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Indiana restaurant removing Mexican 'wall' billboards amid backlash

An Indiana restaurant chain that came under fire for putting up a billboard referencing a proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico said it would take it down.

Referring to a campaign promise by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Hacienda Mexican Restaurant's signs proclaimed it had "The Best Mexican Food This Side Of The Wall."

Hacienda executive vice president Jeff Leslie says he didn't expect the backlash from the Hispanic community.

Leslie said 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.

Sam Centellas is executive director of La Casa de Amistad community center in South Bend. He says the billboards are offensive because "wall" has taken on a political connotation.

"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.

Leslie says the message touting his company's 20 Indiana restaurants has been overshadowed by the controversy. He says the 26 billboards should be down by Friday.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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