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

35 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Owner of Illegal Pete’s

  1. Philip Abercrombie

    Do people actually read your contrived and pointless drivel? What a waste of your own time. One persons point of view does not set a standard, nor does it prove anything about an issue that you couldn’t be more incorrect about. It’s like analyzing a film, it’s just one persons opinion, but really…it’s a bunch of bull shit. But hey, this is just my opinion…see what I did there?

  2. jason

    you’re getting a lot of bad press in denver for writing a very poorly researched and groundless critique of one of the most loved and upstanding citizens of our entire city (I’m not kidding). I’d recommend you take Pete’s offer to meet and discuss with him the work that he does as well as the name of the organization before trying to tag him as a racist.

    As a side note, you make anyone who is actually trying to work for social justice look like an idiot when you say stupid shit online.

  3. Steven Bushet

    Hey thanks for the restaurant recommendation. I’m now going to only eat and Illegal Petes because the food is officially authentic.

    How about this? WHO CARES?! If your illegal, I feel bad for you son but I got 99 problems and ISIS is one of them. I do not care about illegals. They came over illegally and thus should not be able to voice their opinion about this matter.

  4. antero Post author

    Jason, Thank you for your comment. A group of us met with Pete today to discuss our concerns with the name. Just to be clear, I did not “tag him as a racist.” I found Pete’s responses clear and level-headed but still upholding a culture of white supremacy. I’m sorry you feel this work may offend others committed to social justice. I am working in the solidarity with my friends, colleagues, and family here in Fort Collins.

  5. Nicole Mirra

    Thank you for starting this dialogue, Antero. Based on the comments so far, it seems that it is a necessary one in the Fort Collins community (and one that stirs up passionate feelings).

    To Philip, I can see that you felt moved to leave a comment based on what you read. I’m curious to hear what you think was incorrect about what Antero wrote – that would be a better way to continue a conversation instead of simply calling another person’s ideas ‘stupid.’ Multiple views on an issue are what democracy is all about – personal attacks are counterproductive.

    Jason, I would say the same to you – what do you consider to be ‘actual’ social justice work?

    And to Steven, I offer to you the idea that you are living in a society in which we are all interconnected – while you may say that you don’t care about people living in this country without documentation, your daily life and the economy in which you work are bound up with the fate of others. This country is based not only on the will of the majority, but the protection of the rights of minority interests. Caring about issues that affect our society and not just ourselves is the heart of being a citizen.

  6. Don

    Do you mean to tell me that as an educator you can’t determine the context in which the word “illegal” is being used? You really think that Pete, who is a very well respected CO business owner, has bigotry in mind when it comes to the name of his establishments? What next? Call out every police department in the country for issuing tickets for “illegal” turns?

  7. joe

    Antero, it is people like you who are keeping racism alive and well in this country. Let’s label this man a white supremacist because you don’t like what he named his restaurant. All I see here is an attempt for you to bring attention to yourself, and maybe fame as crusader for your own skewed view of “social justice” I have met your kind before. When you talk of “justice” it is just that “just-us”. Find a real cause, put that energy into something that actually matters instead of making yourself irrelevant. Maybe then you might actually make a difference. Maybe look into getting some help while you’re at it.

  8. Pingback: “Because It Is Fort Collins”: Another Open Letter to Pete Tyler, Owner of “Illegal Pete’s” | A Little Something

  9. Bert Wooster

    So wait, people who illegal enter our country and thereby become “illegal aliens” are offended by the term “illegal?” Do I have that right? And somehow “undocumented” is less offensive to these law-breakers? Why don’t we call them what they are – criminals. Ridiculous PC bullshit. If you don’t want to be labelled illegal, don’t enter illegally. I accidentally crossed the board into Mexico once in the middle of no where. I spent 3 days in a Mexicali jail.

  10. Jenn

    Honestly, Antero. This is the kind of BS that bothers you? Life must be difficult for you with all the real problems that surround us day to day. There are a lot of awful things in the world and the name Illegal Petes is not one of them. You should be supporting the local business instead of trying to make the word “illegal” into something more than it is. Pete is an amazing man who has nothing but respect for all people. Pete has used the success of his restaurant to help multiple charities throughout the years. Not only that, he is a man who understands the word community and is always striving to do great things for the people around him. I feel that for an educated man, you really should be putting your energy into something that would actually make an impact in your community.

  11. PC Rejected

    Please tell me this was written tongue-in-cheek. “Micro-aggression?” This is silly.

    Perhaps if this chain of restaurants was called “Undocumented Pedro’s” … but then that’s using actual PC language — you know “undocumented” instead of “illegal”.

    You’re way too full of yourself. Way too sensitive. But thanks for the laugh.

  12. Jeremy Harmon

    Mr. Garcia,

    By way of background: I grew up in Fort Collins and now live in Portland, Oregon. My children are the fifth generation of my family to live in and around the Holy Family Neighborhood. My grandparent’s old house still stands on the corner of Wood and Maple. My great grandparents old sheep farm has long since been developed and re-developed. You’d know it as the corner of Loomis and Laurel.

    Coming from this background, I grew up listening to the stories about the “No Dogs or Mexicans” signs. I know the shameful reasons why Holy Family church is located where it is. I know the segregated history of Andersonville, Buckingham, and La Colonia. It’s always been a sore spot of mine that while I was fortunate enough to learn about these conditions from people who actually lived through them, my education in the Poudre School District went into great detail about the conditions in Selma, Alabama in the early 60’s, yet didn’t even touch on these more deplorable aspects of Fort Collins’ own history.

    Currently, I’m neglecting a homework assignment to write. That assignment is to draft a hardship petition for my immigration law class. I’m enrolled in school here in Portland with the strong hopes that when finished I’ll be able to paralegal with a focus on immigration. I’m well versed in the vocabulary of social justice, I didn’t have to click the link to know what micro-aggressions are, and I actually use the term kyriarchy in conversation, unironically.

    All that having been said…you really need to get a grip here, sir. What you’re describing is not a micro-aggression, or even a nano-aggression–it’s something like a quantum aggression. Schrodinger’s Aggression if you will. Is it an aggression? Is it not an aggression? Well that’s entirely determined by the observer, and even at that, only if the observer can view the question through a profoundly specialized lens, and report on it with more than a bit of motivated reasoning.

    There comes a point when one has delved too far into a certain specialty that they stop being able to see things through any other lens. I hope that you’re humility is such that you can give serious consideration to the possibility that that is the case here. The reason why I feel compelled to address this aspect of your personal trip at all, is that your solipsistic application of social justice principals bleeds over and obscures causes and efforts which I hold very dear. You have become the example that forces very much bent on MACRO-aggression can point to as the kind of absurdity that they are fighting against. What’s worse, is that I can’t even really argue against their take on what you are saying here. Not if I am being honest.

    You point to the history of Fort Collins, the location and type of restaurant, and certain contexts for the word “Illegal”, and then just kind of point the finger and say “see,” as if juxtaposing all those things is supposed to paint a meaningful picture to anyone who hasn’t completely subsumed their worldview in the same hyper-specialized manner as you. It doesn’t. It seems absurd to them. It seems absurd to me, and I actually understand what you are saying.

    Please take this for what it is, an honest and good faith critique.

  13. Chad Weikel

    This is such a bummer.

    Antero – kudos to you for fighting for social justice.

    However – this is the wrong fight to pick.

    I do believe that language is important. Both in how it is used – and how it is perceived. Both parties have responsibility there. Your ability to understand language doesn’t stop at your ears, right?

    You heard Illegal Pete’s and jumped to a conclusion. It happened to be the wrong conclusion. Nothing to be embarrassed about – but you dug in your heels. Created an issue where none existed. When presented with a perfectly cogent response from Pete – why did you just discard it?? And label him as “upholding a legacy of white supremacy.”

    That is such a heavy, heavy accusation. To use it and to be wrong? That’s a huge f’n deal. You lose all credibility when you do that – and harm the impact you could have when it truly matters.

    I have no doubt there is still systematic racism alive in CO – and Ft. Fun. But this ain’t it, Antero.

    Please stop wasting your time – and please stop trying to hurt one of our (yours and mine) truly great local businesses.

    Hey Antero – there’s a NFL team in our Nation’s capital with a pretty crazy racist name – have you ever written an open letter to Dan Snyder?

    Why not?

  14. stephen

    Hmmm, interesting. Funny how this all works, I have been eating at illegal pete’s for years, never once did I think of it as a racial slur, but because of this uprising, now it is in my head. Before there was nothing, not a thought of it, now there is. If it was left alone, many people would have just continued to eat at a great restaurant and support a local colorado business that does so much for the community. Now, people have a slight distrust in their hearts not because they should, but because we are being informed to do so. Funny isn’t it?

    It’s like being friends with an African American, and then having a friend of yours come up to you and question you as to why you would be friends with a black guy. Before you didn’t even notice his color, now you do. I think things like this should be left alone. it is the only way this sort of mentality will be absolved.

  15. Jim

    I completely agree with you about the racist name of “the I-word” Pete’s (I refuse to actually say the name because of its hurtful nature). I think it takes great bravery to take such a nuanced position. One of the great things about this country is that the founding fathers made sure that nobody should ever have to endure being offended. And yes, this even includes those people, such as yourself and myself, who have extremely long antennae, and can find offence where seemingly very few others can. The other part of your courageous crusade which I find particularly inspiring is that, while other people who are offended by a private establishment will simply choose not to patronize it, you seem to understand that, as highly enlightened citizens, we are bound to a higher calling. We must try and get as many others as possible not to patronize the establishment. We need to engage in a public campaign to remind people who never even thought of the word as offensive (which, shockingly, seems to be the majority) why they would be offended if only they were smarter. As you know, the principles of social justice demand that we remain strong in our struggle. If we are confronted, for instance, with an abundance of evidence that the owner of the establishment has never demonstrated any racist tendencies, is an upstanding member of society who has helped members of all races through charity and employment, and who has a perfectly innocuous reason for carelessly including the “I-word” in the name of his private establishment (which all appear to be true in this case), we must not let these facts soften our resolve to make sure that he is held accountable for his reckless behavior. As I needn’t remind you, this is not about one well-meaning but unenlightened business owner and his majority of patrons (apparently oblivious to brazen injustice), but this is about protecting our G-word-given right to not be offended, and the vanishingly small number for whom that right has been violated in this case. Remember, this is about standing up for the L-word people.
    I am posting not only to express my admiration for you, but to ask for your help in supporting my own struggle. There is a national chain restaurant which has gotten away for a long time with using an even more blatantly offensive racial epithet in the title of their establishment. Similar to the situation with the “I-word” Pete’s, the people who named this restaurant probably had no intention to insult any particular race, or, just like with the “I-word”, they may not have even been smart enough to know that the word they chose could be seen as offensive by a small minority. I’m sure you feel the same way I do that the lack of intention is no excuse. By failing to take into account the sensibilities, no matter how delicate, of all people ever, when deciding on a name for their private establishment, they immediately become part of the problem. You and I must become part of the solution. This restaurant is known by the term “C-word” Barrel. Again, for obvious reasons, I won’t say the name, but it often follows Ritz or Graham. I am working on starting a Facebook Page to address this important and controversial subject. I know that you must be busy, but I invite and welcome your input, so that we may struggle together to give voice to the voiceless. Thanks again for your time and dedication to the cause.

  16. Jeremy Harmon

    …I should note that all my opinions are predicated on the understanding that the word “Illegal” in “Illegal Pete’s” is in no way a reference to immigration status–that is, not even in the same context.

    If that is incorrect, and anyone has compelling evidence to counter that understanding, I’m certainly open to hearing it, as it would change my entire position on this question.

  17. Don

    No Jeremy, you are correct. In no way, shape or form does the name of the restaurant reference immigration status.

  18. Juan Hernandez

    “upholding a culture of white supremacy ” -please tell me you are joking. Perhaps you have lost you sense of perspective and are relying on pure unadulterated hyperbole.

  19. NotJose

    Are you totally without any coherent thought processes? ‘ILLEGAL’ is not a RACE!

    Somehow you are trying to give the impression that ILLEGAL immigrants are on par with LEGAL citizens of this country, both those born here and those of us who have taken the time and effort to achieve that state. I will hold my citizenship up with pride since I worked for it and refuse to have it diminished by the insane ramblings of people who think everybody should be allowed to just waltz into this great country and be granted what I worked long and hard for.

    Just try to move to Mexico and live without proper paperwork and documentation of status – they’ll put your sorry ass back across the border in one big hurry. Oh, I forgot, since you are probably still formally a citizen of Mexico they’ll just tell you to GO HOME.

  20. Rodrigo

    This has got to be the most ridiculous things I’ve read in a very long time. I’m Latino and people like you are what others a bad impression of Latinos. I can’t believe that you spent any amount of time researching and writing about this. The fact that you did tells me that you are the type of person that creates a situation where there is none. You have created all of this in your own head. There are so many flaws in your argument against this restaurant but you’ve created a fantasy in your head and will never see how wrong you are. You need to make an apology to this man and retract your racist fantasy…

  21. Obbop

    Every meal I eat at Illegal Pete’s will be done in the memory of the two Oregon nuns raped by a rampaging illegal alien… with one of the nuns strangled to death with her rosary beads. I will also think of my friend, a Marine returning from active duty and attending college; working at nights in a convenience store, shot in the face by… an illegal alien.

    Try a Web search and discover the tidal wave of terror inundating the USA committed by illegal alien invaders. Then you may understand how much I despise those supporting in any way the multi-millions of invaders swarming into the once-sovereign USA.

  22. Younger generation

    It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Upon moving here to denver I loved the name illegal Pete’s it seemed edgy and being that Pete is not a Hispanic name I never thought that the name could be offensive. I thought it to have a cowboy feel, Pete the law breaker, but really I wasn’t searching for some thing to be affended about. Perhaps it’s people trying to forces PC that isn’t PC. Is it right to make some one change because they make YOU feel uncomfortable. I grew up in a world where race didn’t matter and I feel the PC trend is only hindering our further growth as a culture. Let them keep their name! If you don’t like it then don’t eat there!

  23. AM

    I think Jim is totally correct. Right there in Amendment PC of the Constitution is the right to have people read your mind and never say anything that would offend your feelings. “Illegal” could have all sorts of different contexts but clearly the only interpretation possible is about illegal Hispanic immigration into the US.

    So, as soon as Mr. Garcia is willing to fight to have the name Cracker Barrel changed, I’m there with him. After all it’s hard for me to even recover emotionally after I drive past the place. Until then, I doubt I’ll have the strength to help him with this important topic.

  24. Scott

    “Eduction Iteration and Other Nonsense.” Ha! You can’t make this non-sense up! Your open letter is a non-sensical, bad college thesis statement at best. Do you really believe what you write or is this a weak attempt at social change? You get a C- on both accounts. The world needs social change and this is NOT it. Stop wasting this successful business owners’ time, because his well-intentioned, strong brand name and delicious food will win over your community whether you’re on board or not. Capitalism is not a democracy–you don’t get a vote. Go volunteer your time at a battered woman’s shelter where you can actually make a difference.

  25. Nemesis

    Wow. It’s hard to sift through all of the white privilege in these comments, looking for the possibility of people listening to understand that their actions, beliefs, and use of words are actually hurtful to others. And the immense sense of indignation some of these commenters feel for having their personal opinions challenged… Indignant enough to actually support the concept that some people’s voices matter more or less than others depending on immigration status? Envoking patriotism in place of the blind nationalism and racist (ignorant) rhetoric it actually is… Just a lot of people speaking from privileged spaces, content to live a life unaffected by the lives of others.

    And to be clear Antero, though I love you for bringing this into the space of contentious dialogue that the internet and it’s plethora of privileged folks waiting to comment on things often is, there is nothing revolutionary about calling on private owners to respect the public demand for changing offensive names.

    But perhaps it’s still a huge change for the privileged of Ft. Collins.

    Keep fighting for true social justice Antero.

  26. Nemesis

    Wow. It’s hard to sift through all of the white privilege in these comments, looking for the possibility of people listening to understand that their actions, beliefs, and use of words are actually hurtful to others. And the immense sense of indignation some of these commenters feel for having their personal opinions challenged… Indignant enough to actually support the concept that some people’s voices matter more or less than others depending on immigration status? Envoking patriotism in place of the blind nationalism and racist (ignorant) rhetoric it actually is… Just a lot of people speaking from privileged spaces, content to live a life unaffected by the lives of others.

    And to be clear Antero, though I love you for bringing this into the space of contentious dialogue that the internet and it’s plethora of privileged folks waiting to comment on things often is, there is nothing revolutionary about calling on private owners to respect the public demand for changing offensive names.

    But perhaps it’s still a huge change for the privileged of Ft. Collins.

    Keep fighting for true social justice Antero.

  27. Clay

    You know, I’m a man who’s always ready to step up and speak against injustices I see in the world. Whether it be one person bullying another, people mistreating animals or any group of people being oppressed by “the Man,” I cannot tolerate ignorance.

    This, Antero? This is no such situation.

    This appears to be someone trying to make a name for himself at the expense of others – the bully is you.

  28. Joe Dillon

    Here’s an admission: I never connected the name of this restaurant with undocumented workers at all until I read about the movement to change the name last week when I first read this open letter in the Coloradoan. What was I thinking? A burrito shop called Illegal Pete’s? I blushed and laughed at my blind spot. I can’t un-eat the burritos I’ve consumed at Illegal Pete’s but I can recognize that this name has the power to offend and injure. Like you, Antero, I’m an educator and I have been moved when students of mine, new to the US, confide that being called “illegal” hurts them. Students of mine have pointed out in class that this word has a power diminish them in school and out. They hear it as an aggression- never micro on the playground- against their parents and their relatives, the adults they see laboring every day to scrape together a living in America. Thinking about this topic, I’m reminded of two eighth grade girls I worked with who had recently seen the film A Day Without a Mexican and were emboldened and inspired by the satire. At 13 they were finding their voices and discovering what was important to them. Every time they heard the word illegal they used that occasion as a time to educate their peers, often lecturing stunned boys into hallway apologies. Because my students, and those girls in particular, educated me about this topic, I felt embarrassed, not guilty, that I didn’t make the connection between the burrito chain’s name and the offensive slur.
    The comments on this piece speak volumes. Mostly, they tell me that this is the right time to raise this issue so I’m glad Fort Collins has raised it. Some accuse Antero of not considering the context, or of jumping to a biased conclusion and sticking to it stubbornly. Here’s my comment: Antero has read this situation and found a teachable moment. Kids new to the US, irritated by the word illegal will make the connection between the restaurant’s name and the slur and they don’t need Antero’s help to do so. They might, however, need his help to find their voices.

  29. Mark

    Antero – “Illegal”+burrito=racist? Come-on.

    By your (il)logic, I should stop eating at Cracker Barrel. And we should all avoid Legal Seafood, because it shoves its legal status right in everyone’s face, which can clearly be deemed offensive by anyone who’s here illegally.

    What you infer from this name, which clearly isn’t and wasn’t a reference to people who are guests in this country, legally or illegally, loads in a lot of personal baggage that you should not heap on this well-meaning Restaurateur.

    If you really want to remove the stigma of being “illegal” – push Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform.

  30. Mike

    I went to the Illegal Pete’s in Fort Collins for their grand opening. Super nice place. Very clean establishment. I mean Spick and Span!! Although it did seem that they had a problem with the sink, dishwasher, or something. I saw into the kitchen, the floor was kind of wet back there.

    Learn to take words in context there champ!!

  31. C. Calvano

    I’ve always known one could be a member of a college faculty and still be unable to think clearly. If, as you would have it, we were to stop using the word “illegal” what adjective would we use to describe crimes that break laws. After all, breaking the law is a crime and, therefore, illegal. Entering the US (or any other country) in violation of that country’s laws is a crime and, hence, illegal.

    Too bad you don’t have anything useful or positive to expend your energy on. PC speech is just a way for liberals to convince themselves that they are superior — without having to DO a single thing that helps ANYONE! It’s empty drivel. And college assistant professors can drivel with the best.

    A disgusted Prof. Emeritus

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