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Why a “relaxed human connection” doesn’t make up for a racist name

Announced via email to a group of us this afternoon and posted on the company’s blog, Pete Turner states that he is not changing the name of restaurant.

In reading his lengthy response, I’m particularly offended by the ways this letter completely disregards the meaningful dialogue we engaged in last month. This is not a name that “celebrates individuality and relaxed human connection.”

Below is the response I sent back to Mr. Turner today. If you are in Tucson and interested in helping as the next restaurant prepares to open there, please get in touch.


Thank you for your letter. I am disappointed in your decision.

In hearing your detailed, humane choices as a business owner, I am surprised to hear that the ways your name affects entire communities within Colorado (and in future locations) is not a consideration for you.

I should add the quality of your business practices was never something I questioned; the mission of your restaurant has been clearly delineated both online and in our meeting last month. It is this point, in fact, that makes your letter such a disappointment: despite all of the fantastic business practices, you continue to ignore the very real and hurtful experiences that your restaurant’s name will cause.

I share with you the fact that I, too, lost my father several years ago to a form of leukemia. It is in his honor that I must continue to advocate for others to not patronize your business. His work as a member of a socially conscious teatro – performing throughout California and Mexico including to migrant farm-workers – instilled in me a need to advocate for and push on civil rights issues around me.

I had hoped that the community of Fort Collins could wholly reflect an inclusive environment and one in which my family and I would see our cultural history valued. Sadly, you have made this not the case.

Again, the positive aspects of your business were never in question – I did not need to read six pages to know the identity, the human capital, and the passion of your restaurant were important to you. It only took one paragraph to know that a large sector of your clientele are not. I had hoped your restaurant would  be a space that is inclusive of the communities it will inhabit.

I look forward to continuing this dialogue as we continue to organize around your next location in Tucson.


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.

An Open Letter to the Owner of Illegal Pete’s

Hi Pete,

I know several people have contacted you recently with concern about the name of your restaurant and its soon-to-be-open Fort Collins location. I too am concerned.

I should add that I really appreciate the work of your company from what I’ve been able to gather on your website. Your company clearly seems committed to some aspects of justice and bettering the world around you.

That being said, I cannot, in good conscience, be a patron of a Mexican restaurant that is called “Illegal Pete’s.” I understand, from a friend, that the name comes from a book and that it is also in tribute of your father. I admire both of these aspects. However, whether or not your intention, it is a denigrating and derogatory name. 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. I understand that this may not seem fair to you – as it may not be the origin of the name. However, the slippery nature of sociocultural context in the U.S. is something that cannot be dictated by us as individuals–they are a part of a culture of white supremacy that we remain entrenched within and which your restaurant’s name furthers.

I should also add that, in looking at your site to author this letter, the photograph on your history page (found here: plays into the longstanding history of undocumented (“illegal”) cooking and cleaning staff that work as much of the lifeblood of the service sector in the U.S. The covering up of the subject’s eyes in the photo makes him appear anonymous as if he is in fact the Illegal Pete of the namesake. Again, regardless of your intention, the name, the composition of the photograph, and the cultural context (including the hand that could be seen as a wave or as a ‘no photos please’ gesture) are read in a problematic and offensive way. I believe you were an English graduate and I would hope your multimodal analytical acumen would allow you to see how I am seeing what I am seeing.

Did you know that this month, throughout Northern Colorado there has been a play called “Do You Know Who I Am?” that has been performed in various locations ( Written and performed by undocumented Latino youth, the play is a powerful reminder that there is a large “illegal” Latino population in our community. As patrons in Fort Collins, how will Latinos (regardless of legal status) feel about a legacy of identity and citizenship with regard to the name? Or what about everyone (regardless of ethnicity) that sees the name and implicitly, unconsciously reinforce the concept that legal identity for Latinos is somehow tied to cultural conceptions of heritage? In this sense, the name functions as a continual micro-aggression.

I want to support your business when it opens in Fort Collins. I want to encourage my friends, family, and students to do the same. However, this name is simply not something that I can accept and I have no choice but to actively discourage my network to patronize your restaurant.

I know you have extended an invitation to meet with a CSU graduate student and, travel-schedule permitting, I hope to discuss these issues with you in person. In full disclosure, I intend to post the contents of this letter on my public blog: to invite dialogue (there have been numerous Facebook discussions of this topic and I would hope to broaden the discourse beyond a layer of private nay-saying).

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Antero Garcia

Catching up: DMLcentral & #NCTEchat

A couple of updates:

– The #NCTEchate I co-hosted with @frankisibberson was awesome. At  couple of points in the conversation the chat hashtag was trending. A Storify archive of the chat can be viewed here. At the end of the chat several participants committed to blogging about the NCTE position statement we co-authored and their general thoughts about formative assessment. Franki did an awesome job of rounding most of these up. Check out the 15 different responses here.

– A couple of weeks ago, I talked with Bud Hunt about the 1:1 iPad deployment he has been developing in the St. Vrain Valley School District. That conversation and a short blog post showed up on DMLcentral here.

– Last week, I got caught up in the flurry of the NY Times column Professors, We Need You.” I discussed the column and its implications for scholarship with Greg McVerry. Our discussion also showed up as a DMLcentral post over here.

Oh Hey, What’s Up Dude?

A quick note: my good friend Other Chris and I have started a podcast. It’s called Oh Hey, What’s Up Dude? You can find it here (or non-iTunes users here).

We’re putting out episodes every other week, generally. And it’s basically like this: Other Chris and I talk about science-y stuff (eventually), things we’re reading and listening to, and just generally ‘shoot-the-shit.’ As that sentence suggests, there’s some mild profanity.

I would start with the most recent episode, #4. We interview our other friend Chris (not “Other Chris” just “Chris”) about healthcare costs. In next week’s episode we will be learning about the science behind quitting smoking. If you have any ideas for topics you’d like us to focus on, get in touch!

“These things are your becoming”: Books read in 2013

This was a year of shoddy record keeping. Between buying a house, moving, getting married, and finishing a book, I had long periods of time where I lapsed in jotting down what I read from one week to the next. As such, the numbers below represent the books I was able to record and I suspect a few titles aren’t accounted for. To be fair, if I can’t even remember a book I read (which is kinda the purpose of me writing them down in the first place!) it probably isn’t a book I’m going to highly recommend. And so, that being said…

Books read in 2013: 107
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 14
Books of poetry included in reading total: 5
Books reread included in reading total: 7
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 12
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 14

A few thoughts (As usual, here are my posts on books read in 201220112010, and 2009):

One of the first books I read in 2013 was Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. It is the book I most regularly come back to. And I admit that I’m thrown by the fact that the book I’m most fond of this year–the book that lingers in my mind–is essentially a collection of advice columns from formerly anonymous “Dear Sugar,” Cheryl Strayed. The columns are raw and honest and tender. I suspect those are adjectives thrown at this book regularly. It was from this column that I took the plunge. Maybe that’s a good place for you to decide if it’s a book for you too.

Likewise, I lingered slowly through The Conversations and found Walter Murch’s approach to editing and filmmaking to resonate with my own pedagogy of inquiry-driven teaching and learning.

Big Day Coming was a fun read because well… Yo La Tengo:

I want to tell you to read White Girls by Hilton Als but I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. A series of essays. Fragments. An explanation about why Michael Jackson is a white girl. And Truman Capote. And Malcom X’s mother.Hilton’s relationship with his friend that falls apart. Richard Pryor and the N Word. Gone With the Wind. Each sentence precise and lacking imperfections. Like the Winogrand photo that adorns the cover, it works as a fleeting snapshot of one person’s outtake on race, class, gender and sexuality now, here, in America.

As many of my posts have suggested, I spent a lot of the second half of 2013 reading Role Playing Game books or books about RPGs. Peterson’s Playing at the World is by far the most comprehensive of these texts. Not for the faint of heart (or at least not for those who don’t want to carry a brick of a tome with them – it’s a BIG book), Peterson’s history on the beginnings of Dungeons and Dragons is a well researched work that was a helpful foundation for my current research.

I suspect my reading to pace to dwindle a bit in 2014 as the year is looking to be writing-intensive and checking in with journal articles beckons. That being said, I’m currently reading this biography-ish book about the KLF and have this book about the life of Charlie Parker on deck. See you all in 2014!

Reflecting on #AcWriMo and what a month of writing yields

Last month I wrote 51,603 words as part of Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo). This places me alongside more than 40,000 other people that completed 50,000+ word manuscripts as part of National Novel Writing.  Here’s my daily breakdown of the writing I did last month:

As I mentioned when first discussing this, I split my time between several writing projects (you can see the third project got introduced later in the month once I had a chance to meet with two of my collaborators while in Boston).

So what do I have to show for my month of writing? I’ve got a lot of fragments. All three of these projects are likely books in the making and all are in varying degrees of progress (I’m working toward 2015 publication dates for the first two of these, so you shouldn’t exactly hold your breath in anticipation). I’m excited to have covered a lot of the initial ground on these academic projects and know that my RPG work needs to incubate over the next few months as several writing deadlines will pull me more toward the other two projects, manuscripts being revised, and final papers to grade. In that sense, #AcWriMo was a useful reminder of how writing is only one piece of the process of publishing and distributing knowledge with others.

And so, I’m less interested in breaking down what these days of writing yielded in terms of tenure-able writing stuff and more interested in discussing how these changed my writing habits and thoughts on pedagogy.

Kicking the Non-Writing Habit

I would like to first highlight that this was a habit-forming month. Though the past week has not been one filled with me writing as much as in November, I have felt comfortable jotting down words that may not be perfect and that will add up to something larger over time. Because I entered #AcWriMo with the acnknowledgment that my writing wouldn’t be pristine, it helped free me from the tension of that evil blinking cursor: instead of needing to get gems of knowledge captured on the digital page, this process reminded me of the habit of writing down lots of words and knowing that some will stick and that the rest are getting me to the genesis of the ideas and words that are yet to come.

I should add something here about how inconvenient #AcWriMo felt at times: once I’d gone a week of writing everyday, I felt compelled not to break the chain. On days were I may have been tired or have been busy with meetings at NCTE or teaching all day, it was not exactly fun to then sit down and generate words. The weary tapping of keys on a sofa as I only half-watched a movie with my in-laws, for instance, reminded me of how I felt anchored and chained to the work I’d set for myself.  I guess the month highlighted for me the work involved in writing and generating text (and the next phase of work of editing, expanding, and clarifying this bulk of text).

And just as November was a race to get to an arbitrary writing deadline, the commitment to writing allowed me to see how I use my time. Sneaking in a couple hundred words in between lunch and teaching sometimes made all the difference in terms of getting the number of words I wanted.

As expected, the second half of the month was a challenge: with travel for NCTE and NWPAM and visiting friends and family back in California, there were days were even eeking out 500 words was a challenge. In fact, at the beginning of the month I’d pinpointed these as days where writing was unlikely and had set my own writing goals to adjust for these likely dates of less productive writing.


Public Accountability

Perhaps as important as the habit of writing everyday was that this habit was backed by public accountability. Though there were days where I lapsed, I generally posted everyday on Twitter my word count. These tweets were usually met with silence, but it was helpful for me to know that I was a part of a larger community of #NaNoWriMo and #AcWriMo. In this sense, I am reminded of my work with my Teaching Reading class at CSU. From the first week, I made efforts for (at least part of ) the students’ reflections to be public. I wanted my students to know that their comments on Digital Is and their comments on this blog (including the comments to this post) were a part of a public conversation. How do students’ reflections change when they are public? A part of their irreversible digital footprint?

And so, as I wrap up this post, I am encouraging my students  to look back on their semester of reading inquiry. What thoughts and ideas have you seeded in the digital world? In what ways can you continue your own online dialogue beyond the required weekly musings here and in other spaces?