Wal-Mart pulls Mexican comic

July 9, 2008 3:17:13 PM PDT
Wal-Mart is pulling a popular Mexican comic book featuring a protagonist with exaggerated black features following complaints from a Houston customer who said "Memin Pinguin" was racist. The latest issue of the comic, "Memin para presidente" (Memin for President), was being sold in select Wal-Mart stores with a large Latino customer base, said Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez in Bentonville, Ark.

But the discount giant decided to remove the comic from stores nationwide on Wednesday.

"Wal-Mart carries a wide array of products that reflect the wants and needs of Hispanic customers. And we understand that Memin is a popular figure in Mexico," the company said in a statement. "However, given the sensitivity to the negative image Memin can portray to some, we felt that it was best to no longer carry the item in our stores. We apologize to those customers who may have been offended by the book's images."

The Memin Pinguin comic was part of a series of Spanish-language titles carried in Wal-Mart stores.

A Houston customer, Shawnedria McGinty, spotted the comic in a local store, and objected to the caricature-like depiction of the main character, a small boy with thick lips and wide-open eyes. She complained to community activist Quanell X, who garnered local media coverage of the book.

A telephone listing for McGinty couldn't be immediately found. Quanell X declined comment, but planned to make a public statement Thursday in front of the Wal-Mart store that sold the comic.

The comic, which began in the 1940s, revolves around Memin Pinguin, a small Mexican-Cuban boy whose street smarts and adventures reflect the life of a poor boy in Mexico City. The boy, portrayed as a likeable rascal, earns money shining shoes and selling newspapers to help his mother.

However, the characters of Memin and his mother have been criticized as throwbacks to stereotypical depiction of blacks. It is not the first time Memin has sparked debate in this country.

In 2005, the Mexican postal service issued a series of stamps commemorating the Memin character. President Bush and several African-Americans, including Jesse Jackson, asked the Mexican government to recall the stamps.

Then-Mexican President Vicente Fox defended the stamps, saying Memin Pinguin was a beloved character embraced by all Mexicans.

The 750,000-stamp issue sold out within a few days of release.

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