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A controversial restaurant name stirs the pot with local community

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Alex McIntyre | The Daily Wildcat

The future site of Illegal Pete's sits on the southwest corner of Tyndall Avenue and University Boulevard on Nov. 12. Illegal Pete's owner, Pete Turner, has recently received criticism from local groups because of the eatery's controversial name.

A soon-to-open campus restaurant is coming under fire for its controversial name. While some have deemed it offensive, the owner calls the name “mysterious and playful.”

Pete Turner, the founder of the restaurant Illegal Pete’s, was given a letter by a student group urging him to change the name of the restaurant chain that will soon make an appearance on University Boulevard.

Members of the UA chapter of Movimento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, or M.E.Ch.A., a student organization dedicated to uniting Chicano students for social justice causes, wrote in a letter to Turner that the name Illegal Pete’s, is offensive to the large population of Hispanic people in Tucson. In a change.org petition, the organization demanded the restaurant have its named changed or not operate in Tucson.

In its letter, M.E.Ch.A. explained that the name is considered offensive, ignorant and racist toward Mexican, Mexican-American and Central-American culture in Tucson.

“… [We] are not like other communities where your business exists, and we are more than willing to show you that,” M.E.Ch.A. correspondents wrote in the group’s letter. “We are here to tell you that no longer will you be able to claim blissful ignorance and profit from racism.”

According to the Arizona Daily Star, this is not the first time Turner was ordered to change the name of his restaurant chain.

Residents of Fort Collins, Colorado, where a branch of the restaurant opened last year, also petitioned for an end to the name. Turner has repeatedly defended the name.

The planned opening of Illegal Pete’s is in mid-December at 876 E. University Blvd.

According to the Illegal Pete’s website, the first restaurant opened in Boulder, Colorado, in 1995. The website states that Turner’s inspiration for the name came from a bar he read about in a novel, as well as from his late father’s name: Pete.

“He was a bit of a good-natured hell-raiser in his day,” Turner said about his father on the site. “He was my moral support during the months leading to opening, and the two years of operation up to his death in August 1997.”

Tucson will be Tuner’s first out-of-state installation of the Illegal Pete’s chain.

The restaurant serves a Mexican-style menu, with tacos and burritos, and its locations are typically centered in college towns.

While many think the name is offensive, others have a different opinion.

Jennifer Emerson, a sophomore studying speech, language and hearing sciences, said she believes those who think Illegal Pete’s is attacking Hispanics are overreacting.

“I don’t really think it’s offensive at all. The name is fine, especially that it is a chain, so it has nothing to do with targeting Hispanics in Tucson,” Emerson said. “I bet a bunch of students wouldn’t think it’s racist. The people protesting are just completely overreacting.”


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