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Some context regarding “violence” and Illegal Pete’s

On Wednesday, a group of us were able to meet with Peter Turner, the owner of Illegal Pete’s. The event was level headed and filled with rational discourse about concerns around the name of the restaurant. It was covered, later that day by the Coloradoan. And while I appreciate the media coverage, the article does not portray the even keeled nature of the meeting and quoted me without a lot of context to clarify my meaning. The article has since gotten radio coverage, additional news articles here, here, here, and here, an editorial response here, Reddit discussion here, was on the Drudge Report, etc.

To be clear, I stand behind the sentence I am quoted as saying in the meeting: “This is a place that’s going to instill violence in our community.” In the meeting I discussed that there are forms of symbolic violence and physical violence; I believe Illegal Pete’s will foster both (based on the violent rhetoric in the comments supporting the company, I frankly see this violence already at work.) What’s missing however is the explanation of how the word “Illegal” is not simply a word about the immigration status of an individual. In many contexts today, it is a label that we place on Latinos wholesale. Many people in the meeting voiced the fact that they were born and raised in Colorado or other parts of the U.S. and have been verbally attacked and berated–violent language–telling them to ‘go back where they came from,’ that they are illegal, that they are different from other citizens in the country. Based on skin tone or language practices, Latinos are perpetually treated differently. To be clear (this is something that is not understood by many of the negative commenters I’ve heard from), this does not have anything to do with one’s legal status in the United States; Latinos are regularly labeled as illegal.

In this context, I shared with Pete at the meeting that his restaurant’s name continues a legacy of hate speech and violence that is worsening in the current sociopolitical climate. We need to reconsider the “I-word” in general. A colleague shared this video in my Facebook feed, which I find illustrative:

Considering the ways hateful speech is statistically tied to violence, I would label Illegal Pete’s as a place that perpetuates a culture of white supremacy and, as a result, “instill[s] violence” in my community.

People have argued that I am unable to interpret that the word “illegal” is being used in a different way – that it is from a book, is about counter culture, etc. Again, it doesn’t matter how Pete Turner intended the name to be understood. It does not matter that some people see the name as harmless. The legacy of racism means it is an injurious name for an entire (and growing) sector of Americans.

This is not about whining or complaining. It is about refusing to accept hurtful, violent language in the context of society in 2014. In regards to this, there is a concern that Fort Collins residents are simply unable to decipher the difference between how Pete uses the word “Illegal” and how it is interpreted with regards to immigration. It is my belief that a Mexican-influenced restaurant with a person’s name and the adjective “Illegal” can convey little else but the current issue at hand As such, I continue advocating for the business to change its name.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. Angora | October 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I would be happy if no one ever used the ‘i-word’ in regards to another human being again. I hate all of the hate speech that has come out in the comments over this.

    But I don’t see how you could take “Illegal” in the context of the name to be perpetuating violence when it clearly has nothing to do with immigrants. And once you found out, I can’t believe you’re still going with this. Taking the Washington Redskins as an example, “Redskins” pretty much means one thing. “Illegal” is much too broad a word to protest every time you see it, as it’s used in many non-racist ways every day (like in this awesome small business’s name). What are we going to say when someone breaks the law?

  2. Mat Friske | October 25, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I realize you are trying to do the right thing, but this PC correct stuff is dividing our country more and more. Why are you not concerned about Cracker Barrel? Or the Mexican Hairless dog? That one should anger both Mexicans and bald people, or god forbid a bald Mexican. The list of possible “offensive” names is endless, and to be honest you look really stupid for doing this. Good thing is you most likely have given this place great publicity!

  3. Jim | October 26, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    So glad that you are sticking to your “g-word”s on this. We have to keep this fight going, for the good of the community. Again, I feel like I can learn so much from your tactics, and will use them in our struggle against “C-word” Barrel. I, too, feel just like you, and I guess just don’t have the bravery to express it, that the context in which the private business owner came up with his name is of no consequence. What is really important is the context of society in 2014 as we see it (a racist society). It doesn’t matter that the overwhelming majority (or, as you say, some – again, a great tactic!) find the name harmless. Because they aren’t interpreting it the right way, i.e., our way. As you point out, it’s pretty much the only way to interpret the name. It boggles my mind that, as you rightly note, the Ft. Collins residents are too dumb to choose the proper context. The only explanation I can think of is that they’re operating from a space of such white privilege that they have no idea how to empathize the way you and I want them to. The only problem with this explanation is that it doesn’t account for all the Latinos who are/were unaware of how offended they should be. And perhaps paradoxically, the only Latinos concerned with this seem to be coming from a place of relative privilege. But this can only be a distraction, and we must remain strong. Keep up the god work.

  4. Seer Clearly | October 31, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Really, this is about worthlessness and its opposite, self-importance. Remember “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”? That was spoken by someone who knew why they were and didn’t let the perceived opinions of others affect their own self-image. In this case, we have the self-important ones deciding for the worthless ones what will hurt their feelings. The self-important ones get to look like saviors and pound their chests (so they don’t have to feel their own worthlessness) and the worthless ones get to feel important because the self-important ones are puffing them up. Yet ultimately, when we realize that we are each endowed with our own innate dignity and don’t need to co-dependently save others from nonexistent threats, the entire issue disappears. If you want to help others, go out and train a child to do math; feed a homeless person and help them find housing; clean up a polluted urban stream; fix an old woman’s roof; help your neighbor babysit her children so she can go to night school. Do something that makes a difference to someone else with selfless service, but please don’t make your epitaph be the self-important epic of commandeering the meaning of a word to make yourself look good.

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