What I’ve appreciated about the past year is the chance to spend more quality time with my parents and learn about their lives. I would be far worse off during the pandemic if I didn’t have my parents to watch the baby while I work and support community needs. I love seeing the bond my kid has with my parents; they all laugh heartily and play joyfully together. And, my parents are infinitely generous when it comes to caring for baby, day or night as needed.
The tradition of care or strength of the care economy in our culture is evident in these daily interactions with my parents, in our community response to COVID, and in accounts of what happened during and following the war that ended 46 years ago on this day. My grandfather made sure to garner enough rice for the large, extended family, and would hand sort through the rations for pebbles and detritus that could break teeth–a tedious job I know too well that any parent wouldn’t have time for when taking care of kids and trying to survive post-war destruction. Neighbors with long-trusted relationships shared food, clothes, childcare, and alerts. Needs were met through each other, not money.
While the pandemic hasn’t been like a war, I learned from my family’s post-wartime experience of a devastated financial economy to apply during the pandemic. After the Fall of Saigon, the new communist government forced everyone to turn in their money, and each family, regardless of what they turned in, of their family’s size, or of any personal factors, received 200 dollars. (My mom told me of the suicides in her neighborhood as a result of this new, instituted poverty.) With limited money, even more services needed to be met through family or other relationships. So, haircuts, dog walks, picking-up food, and other monetized services are things I’m receiving or doing for people to reduce the burden on our already strained budgets.
Even before the pandemic, I grew up seeing how our strong economy of care served us as we eeked out a life in white supremacist USA. Structural racism hindered us from gaining employment, well-paying jobs, job security, job and salary advancement, so we needed to meet our needs with less money. And money can’t buy your doctor’s respect to take your pain seriously, a mechanic’s attention to do a good repair job, or a real estate agent’s care to find you a safe home. That is to say, we’d still be shut out of quality services even if we had money, so we built things ourselves and served each other with deserved respect and care.
It’s in those exchanges that we got to know each other and appreciate each other across differences. And I think this is part of what we’re losing in the US American over-emphasis on the financial economy above all others–care economy, spiritual economy, gift economy: an opportunity to appreciate each other. We are caught in an increasingly financialized world wherein everyday life is commodified (e.g. self-care is about buying skin cremes, houseplants are bought instead of propagated and shared, cooking lessons for millennia-old practices shared for free now cost hundreds of dollars) and the cost of living is skyrocketing (read: rent. The cost of food hasn’t substantially gone up since the 1970s, adjusted for inflation.). Financializing all aspects of life is 1) unevenly accessible, especially in an ableist, patriarchal, white supremacist society and 2) damaging to our resilience and adaptability.
Don’t get me wrong. We still need money, and a better, more equitable distribution of it. (Moreso, wealth, but that’s a different conversation.) But as we see consumer goods get more expensive, pandemics proliferate, and climate change-related disruptions to trade increase, it is worth examining what money can’t buy us and what riches lay in our relationships.