Colorado residents ask Mexican restaurant to drop 'Illegal' from its name

A man walks past an Illegal Pete';s restaurant, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

A man walks past an Illegal Pete';s restaurant, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

A chain of Mexican restaurants in Colorado opening a new location in November in Fort Collins has raised concerns about the chain's name, and residents want it changed.

The restaurant, Illegal Pete’s, has six locations in Boulder and Denver and is modeled after the sort of Mexican food that originated in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Owner Pete Turner told residents in Fort Collins on Wednesday that the name is a literary reference to a bar in a novel he once read. When he started the restaurant in 1995, he hoped the name would be ambiguous enough to spark people’s interest.

But according to the Coloradoan, community members point out the negative context with the name – specifically with the world “illegal” when used to describe undocumented immigrants – and it should be dropped.

“Since I know the context, and I have been labeled with (the word illegal), it makes a huge difference to me,” said Lucy Gonzalez, 25, who hopes people will stop using the word to refer to people.

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Kim Medina, a Fort Collins immigration attorney and moderator of the meeting, said that social context is hugely important.

During the meeting, people likened the name to a racial slur directed to African-American like calling a restaurant “Smoking Lynching BBQ” or hanging a Confederate flag in the restaurant’s window.

Antero Garcia, an assistant professor of English at Colorado State University, had asked Turner to attend the meeting in Fort Collins writing in a letter, “The restaurant will be located in the same area that current Fort Collins residents remember often seeing signs saying, ‘No dogs or Mexicans.’ It is under this legacy of American racist practices that the name Illegal Pete’s becomes unacceptable.”

According to the Coloradoan, Turner spoke at the beginning and the end of the meeting. He said the restaurant’s name referred to him only and that he is committed to making the chain an “inclusive” business.

“This is all very near and dear to me,” said Turner, referencing the company’s charitable contributions and fundraisers. “I’ve helped pay for citizenship for some of my employees.”

Milton Guevara is a general manager of Illegal Pete’s at The Hill in Boulder and was born in El Salvador and came to the U.S. at a young age without documents. He said he never considered the name a problem.

“I’m Hispanic, and I’m very proud to be,” he said. “People come to us because they love our food… The name doesn’t mean anything.”

At the end of the meeting, Turner said he had a lot to consider in weighing whether or not to change the name of the restaurant.

Medina quipped that while he considers his options, “We can be mobilizing ourselves either to celebrate or to protest.”

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