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: http://illegalpetes.com/about/history) 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 (https://www.facebook.com/doyouknowwhoiammotuslyfe)? 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: theamericancrawl.com 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,