Sometimes, the real story is the thinness and sheer silliness of the complaints from the perpetually aggrieved.
That seems to be the case here. The Illegal Pete’s restaurant chain is a repeat offender, having gotten in trouble before — notably a year ago this month, when offended citizens of Fort Collins, Colorado protested the opening of an Illegal Pete’s there. They took offense on the basis you would expect: because the name includes the word “illegal.”
“Illegal” is now an illegitimate, horror-inducing trigger word, which can’t be uttered without sending people to the psychiatrist. The owner of Illegal Pete’s, Pete Turner, named his restaurants — the first of which was opened 20 years ago — as a tribute to his father (also named Pete), and to invoke the name of a bar in a favorite novel. But now that groups are lining up to eliminate the word “illegal” from the English language, Pete’s is coming under fire.
“The crux of it is that it’s become a racial slur,” said local protester [in Fort Collins] Cheryl Distaso, 54. Although she believes that Turner named Illegal Pete’s innocently enough in 1995, she now says it’s time to change it, claiming “the impact of that word in this day and this town is different.”
The locals are joined by a national group called Race Forward, which received some notoriety in 2010 with its “Drop The I-Word” campaign to eliminate use of the word “illegal” when describing undocumented immigrants.
Pete Turner met with his critics last year, heard them out, and eventually announced that he was keeping the name Illegal Pete’s.
He is now preparing a new location in Tucson, near the University of Arizona, which he plans to open in December. And today, the “Chicano” racist group MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan) is on his tail.
MEChA has the grievance patter down pat — which is what exposes how frivolous and idiotic it is. The MEChA spokeswoman at the university does allude to the “hurtfulness” of the restaurant’s name. But it’s the rest of the group’s brief against Turner that is, if possible, even more imbecilic.
“He is obviously not brown,” Cynthia Diaz said. “He’s not Mexican, but he is selling burritos mission style, which I don’t know what that is. That’s not Mexican.”
Diaz said he is practicing cultural appropriation.
“He’s taking stuff from the Mexican culture and making it his own for profit,” she said.
The MEChA complaint, as expressed by Ms. Diaz, is unerringly of-the-moment, with the creative cultural-appropriation touch. But don’t worry, there’s also the enduring fear-and-hurtfulness boilerplate:
“We are so close to the border. We have so many immigrants here in Tucson,” Diaz said. “It just hurts our community, our people. It makes the people feel uncomfortable and unsafe. And we don’t want that, especially not near the university.”
At last report, Turner was still standing pat against his critics. We’ll let you know if we hear that that changes.