Prof. claims restaurant named Illegal Pete’s is racist

Colorado State professor claims Illegal Pete’s is “denigrating and derogatory.”

The restaurant's name comes from the proprietor's name and a book he was assigned while in college.

An outspoken Colorado State University (CSU) professor is demanding that the fast food restaurant Illegal Pete’s change its name on the grounds that it is racist.

Antero Garcia, an assistant English professor, sent a letter to restaurant owner Pete Turner, insisting he come to a rally last Wednesday at which Garcia and 30 other protesters demanded the removal of the “I-word,” according to the Coloradoan.

“I cannot, in good conscience, be a patron of a Mexican restaurant that is called 'Illegal Pete’s,'" wrote Garcia in the letter. “I understand, from a friend, that the name comes from a book and that it is also in tribute of your father. I admire both of these aspects. However, whether or not your intention, it is a denigrating and derogatory name.”

"The restaurant will be located in the same area that current Fort Collins residents remember often seeing signs saying 'No dogs or Mexicans,’” wrote Garcia. “It is under this legacy of American racist practices that the name Illegal Pete's becomes unacceptable."

The Boulder-based chain first opened its doors in 1995 and has since opened six other locations between Boulder and Denver. Turner plans to open another Illegal Pete’s in Fort Collins within the next few weeks, but was met with resistance from residents who claimed the name is equivalent to the “N-word,” hanging a Confederate flag, or naming a restaurant "Smoking Lynching BBQ."

“I understand that this may not seem fair to you—as it may not be the origin of the name,” Garcia continued. “However, the slippery nature of sociocultural context in the U.S. is something that cannot be dictated by us as individuals—they are a part of a culture of white supremacy that we remain entrenched within and which your restaurant’s name furthers.”

Turner attended Wednesday’s meeting but continues to defend his restaurant, which he says is a literary allusion to a bar in a novel assigned to his English class when he attended the University of Colorado. He also confirmed the name “Pete” is in reference to himself and his father.

"This is all very near and dear to me," Turner reportedly said during the hour-long meeting. "I've helped pay for citizenship for some of my employees."

Turner says he has always tried to create an inclusive environment and even touted the restaurant’s charitable efforts to those at the meeting.

Milton Guevara, general manager of the Illegal Pete’s in Boulder, says he doesn’t have a problem with the name.

"I'm Hispanic, and I'm very proud to be," said Guevara. "People come to us because they love our food ... The name doesn't mean anything."

The Coloradan notes that Guevara was illegally brought to the United States from El Salvador at a young age and that “he was undocumented” two decades ago. The article does not explicitly say if Guevara has obtained citizenship or legal residency.

The protest against Illegal Pete’s is part of a wider campaign to “ drop the I-word,” a movement to get Americans to stop calling people “illegal,” because it is "dehumanizing and inaccurate."

"Social context is hugely important," Kim Medina, immigration attorney and meeting moderator told the Coloradoan. "We'll never get to big issues, such as immigration reform, until we can solve these smaller issues of language."

"Since I know the context, and I have been labeled with [the word illegal], it makes a huge difference to me," said Lucy Gonzalez, a Fort Collins resident.

“Pete’s Mexican Restaurant” was among the alternative names proposed.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @MaggieLitCRO