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An Ode To Cheap Latin American Knock-Offs Of Popular Toys

This past month I was clearing out some stuff from my mom’s house and putting my old toys into storage. Among all the badass Millennium Falcons and Castle Greyskulls, I found my old bank. It’s a Mickey Mouse bank made of toxic carcinogenic plastic. His shorts are blue instead of red and his face looks just a little off from an officially licensed Disney product. I love that old bank. I remember my mom giving me her spare change, which I would greedily store away inside Mickey’s butt. As much as I love the bank, the truth is that it is a cheap knock-off Latin American toy.

Every Latino child has toys like this. An adult in your life invariably went shopping at a flea market, Latino food store, or trip over the border and brought back a knock-off toy for you. It’s not done out of maliciousness or cheapness, (OK, maybe cheapness). It’s just that to a Latino, especially one from Latin America, things don’t have to be name brand. Generic products are just fine. Why spend 1 peso for a Coca Cola when you can buy a Kooka Kola for 50 pesetas? The same goes with toys. Why fork over the $250 for an officially licensed Nintendo Wii when you can get a knock-off Wee for $20? It’s the same thing, isn’t it? Sure, it can’t play regular Wii games because of Nintendo’s encryption codes, so you can only play the game that comes with the system. Still, you can’t argue with saving $230!

The U.S. government tries to regulate these violations of international copyright laws. They confiscate and burn tons of these toys in pyres of smoldering toxic plastic. It’s a fight they can never win. Latinos are generally poor and can’t afford name brand toys. While I’m not advocating abandoning intellectual property law, I think in the case of toys we should look the other way. Should the children of the poor and the cheap not have toys to play with because Hasbro needs its pound of flesh? Do kids love their toys any less because they were made in Oaxaca instead of Japan? No. Much like my Mickey Mouse bank, they may only realize its questionable provenance later in life. Knowing that fact doesn’t change my happy memories of playing with it. Plus there was still $2 in quarters in it! It was like a gift from 5 year old me to broke-ass 34 year old me.

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