Last Friday, I was listening to the morning show I listen to every morning, Airing The Addisons on Urban Family Talk when they began talking about this piece of news. Since then, the story has been all over the internet and most notably on the Drudge Report. Or so I heard.
The segment focused on this story. In short, Pete Turner, the owner of Illegal Pete’s, is being pressured by local Hispanic residents and community leaders of Fort Collins, Colorado to change the name of his restaurant; a restaurant he has, according to the restaurant’s blog, been running “for nearly 20 years.” The Fort Collins location will be his seventh.
The grievance for residents and community leaders is with the use of the word “Illegal” in the restaurant’s name. According to this Syracuse.com article written by Nick Canedo, “Turner began receiving emails from community members concerned that the name was offensive to immigrants.” In this CBS Denver 4 news clip, Cheryl Distaso with the Fort Collins Action Network says the word illegal, “When it’s used in reference to human beings is offensive and dehumanizing.” In that context, sure. I agree. It is unfortunate that there will always be people in our society that will use the word “illegal” to intentionally offend and dehumanize others. True. As my old boss used to say, “There’s no law against being a jerk.” Nor are their laws strong enough to make a racist not a racist if they want to remain racist. Emancipating a racist from his or her beliefs might prove more difficult than reaching the farthest depths of the ocean.
I do not think these critics are saying this at all about Mr. Turner. To me it seems as if they are trying to eradicate the negative connotations and stigmas associated with the word with very good intentions. But to eradicate completely is impossible. Nothing short of Thought Police will make that a reality. Still, I do not think the efforts of those grieved by the word “illegal” are in vain. I am not naive to the legitimate hurt the word can inflict when used by a malicious person. If their protests create a larger awareness of the word’s sting, then fine. However, as long as there are incidences like this one, for example, those negative connotations and stigmas associated with “illegal” become much harder to rub out of the American psyche. As a matter of fact, they get stronger along with the animosity of many.
But there’s another side to protests that may be obscured by good intentions. Ironically, those planning on protesting Illegal Pete’s if it does not change its name, must realize their protests might also heighten the animosity many already feel toward those labeled as “illegal.” Why might it heighten the animosity of many? Because their racist? No, but because many realize this is an injustice against Mr. Turner; who, in the eyes of many, has done nothing wrong. If he changes the name of his restaurant and somebody asks why, they will not point to a word but to people. How is that not going to create resentment?
There is no ill-intent behind Mr. Turner’s use of the word “illegal” in the name of his restaurant. It is probably safe to assume that a business that has thrived for nearly twenty years has done so because the food and service has been pleasing to customers of every shade. And what of Mr. Turner’s hard work in making Illegal Pete’s successful? Is he really obligated to these people to rebrand his entire business? I don’t think so and I am not the only one. If you were to Google this news story and read many of the comments left by commentators on various articles at various sites, one would see that most are in favor of Illegal Pete’s remaining, well, illegal. Some call the attack against Illegal Pete’s over-reaching and view it as merely political correctness run amok. Others are more colorful in their opinions, as can be expected.
Others say the name must go because it may incite violence. No, seriously. According to the Syracuse.com article, Antero Garcia, English Professor at Colorado State University, “said the restaurant’s name would instill violence in the community.” If such a loaded word as “illegal” were capable of inciting violence at a Mexican restaurant, why have we not heard of riots, melees, and race-wars with tightly packed burritos as projectiles of death and destruction in Boulder and Denver in the last twenty years? Are Fort Collins residents just that gangsta? Who knew?
As a Hispanic, I am not offended by the word “Illegal” in the restaurant’s name in any way whatsoever. Others are and that is their prerogative. Perhaps some might even insist that all Latinos should be offended by this. Sorry, I’m just not. I fail to see myself as a victim. Now, could I? I guess, but why? For what purpose? To make demands upon an innocent, successful business owner all in the name of identity politics, political-correctness run amok? I simply don’t see what others see about the name. As they say in the south, “That dog don’t hunt.” It’s the name of a business. Illegal Pete’s is not using the word to refer to people. Those that clearly use the term to debase and dehumanize others should be brought to account. But not Mr. Turner. It is unfair that he is being made into a scapegoat. It sounds like an awesome place to get good grub and hardly the racial boogeyman agitators make it out to be. We’re talking about burritos, nachos, tacos, and quesadillas. Subtle racism? No way Jose.