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Indiana restaurant sparks controversy with Mexican 'wall' billboard

A restaurant chain in Indiana has ignited a controversy with a new advertisement that plays off the proposal of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hacienda Mexican Restaurants, which has more than a dozen locations across the state, recently put up a billboard in South Bend that reads, “The best Mexican food this side of the wall” – and it isn't going down well with some people.

Jeff Leslie, executive vice president for Hacienda, told WSBT that they are trying to be funny with their billboard and had no intention of upsetting anyone.

“But we do use humor. When you use humor, there's going to be some groups that are particularly sensitive to certain things,” he added.

La Casa de Amistad, a South Bend-based community center, told WSBT that this is not the first time Hacienda has created an offensive ad and that their answer about trying to be funny isn't good enough.

"There's a difference between funny and being offensive," the group's executive director, Sam Centellas, said. "They really need to think about how can you just be a little more fun without having to be degrading or demeaning."

He added that the issue is much more than just offensive advertisement in an industry that has a very high percentage of Latino employees.

"What I'd love to hear is how do their employees feel and how are they treated in a culture that regularly puts out pretty offensive advertising related to the Latino culture?" Centellas said.

According to WCBI, the restaurant chain has pulled several ads in the past, including one that alluded to cult leader Jim Jones and the infamous 1978 mass suicide at Jonestown in Guyana. The ad featured a picture of a margarita with the caption, “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid. To die for!”

Leslie said his company tries to stay “topical” in their advertisements, but that this particular billboard represents their passion for the food they offer.

“It's about our core guests who really know and believe that our food is really terrific, and that's what we're communicating,” he said.

Building a wall along the United States’ southern border has been one of the cornerstones of Trump's presidential campaign since he announced his candidacy more than a year ago. It has now become part of the Republican Party's 2016 platform. 

Hacienda is one of a number of restaurants across the U.S. to put out racially-charged jokes in their advertisements.

An Italian restaurant in New Mexico recently caught flak for putting the phrase “Black Olives Matter” on its marquee. While some residents in the area complained about the sign, others praised it, and the restaurant has decided to sell shirts bearing the slogan.

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