A Reader Writes by Vivian Alvarado: And her city was gone

March 08, 2002

My father asked me to buy tape for the boxes we have to seal. Tomorrow we will be moving out of Calexico, the town I lived in most of my life.

I am sad because I will be leaving behind some friends and family; at least those who have not moved already. So I jump in my car and drive around my hometown to take one last look at the city by the border I call "mi hogar."

I make my way onto Grant Street as I pass the Garcia Center. It closed about five months ago, leaving some of my best friends without jobs. I turn right on Cesar Chavez as I cruise at a moderate 30 mph.

The American Legion field looks so desolate; I remember when it was filled with parents in the bleachers watching their kids play the great American pastime.


I drive onto Second Street and park for a minute in the Vons parking lot. "Liquidation sale" are the words inhabiting the large banner hanging across the supermarket. My father and many of his closest friends worked several years in that grocery store. It will be going out of business within the next couple weeks.

I walk into the store and I see the employees' faces reflecting their artificial smiles. But there eyes say everything. Their sadness is evident as they ponder the fact that soon they will be losing their job.

"What will all these people do?" I ask myself. "Tape, tape, which aisle is it in? Supplies, there we go! Darn! Out of tape!"

Cyndi walks by and smiles.

"Mija, so you guys are moving tomorrow?"

"Yeah my dad found a job in Palm Desert, luckily. He had been looking for a long time and finally he's found one. How about you?"

"Oh I'm staying; I'll just have to find another job. Meanwhile my hubby will take care of me," she laughs.

"Yeah, my mom is very sad that she has to leave Mains. My dad is the one who earns the most money and now she has to leave the school she's worked at for the past 15 years."


"Good luck Cyndi, and you take care," I say as I give her a hug and walk toward the exit.

Again I'm off on my quest to find tape, that necessary adhesive that will prevent our stuff from flying onto the freeway. I head toward downtown and look for a store. Most of the hardware stores close early Sundays, so I look for grocery stores. There are no more grocery stores in the downtown area, except for Rite Aid. An employee is on his break smoking a cigarette, I wave to him and he walks toward my car.

"Do you have any tape for boxes? You know, the thick gray or the black kind."

"No señorita, no tenemos. La gente vino a comprar eso en la mañana y se acabó."

There were two other stores I went to that did not have tape. I knew why this was happening. Everyone was moving out of town. There were no more jobs in Calexico, unless one worked for the school district, the city, the Border Patrol or Super Wal-Mart.

Most grocery businesses had gone under since Super Wal-Mart opened last spring. Local merchants lost their stores that had supported them and their employees for several years, even decades. Now Calexico seems like a ghost town, deserted, with only gas stations and restaurants to make it look somewhat lively.

Several people supported the opening of the large franchise and voted in favor of it during the elections on March 5, 2002. They must have thought, "A huge Wal-Mart. I won't have to shop anywhere else." And it was true! They didn't because most of the other stores closed. Wal-Mart's prices were so low that everyone shopped there, causing numerous businesses to call it quits. As soon as this occurred, Super Wal-Mart's prices skyrocketed. It became a monopoly, the Big Brother of the local businesses.

Other voters supported Super Wal-Mart because of all the donations it provided for schools and for the scholarships it gave students. At least it gave back something to the community it ruined.

One of the scholarship winners was a girl named Brenda Sánchez. She was planning to go to UC Berkeley after she graduated from high school. Brenda was grateful to the conglomerate that provided her with a scholarship. Yet later she was filled with grief when she learned her father lost his job because the store he worked for could not compete with Super Wal-Mart. That was the trade-off.

Some city officials were happy Wal-Mart at least paid it taxes. In turn, the city of Calexico would return several thousands of dollars to the massive franchise. That was a deal set up before Wal-Mart made its way into our town. I imagined how that money could have been used to create more recreation activities for kids or help improve facilities for senior citizens. There were so many other positive things the city could have done with the money instead of giving it to that billion-dollar industry.

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