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“Levi’s,” from page 13 smaller, flea-market-style stands \(grouped together as “Los Merserape-style banners and large pifiatas, and according to her they’re doing good business on the weekends though not without encountering opposition from some of the mall-walkers, one of whom tacked up a sign reading, “If you want to speak Mexican, go back to your beloved Mexico and eat beans and take siestas with your homeboys.” Medina, who hopes to recruit more ex-Levi’s workers to Los Mercados, is critical of the way the company has handled the $6,000 variable allowance “they [Levi’s] are just counting on people not to take advantage of it, and then when they don’t, well later those people will feel like it’s their fault that they failed.” She’s been helping people fill out the complex business-proposal forms that C.A.E.L. requires from ex-workers who want the smallbusiness startup money, and she plans to invite a small business expert from Lubbock to come to town and speak to prospective entrepreneurs. “A person like Margarita, she’s been doing this for years, she knows but the others, who don’t know anything about business, they can’t fill out these business plans.” While Gutierrez’s kiosk and some of the other full-fledged businesses are open every day, Los Mercados is open only on weekends. Medina led me through the deserted flea market on a Thursday afternoon, pointing out the goods at each stand. Many of the items for sale come from Mexico, and while it used to be that each vendor would have to go himself to Juarez to fetch his haul, Medina explained that she’s helping the tenants collaborate and develop contacts with Mexican suppliers. “A lot of these are fakes,” Medina said, indicating a rack of imitation designer-brand clothes, “but you can do it so it’s still legal,” pointing out a pseudoTommy Hilfiger t-shirt. Other goods at Los Mercados are made by the vendors: large, colored floor vases that look heavy but are actually made from papier-mfich and decorated with crushed and painted eggshells; lampshades cleverly constructed out of styrofoam cup halves and ribbons; decorative fans cut from wallpaper remnants. At Los Mercados, as at El Paso’s Bronco Mart and other such places, one sees the American grey market in action: while the large trucks on the Zaragoza bridge carry in loads of designer clothes destined for chain stores, they are shadowed by old sedans with trunks full of knockoffs; and if service-economy workers can’t exactly afford durable home furnishings, they can buy styrofoam lampshades. WHAT’S TRUE? “I always tell people, look at the parking lots and see how many new cars you see there,” says Robert Briseflo , a former Farah garment worker who now works for UNITE in El Paso. “You don’t see many, because people can’t afford them.” In El Paso, laid-off workers have a more extensive support apparatus than in Amarillo but that’s because the city has been so devastated by garment factory closures ever since NAFTA went into effect. The Department of Labor awarded $45 million to the city, to be dedicated to retraining and other services for some 4,000 workers, the bulk of them monolingual Spanish-speakers. \(The old Levi’s plant on Lomaland Avenue has been turned into a layoff-services factory, with cubicle after cubicle of government-funded counselors who reThere have been serious problems so far with worker retraining efforts: schools that don’t really teach anything, and workers who stay enrolled in them so as to keep receiving government trade-adjustment aid, which requires them to be enrolled in a training program. Union leaders and worker advocates have argued that the money has so far benefited the retrainers more than the retrainees, and that eighteen months just isn’t enough time for a middle-aged person to learn English and acquire new job skills. Looming behind all these specific criticisms is the fact that El Paso has lost some 9,000 manufacturing jobs since 1994. English lessons and computer skills classes can’t make up for this. “I see a two-tier society ahead; we’re becoming more and more like Juarez,” says Briseflo. “America is becoming a third-world country.” You might think downward mobility would be a cause for concern if, say, you were a big company trying to sell lots of $45 pairs of pants to the middle class. But marketology doesn’t really admit ideas of class, at least not through the front door. Instead, it’s all about demographics, and class conflict is replaced by generational antagonism, often framed lately in “Adult” versus “Teen” terms. \(“Adults” are the square dupes who make hip, alternative commercials possible, while “Teens” are strange, tribal consumers who indulge in all sorts of violent and immoral beconflict comes in handy when it comes time to market to the emerging teen consumer. Unfortunately for Levi Strauss, the accepted procedure for marketing to teens is to try to appeal to what the targeters call “edge teens” the hipsters, the rebels. Levi’s jeans commercials, by contrast, have for years relied on invocations of all-American authenticity and standard-issue sexiness: people “acting natural” for a distant camera, or handsome men removing their jeans in a laundromat, or just plain folks hanging out somewhere in America. So when it came time to join the crowd and pitch images of rebellion to the teen market, Levi’s had to figure out how to do not just rebellion but really authentic rebellion. The solution was natural enough: get some honest-to-god fringe types onscreen. The folks at TBWA/Chiat/Day hired director Errol Morris to film young lifestyle radicals, and then sifted through his footage to select the “advertisements.” Hence the “What’s True” campaign was born, and quickly became one of the most disliked ad campaigns around. The resulting brief portraits had little to do with pants, or with anything. Here were kids saying dumb things, and while dumbness is hardly a rarity in advertising, the fact that these were real kids made it particularly depressing. You had, for instance, two hippychicks standing in a grove somewhere, with a bird chirping in the background, and talking about the “Tibetan friendship tattoos” on their stomachs. \(“I don’t know it’s a friendship tattoo, in Tibetan I mean I don’t to the defense of capitalism \(“I don’t believe in equality,” she he might have inadvertently told his father that he is gay and uses 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 19, 1999