Residents of Larimer County met with the owner of Illegal Pete’s restaurant, Pete Turner, weeks before Fort Collins grand opening to request a change in the name of the restaurant.
Several community members, CSU staff members, Fort Collins Community Action Network representatives, as well as local immigration lawyers met Oct. 22 to discuss the controversy behind the word “illegal.” They found the connection between the word “illegal” and Mexican food to be offensive, and expressed concern with bringing it into the community.
“Historically that word [illegal], was used to incriminate immigrants,” CSU ethnic studies department chair Irene Vernon said. “I feel that Pete is a very kind and generous man, but I was surprised he couldn’t connect the issue with the word illegal and immigrant.”
Antero Garcia, ethnic studies faculty and assistant English professor at CSU, believes that the real issue is that people need to realize how the word “illegal” is not simply about the immigration status of an individual.
“In many contexts today, it is a label that we place on Latinos wholesale,” Garcia stated in a blog post. “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, telling them to ‘go back where they came from,’ that they are illegal, that they are different from other citizens in the country.”
Vernon said the meeting with Turner was intended to be a civil gathering where the community could express concerns, not to punish Turner. She said community members were open to listening to Turner’s defense on the choice of name for his restaurant.
Turner said the name Illegal Pete’s was in honor of his father, also named Pete, who helped him start out his business and was terminally ill at the time. He chose the name after reading a fictional book which included a restaurant of the same name.
“I thought it was mysterious and sort of rock and roll and it had our name in it, so I went with it,” Turner stated in an email to the ethnic studies department. “We do serve Mission-style Mexican food, but the name has nothing to do with it. None of our advertising or branding alludes to what you are taking the word ‘illegal’ to be.”
Destiny Story, CSU El Centro resource academic mentor, said there is more to the word “illegal.”
Story said she wants people to understand that the Latin population wants to honor their own families by trying to eliminate the negative connotations between the word illegal and Latin heritage.
“It is clear that it is a huge ask to change the name of his business,” Vernon said. “But if Pete were to choose to do so, the members of the community would rally behind him and support him through that change.”
Collegian Reporter Danielle Jauregui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danij27.