We Are Never Illegal in Our Own Land
Let’s get one thing clear: Chicana/o-Mexicana/o-Indigenous peoples can never be illegal in our own land. Yet, there are “laws” in place which erase and negate this historical fact, while also criminalizing our presence on this continent.
There is a history of anti-Mexican attitudes, which date back to some of the first encounters between Anglos and Mexicans in Texas during the early 1820s. Although anti-Mexican terminology changes over time, the perception that Mexicans are “illegal” has not.
To be designated “illegal” by the State has serious implications for Chicana/o-Mexicana/o-Indigenous peoples as we have historically been subjected to State-sponsored verbal, psychological, and physical violence, including being denigrated, ridiculed, murdered, lynched, detained, tortured, imprisoned, and deported simply for being Mexican
To be racialized as an “illegal” is no laughing matter as the historical record shows. So it makes me wonder why Pete Turner, owner of Illegal Pete’s, which is scheduled to open soon in Tucson in the heart of the University at Arizona, thinks it’s flattering to name his restaurant with a term that research by Old Dominion University Professor Matthew R. Pearson has shown evokes strong anti-Mexican attitudes among Euroamericans who perceive Mexicans as a threat.
In June 2015 when declaring his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency, Donald Trump made several racist and anti-Mexican remarks. One of the most memorable statements Trump made was that Mexico is sending rapists and criminals to the U.S. Many people with no sense of history laughed it off as the comments of a crazed clown with no real hopes of winning the presidency.
Perhaps that may be true, but what was lost in the rhetoric of violence was that these types of comments have historically engendered real life violence against Mexicans.
Indeed, in August 2015, two Euroamericans violently assaulted a Mexican homeless man in Boston stating: “Donald Trump was right,” the two men said, as they beat the man with a metal pipe and then urinated on him. “All these illegals need to be deported.” Most recently, Ariel Rojas, a Florida University student, was violently dragged out of a Trump rally by one of his “make America great again” supporters.
For Pete Turner to have us all believe that he is merely paying homage to his father is ahistorical gibberish, which, truth be told, deflects from him being held accountable for instigating in the American psyche obvious racial tones at a time when the current political climate that hangs a dark shadow over Arizona, and it can be argued throughout the country, is without a doubt anti-Mexican.
Anti-Mexican Hate Has Always Been the Norm
Imagine this scenario: Pete Turner opening up a restaurant chain in the Deep South with a “N*#! Pete’s” offering Black Southern cuisine that pays homage to his slave holding father, all while offering wages above the minimum? What do you think the reaction would be nationwide?
I can’t fathom such an idea ever materializing because then he’d be held accountable for his so-called “mysterious and playful” take on the term, while having to explain his racism. Yet, somehow in the anti-Mexican climate we find ourselves in, it is acceptable to invest in a chain with the term ‘Illegal” because it is perceived as harmless and amusing.
If Pete Turner thinks a name is harmless, he should ask Indigenous peoples how they feel about the racial slur in that one NFL team?
The University of Arizona, Where art Thou?
For Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os-Indigenous peoples who have suffered a history of verbal, psychological, and physical violence, we must stand in solidarity to oppose Illegal Pete’s restaurant chain coming to Tucson, and of all places, in the heart of the University of Arizona.
That the University of Arizona (UofA) appears to be silent on the issue of Illegal Pete’s is revealing in light of the fact that the chain is opening in Main Gate Square. Main Gate Square is the central location where UofA faculty, staff, and students go daily and nightly for entertainment, food, and drink. Main Gate Square is not a neutral spot, it is verified extension of the UofA.
The failure of the UofA to publicly distance itself from this chain nor use its influence to let Pete Turner know that his chain is not welcome at the doorstep of the University speaks volumes. The UofA has first and foremost the responsibility to protect the safety of its faculty, staff, and students.
I can’t even imagine the scene inside Illegal Pete’s on Cinco de Mayo and the potential for Chicana/o-Mexicana/o faculty, staff, students, and community to be physically and verbally harassed.
If the UofA continues its “neutrality”, and by implication, silently approves of Illegal Pete’s, is it acknowledging an unspoken truth: that it too perceives Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os as “not belonging” or in other words as “illegal”?
Main Gate Square
The Main Gate Square properties are principally owned and managed by the Marshall Foundation, which has donated over $16 million to the University of Arizona over the years. Thus, the UofA is (in)directly giving its blessing to Illegal Pete’s to set up shop at the doorstep of the university in a location where athletic and student pep rallies are held the night before each football game.
As Chicana freelance writer Adriana Maestas told me, “There’s also the issue of why the [Marshall Foundation] would lease to a Colorado-based company instead of a local restaurant?” This is an interesting question for further examination that I do not readily have an answer for. But the message is clear as to what this foundation and affiliated property management company think of the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o community.
Wage Benchmarking Project?
In the March 28, 2015 edition of the Tucson.com of the Arizona Daily Star, the news site attempted to deflect from the issues that are sure to come to the Tucson community by propagandizing about Illegal Pete’s so-called “wage benchmarking project” that purportedly will increase employee wages.
That the Tucson.com even had to create a fluff piece about paying employees livable wages points to bigger issues about the economic exploitation of working-class people and begs the question as to why aren’t employers already expected to pay their workers above so-called minimum wages?
In the same article, Tucson.com interviewed Lea Marquez Peterson, president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber, who said that the name doesn’t concern her. Marquez Peterson was quoted as said, “I believe that it is good news for Tucson if Pete has a financial model that supports paying a higher wage.”
Using Marquez Peterson’s reasoning as a measuring stick, it appears that racism and the potential threat of violence against Mexicans is acceptable as long as you are getting paid $2 more than the other restaurants. This is the new civil rights model in the age of social media.
Looks like the lessons from the Chicano Movement have been forgotten for expediency and upward mobility.
Yet MEChA de Arizona has begun a petition and will stage several demonstrations to oppose Pete Turner and his dehumanizing chain.