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Wal-Mart to Kill Two Cultures With One Stone


Big-box stores go up on Indian burial grounds. Talk about courting controversy.

For anyone compiling a ranking list at home, recent actions have slightly altered the hierarchy of ethnicities that Wal-Mart (WMT) values most. In order to keep up to date, remove the Hispanic and Native American entries and place them in a nearby trashcan. Both groups are suffering through targeted actions that serve as severe detriments to both the Hispanic community and Native American tradition.

In an effort to better market itself to Spanish-speaking citizens, Wal-Mart has opened a new Latino-themed warehouse store in Houston, Texas. An offshoot of Wal-Mart subsidiary Sam's Club, Más Club will contain a more international fare of cuisine while maintaining the familiar bulk-sized membership aesthetic of a warehouse club.

To make the transition from family-run business to multinational megastore completely seamless, the decor inside Más Club was designed to mimic the nearby Mexican bodegas and bakeries to which local patrons are already accustomed. (Similar attempts have been made by Safeway (SFY) and Winn-Dixie (WINN), though Target (TGT) has yet to get in on the act.)

Signs are written in Spanish with English subtitles, and the food selections include fresher choices like meat and just-made pastries -- vastly different from the typical Sam's Clubs, which deal mainly in frozen and factory-processed foods.

The competition might be too fierce for nearby smaller businesses like Fiesta Mart and family-run bodegas -- but when has that ever stopped Wal-Mart?

The superstore will also "cater" to the small business owners in the area: Más Club contains an adjacent warehouse in which owners can purchase supplies at a possibly lower price than their current wholesale providers -- thereby allowing the smaller markets to corrode their way up the corporate ladder.

Although Más Club will attempt to sell its products at lower prices, local Mexican bakery owner Jose Galvan believes it won't be able to match the heart of his business. Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Galvan said, "I don't think [Más Club] can match the relationships I can build with places like this."

The Houston location will serve as an experiment while the company tests the best way to target Hispanic communities throughout the country. However, in the case of Native Americans, Wal-Mart already knows how to handle them: by desecrating their heritage.

Seven hundred miles away in Oxford, Alabama, preparation is underway to use the dirt from a 1,500-year-old Native American ceremonial mound as fill for a new Sam's Club despite protests from locals and preservation groups.

An archaeology report made by the University of Alabama states the site is of historical significance -- a claim the Alabama Historical Commission supports, having asserted the mound meets enough criteria to qualify as National Register of Historic Places.

But Oxford Mayor Leon Smith and City Project Manager Fred Denney maintain that the mound bears no cultural significance and told The Anniston Star that it was merely to send "smoke signals."

It's worth mentioning that the developers and engineering firms involved with the $2.6 million no-bid contract to build on the land also donated thousands of dollars to Mayor Leon Smith's election campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

No matter how many reports and pleas pass in front of Smith's desk, he refuses to be persuaded out of this development. He told The Anniston Star, "What it's going to be is more prettier than it is today."

Let's just hope the undead spirits of Native Americans -- as well as English teachers -- know exactly where Smith's offices are located.

The Oxford site comes at the end of a long list of run-ins Wal-Mart has had with Native American groups and their sacred lands. In 2004, construction in Hawaii unearthed 64 sets of Native remains which -- even after 3 years -- were stuck in a trailer awaiting reburial. That same year, Wal-Mart destroyed crops when placing a store a mile and a half away from ancient Aztec ruins. And in the mid-90s, it organized a relocation of graves in Canton, Georgia but in exchange, set up a display of Indian artifacts inside the store -- next to the layaway counter.

The screenplay of Poltergeist IV is likely in development.
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