Friday, February 20, 2009

ANDY COMER: Hispanic Wal-Mart is muy racist

Now this just about takes the cake.

Wal-Mart has helped me learn a bit of Spanish.

Thanks to the signs on the aisles, I know that galletas are cookies, pan is bread, and leche is milk. It makes perfect sense to have bilingual store displays in an area like the Rio Grande Valley. Wal-Mart would be stupid to overlook that.

One aisle always seems to puzzle me. Whenever I pass the "Latino foods" section, I feel like the sign is saying that Hispanic people are genetically engineered to only eat what is in that department, and wash it all down with a Corona or some tequila. There's no sign anywhere in the store that says "white food" or "African-American food." Why does our food have to be segregated? Then again, we do have white bread and white chocolate.

In what I consider a tacky move, Wal-Mart recently announced it was reconfiguring a building the company is constructing in PeƱitas with a "unique store format" according to a Monitor article. The store is in fact a "Hispanic concept" Wal-Mart. Maybe I'm being over-sensitive, but the very idea of such an establishment seems quite racist to me.

The Monitor article continues with a description of the concept Wal-Mart that includes wider aisles, shorter shelves and merchandise arranged to "cater to the needs and vibrant tastes of customers from South Texas and the Hispanic community." The "vibrant tastes" part made me laugh out loud.

I understand that a huge corporation like Wal-Mart wants to cater to individual markets like the Valley, hence the bilingual signs in its stores. But rearranging an entire building and labeling it as a "Hispanic concept" store seems to belittle those who live in this area, as many Monitor readers commented on our Web site. I'm wondering: Since I'm white, will the store be more difficult for me to shop in? Will I even be allowed to enter a "Hispanic concept" Wal-Mart?

What if Wal-Mart set up shop in predominantly black cities like Detroit or Atlanta and created stores that were more "black-friendly?" I gauruntee Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson would be picketing said concept store and demanding its closure. So why is it no problem to build a "Hispanic concept" store?

I'm almost certain that I'm overreacting. Maybe this "Hispanic concept" Wal-Mart will actually be a hit with Valley shoppers who appreciate the lower shelves and product placement that matches their "vibrant tastes." The thing that bothers me is that no Hispanic leaders, to my knowledge, are even bothering to stand up to Wal-Mart and point out that these concept stores seem at least somewhat condescending toward the people they're intended to serve.

Until the "Hispanic concept" Wal-Mart is finished, Valley residents will sadly be forced to shop at the "regular" stores that apparently have aisles that are too narrow, shelves that are too tall and products that are too bland. I hope the merchandise in the Latino food section isn't too hard to reach.

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