Both local and national immigrant rights groups claim that the nearly 20-year-old name of a chain of Colorado Mexican restaurants is “racist” and are now demanding that its proprietor change it to something less provocative.
The name “Illegal Pete’s,” the groups say, has no place in modern society.
Pete Turner, 43, the chain’s owner, said he named the eatery after his late father, also named Pete, who was something of a rabble-rouser, according to The New York Times.
“I never intended it to be about undocumented immigrants,” Turner told The Times. “Never. Not once.”
In fact, Turner is politically liberal and as such, supports the easing of current U.S. immigration policy.
The moniker he chose never so much as raised an eyebrow until recently, according to The Times, which reported:
But in opening a new locale here [in Fort Collins] — the chain’s seventh — Mr. Turner seemed to have stumbled on a political tripwire he had not known existed, drawing ire from local and national immigrant rights groups that say his use of the word in connection with a person’s name is derogatory and offensive. Furthermore, they said, they are alarmed that an additional Illegal Pete’s is slated to open in Tucson in August.
“The crux of it is that it’s become a racial slur,” said local protester 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.
Turner eventually agreed to a meeting with approximately 45 of the protesters to let them air their complaints.
“If you’re a young middle-class white person, you probably don’t think it’s a big deal,” said local immigration lawyer Kimberly Baker Medina, who moderated the meeting. “But if you’re a 60-year-old Chicano, and you, and your parents and grandparents have been victims of racial slurs, it’s a big deal.”
Turner also has proponents within the Latin American community. The Times reported:
Among his most passionate supporters is Milton Guevara, 30, a Salvadoran immigrant who began working at Illegal Pete’s in Boulder when he was 14. He has risen from dishwasher to general manager. Along the way, Mr. Turner helped him acquire a green card, Mr. Guevara said, and is now helping him apply for citizenship.
“I don’t see why they think this is offensive,” Guevara said, urging the opposition to take a closer look at the origins of the restaurant’s name. “I’m very proud to be working for this company.”
Turner promised his detractors to give the matter his consideration, and earlier this month announced his decision on the company’s website. The name stays.
“The name to me was unique and countercultural,” he wrote, “which I appreciated as a younger man. Still do. It’s typically the countercultural places in our society that are the most accepting of individuals from all different walks of life.”