The Fabric of America


By Nathan Tafoya
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

I've discovered it the wonderful world of cotton. America has a national anthem that ascends to notes no one can hit. We have a national bird that people on the west coast have only seen in zoos. We even have our own impressive national debt.

However, America does not have a national fabric. There's really only one qualified candidate for the slot cotton but you wouldn't know that if you looked up the U.S. in an encyclopedia. So why have we neglected cotton?

One of the reasons could be the stigma attached to cotton; we're ashamed of our dark secret, our closet sin, our unique and barbaric form of slavery. But I think it's time we put cotton, and the Americans who helped make it an economic staple, on a nice big pedestal.

Maybe some people have a problem with cotton. Maybe they don't like that it shrinks. But learning to love cotton is like learning to love another person you've got to learn to overlook certain things. You deal with it because the virtues outweigh the vices.

My love for cotton started when the air conditioning in my car gave out this summer. Leave it to tragedy to make the American me look inward and reflect. You know, reprioritize my values.

When my trendy clothes began sticking to my back and the driver's seat and I began having hot flashes, I knew I was going to be in the market for an all-around summer fabric. By extension, I guess I began thinking about a year-round fabric not only for Tucson or Arizona, but also for my country.

Once I learned how to keep an ice bottle between my legs while driving, I was able to muse more deeply about fabric. And suddenly I think it was on a Tuesday I began seeing the world differently.

That night I woke up late on the couch. Disoriented, I looked groggily past my cotton socks at my cotton-stuffed cushions and pillows and, like Neo's, my eyes were opened. I began to see past the exterior; I saw the cotton in everything.

I became a purist. I began purchasing 100 percent cotton merchandise; I screened my wardrobe for any rayon and polyester mixes. I began to appreciate how my cotton underwear breathed. I gave my denim jeans an affectionate pat every so often.

Clouds became lolling cotton balls. I began the ritual of apologizing to the toilet paper and thanking it for what it was about to do. I gazed at Q-tips. I took measurements of un-shrunken t-shirts before and after I washed them and entered the data into a journal, which I wrapped in a cotton pillowcase.

I wrote poems.

But not before I wrote letters to my state representatives and e-mailed the rest of Congress, pleading for someone anyone to merely draw up the category of "national fabric."

I gave reasons that the initiative belonged in the Hopper. In addition to the thousands of products it provides, I reminded Congress of the millions of jobs cotton creates for Americans during its journey from the field into fabric (and other products).

I told them U.S. textile mills consume approximately 7.6 million bales of cotton a year and that about 57 percent of those bales are converted into apparel, more than a third into home furnishings and the remainder into industrial products like medical supplies, thread and tarpaulins.

I even emailed one of the Bush twins (I have connections). I called for 100 percent cotton flags. I asked for some kind of national recognition. Make 2004 the year of belated honor, I wrote. "We've given World War II veterans their memorial, but did we ever consider our silent compatriot, cotton?"

I will continue to stand in the gap for the voiceless and sew the seed of remembrance for our future generations. I will stay the course. Come with me, America. Take the leap and let us see field cotton become the white rose of our country. Let us see cotton become the undisputed national fabric of America.