We’ve never been the kind of parents to buy our daughter lots of toys. Oh, I’m sure she’s lucky compared to other kids, and earlier generations of toddlers, but in general, we just don’t buy her much. Maybe it’s a New York thing, not having the space for piles of junk?
But visiting friends and, now, staying in this house in L.A. have shown us what massive collections of playable other families have. The children’s library stretches floor to ceiling, the kid’s room has everything from Buzz Lightyear to a San Diego Zoo-worthy menagerie of stuffed animals, and in the den, six under-counter rolling drawers hold railroad tracks, a Razor scooter, and who knows what else? Frankly, I’m a little scared to look too closely.
One toy, however, sticks out in mind as especially Los Angeles-style, though I’m sure it exists elsewhere. It’s a one-foot-tall plastic boy with a baseball cap and a pencil behind its ear; its name is Handy Manny (apparently based on a Disney cartoon), and when you push a button on the buckle of his toolbelt, he speaks with a very light Latino accent: “Let’s work together!” “Vamonos, tools! Come on!” “Measure twice, cut once.” “Thanks for your help, gracias.”
I guess it’s cute, and I don’t mean to suggest Handy Manny is wrong or disturbing. I mean, I know that toys for young kids are meant to familiarize them with the objects and characters they’ll encounter in the world. Why else would Sasha obsess over ambulances—playing with Matchbox versions, building ambulances out of Duplo blocks—except to skillfully recognize them on the street?
But immigrant labor? It feels odd to me, especially when Handy Manny says, “I couldn’t do this job without you,” and I want to add, “Because you’re paying me under the table and didn’t ask for a Social.”
Again, maybe this is an East Coast–West Coast culture clash. The friendly neighborhood underage, quasi-legal Latino handyman just isn’t as much of a figure in New York. The Puerto Rican super? Sure. The gruff Ukrainian movers? Absolutely. But this, to me, seems like an only-in-L.A. toy, and I doubt Sasha will miss Handy Manny when we go home.
Still, I like the idea, and next Christmas I’ll be working on a Chinese nanny version that Sasha will absolutely love—until it gets deported.