A string of Mexican restaurants in Colorado won’t be changing their name any time soon, despite pressure from community activists. Pete Turner, who owns ‘Illegal Pete’s,’ met with activists in Fort Collins just a few weeks before opening another restaurant in the area.
About 30 community members met with Turner to discuss the name of the restaurant, which some people found offensive.The negative connotations associated with the word ‘illegal’ were at the forefront of the meeting.
Colorado State University assistant English professor Antero Garcia wrote a letter to Turner about the restaurant’s name, which read in part “the restaurant will be located in the same area that current Fort Collins residents remember often seeing signs saying 'No dogs or Mexicans.' It is under this legacy of American racist practices that the name Illegal Pete's becomes unacceptable.”
Many media outlets and social groups have advocated for the removal of the word ‘illegal’ from our collective lexicon when it refers to a person. The Associated Press, USA Today, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle and other media strongholds have started using other terms, like ‘undocumented,’ because ‘illegal’ is often considered dehumanizing and anti-immigrant.
"Social context is hugely important," said Fort Collins immigration attorney and meeting moderator Kim Medina. "We'll never get to big issues, such as immigration reform, until we can solve these smaller issues of language.”
Turner went on the defensive when confronted by the community. At the beginning of the meeting, a group of Illegal Pete's representatives passed around a flyer that listed the company's charitable contributions and fundraisers. He explained that he called the restaurant Illegal Pete’s because of a book he read as a college student. Pete is both his and his father’s names.
Milton Guevara, who is a manager of an Illegal Pete's Boulder, said he didn’t have an issue with the restaurant’s name. He was born in El Salvador but moved to California with his family as a child. Twenty years ago he was undocumented.
"I'm Hispanic, and I'm very proud to be," Guevara said. "People come to us because they love our food ... The name doesn't mean anything.”
Image via Associated Press