Wal-Mart’s quest for global
domination is nearly complete. After having planted its banner on
the rubble of every independently owned business in the United
States, it is becoming increasingly clear that it has become master
of the world of men. The next logical step is to challenge the
authority of the immortals themselves. Wal-Mart is constructing its
latest superstore less than a mile away from the ancient Pyramid of
the Sun in Teotihuacan, Mexico, whose name means “The Place
Where Men Become Gods.” The superstore chain’s divine
ascension beyond the confines of this mortal realm has begun.

Elliott Mallen

The new superstore will compete with the splendor of the Pyramid
of the Sun, becoming equally prominent in the skyline that has been
dominated by the pyramid for the past 2000 years. This has rubbed
some residents the wrong way, with a teacher from the area saying
that, “What they are doing in Teotihuacan is destroying
Mexico’s deepest roots for short-term interests like lower
prices.” Community activists burning incense and blowing
conch shells occupied the town hall and refused to leave until the
mayor addressed their concerns regarding this cultural
imperialism.

Sure, Wal-Mart is making symbolic efforts to preserve the
culture it is uprooting. When an altar dating back before the
Spanish conquest was found on the site of the new superstore,
planners realized that this could cause quite a stir. In order to
portray an image of historical sensitivity, the altar will be
encased in plexiglass and put on display in the parking lot.
Everyone wins: The ancient artifact is safely neutralized and
preserved for future generations of shoppers to passively admire
while jockeying for parking spaces. In addition, shoppers will have
the opportunity to buy a rubber replica of the pyramid along with
other goods at the lowest prices know to God and man, further
preserving its cultural, religious and historical significance in
the form of a shoddily manufactured trinket.

Of course, it’s not as if anyone has the clout to stop
Wal-Mart’s audacious move.

With more than 4,800 stores worldwide and annual sales exceeding
$250 billion, the chain’s economic supremacy is
unquestionable. It employs one and a half million
“associates” worldwide and is rapidly expanding abroad.
If it were considered a state, it would rank fifth among
China’s biggest export markets, surpassing both Britain and
Germany.

Granted, there has been some successful resistance to Wal-Mart
expansion in the United States. Residents in Los Angeles, San
Francisco and Chicago have put up a fierce fight against the
superstore’s encroachment into their communities. The
National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the entire state of
Vermont on the 2004 list of most endangered historic places in the
United States in order to impede Wal-Mart’s expansion. In
addition, the company has faced a variety of lawsuits, including a
1998 case in which a jury found that a white Wal-Mart employee was
fired for dating a black man and a sex discrimination class-action
lawsuit involving 1.6 million current and former female Wal-Mart
employees. However, resistance abroad has been much less fervent
than in the United States, leading to projects like the Teotihuacan
superstore.

With 633 outlets employing more than 100,000 workers, Mexico is
Wal-Mart’s biggest market outside of the United States. The
business it does has surpassed that of the entire tourism industry
and accounts for about 2 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic
product. The people of Mexico seem to have dejectedly accepted the
chain, with one man quoted in The New York Times as saying,
“Sure, I know Wal-Mart is a multinational company, but what
are you going to do? That’s globalization, and Mexico has to
play the game, right? Maybe some of the profit leaves Mexico, but
Mexico gets back some foreign investment, right?” His
statements are saturated with desperation. He wants to believe that
Wal-Mart’s unstoppable expansion will have positive effects
because he doesn’t have much power to stop it.

And after all, why should he doubt Wal-Mart’s benevolence?
Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton devotes an entire chapter in his book
“Made in America” outlining all of the fantastic ways
in which Wal-Mart gives back to the community. The specifics are
sketchy, especially seeing as Walton explicitly states that
Wal-Mart “is not, and should not be, in the charity
business,” saying instead that the low prices offered to
consumers through the wonders of the free market serve the
community more than any handout ever could. He did splurge once
when he built a first-class exercise facility for Wal-Mart workers
to show his “sincere appreciation to the associates.”
Everyone knows that the biggest demand of workers in the stores
isn’t fair wages or more tolerable working conditions, but
free access to a Stairmaster.

Wal-Mart’s brazen expansion onto the site of the ancient
pyramid should come as no surprise. The chain has crushed virtually
all competition at home and is facing little resistance abroad,
giving it both the strength and the audacity to completely
disregard anything resembling cultural or historical value. Mexico
managed to fight off Spain and France when it was in the throes of
nationhood. Wal-Mart might prove to be too much of a challenge.

 

Mallen can be reached at
“mailto:emmallen@umich.edu”>emmallen@umich.edu.

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