good money to manufacture junk (reference to the miniature figures often included in fast food meals).

There was no doubt. All of us came home convinced that China would indeed be the powerhouse of the future. They are still laughing all the way to be bank on more than a retail level.

So about those goods on the store shelves... Anyone up for a "made in America" challenge? Maybe we should give it a try. Good luck. It might be a great exercise for a few weeks, months or longer. I bet we could learn quite a bit along the way. One thing is for sure: we would probably buy a lot less.

Perhaps the federal government should give this a try as well. It is hard to find a current or accurate statistic about our indebtedness to foreign countries, including China, but the amount is large and should be an embarrassment.