I’ve just read your 11/7 blog entry “Concerning the Name Illegal Pete’s” on the restaurant website. Just as you do there, I thank you for the respectful tone you’ve personally used throughout this ongoing conversation. I’d also like to respectfully respond.
While disappointed, I wasn’t surprised to find that you had decided to retain the name “Illegal Pete’s.” Although you don’t mention it in your blog post, one might expect that you’d reached this decision simply from a business standpoint due to the marketing expenses involved. I have no doubt that re-branding a familiar trademark and all that would entail would be costly. I also wasn’t surprised to hear the long version of original reasons for selecting the name and its evolution since, or to learn more detailed information about your unarguably generous philanthropic work and the admirable fair wage policies you practice from the front to the back of the house. These stories have become familiar. You recounted them at the initial meeting at CSU, and they’ve been reported on, blogged about, and editorialized in various venues since.
What was disappointing to me was what I didn’t hear in your blog post, namely about the impact on your thinking of the various stories you heard at the meeting and may have heard since about the human costs related to the word “illegal.” In your blog post these stories are acknowledged nowhere. Rather, here’s what got said, and here’s what didn’t:
WHAT GOT SAID: I mean(t) the first half of my restaurant’s name, the word “illegal” to suggest something “edgy” and “mysterious.” The second half reflects the love and respect I have for my father Pete as well as the personal pain I have endured since his death. “I am Illegal Pete.”
WHAT DIDN’T GET SAID: Today, the word “illegal” is often used as a racial slur. When applied to human beings, it causes pain. Read their stories. It has a dehumanizing effect. (Also, no one has ever suggested that I change the second half of my restaurant’s name.)
WHAT GOT SAID: I use visual images like these to similarly evoke a sense of edginess and mystery in those who view them. One way we’ve done this is by “making a newspaper crime photo out of something from nature” by using the censor bar in our logo. [NOTE: These images are displayed on and linked to the restaurant website.]
WHAT DIDN’T GET SAID: Here’s why this image is still on my website and how it is”making a newspaper crime photo out of something from nature,” too.
WHAT GOT SAID: Here’s all the good stuff I do. It’s consistent with our mission statement, which emphasizes inclusiveness: “Illegal Pete’s [is] the kind of place where you can go to celebrate humanity with other humans.”
WHAT DIDN’T GET SAID: All that good stuff doesn’t include thinking about the hurtful impact of the word “illegal” when used to refer to human beings. That connotation is actually inconsistent with our mission. Today, in 2015, it’s dehumanizing, even though I didn’t/don’t intend for it to be so.
WHAT GOT SAID: The word “illegal” still stands in my restaurant’s name.
WHAT DIDN’T GET SAID: It still stands in spite of all I now know about the human and historical impact of the word.
Your final statement at the CSU meeting, which I attended, was to this effect: “All of this has taken me by surprise. I was unaware of the impact of this word on others. I have a lot to think about.” Consequently, I came away from the meeting assuming that you would do as you promised—to at least think about the impact of the language on human lives, especially in light of the fraught nature of Fort Collins’s history in regard to Latino-white relations.
At the meeting, you shared personal stories that revealed the history behind the second half of your restaurant’s name as applying to a human being, your father. You also heard Latinos whose families have lived in Fort Collins for generations sharing their personal stories revealing that signs reading “No dogs, No Mexicans” and “White Trade Only” once hung in Old Town Fort Collins. Those signs applied to their families, too.
In your blog you explain that you have the “ultimate goal of seeping ‘into the sidewalk and becoming a portion of the whole.’” I would ask you to consider that the hate-filled words and images from the signs I mention above have quite literally seeped into the sidewalks of Fort Collins. I would ask you to fast forward to 2015 and consider the dehumanizing effects of the word “illegal” when attached not only to groups of people (e.g., “illegal immigrants”), but especially when attached to individual names, such as “Illegal Pete’s.” Otherwise, the “Drop the I-Word” campaign wouldn’t exist.
One of the most powerful statements I read on your blog was this: “It’s never been enough for me to just express our brand with words and images. I believe that authenticity of belief is born and lives in action.”
Thus for me, these questions remain: Whose stories matter? How does language matter? How do actions matter? How do humans matter, too?
Tell us something new, Pete. We’re ready to listen.