Business’ name offensive to Latinos

To the editor:

A few days ago, I was shocked to see a notice from the Sleepy Eye Chamber of Commerce promoting a food service with the name of “illegal” followed by “amigos,” a word linking it to the Latino community. The ad was also accompanied by a cartoonish depiction of a Mexican man. To top it off, it was being promoted as part of the 4th of July Celebration.

It’s hard to know where to begin explaining the inappropriateness of such a name or of any organization placing it on their website. I have talked with immigrants, minorities and assorted members of the community, and most have the same negative response to this ad. How could the Chamber in Sleepy Eye, a city where there are so many Latino immigrants, be so insensitive as not to realize the impact this name would have in that community? How is the word “illegal” or the stereotyping caricature acceptable or, if nothing else, not in bad taste? How does it help enhance the image of the town?  

Anybody aware of what’s going on in this country knows of the current issues relating to illegal immigration. Still, the fact is that this country was established by immigrants and the majority are here legally; the rest are fleeing poverty, violence or persecution, or simply looking for a better life.  To anybody who doubts that the word “illegal” has threatening connotations, let me point out that a hate letter I received disparaging not only my heritage but my political views, was addresses to my name with “illegal immigrant” after it.  There is no doubt that it was meant as a form of intimidation. What it told me is that to some people, we immigrants are OK and tolerated only as long as we keep our mouths shut and don’t make waves.

For a long time now, it has been considered inappropriate to have cartoons demeaning or stereotyping ethnic groups. For example, the now socially unacceptable Disney cartoons of African Americans and Japanese (some of which you can’t even find on the internet anymore), or the names of sports teams where ethnic communities have complained, not always successfully, about typifying depictions of their people.  In contemporary society such things are unacceptable, as it has been proven that ethnic stereotypes are offensive and advance the causes of racism. Long gone are the days when cartoons made fun of Italians, Irish, Poles, Germans or Jews. Why is it then OK to depict Mexicans as fat, bare-bellied, mustachioed, serape-wearing jokes?

Furthermore, purely as a Marketing strategy, I can’t see people of Latin heritage patronizing a business that demeans and makes fun of their culture.  I understand that the name and depiction of the food was meant as a joke, and it was pointed out to me that ethnic groups like to make fun of themselves.  Indeed, we do; but only when we are all in the joke and it is only healthy when it leads to reflection and self-examination of our cultural idiosyncrasies. But these false narratives, inaccurate depictions and stereotypes only fuel racism and discrimination.

Mexican cuisine is famous and celebrated thorough the world and most of us celebrate our heritage and our culture by pointing out its beauty, its originality, its variety and its artistic value, not by debasing or making fun of it.  

I’ve always supported and wished well all new businesses, especially minority owned. Food service is a tough business that requires talent, incredible hard work, dedication, the goodwill of the community and in some instances plain good luck. I hope this business prospers and contributes to the diversity and health of the community. However, this name is not a good start.

Alma Marin

New Ulm


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