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.