Open letter: What's in a name?
Escobar, the complex issues behind naming a restaurant after a criminal
Vancouver, BC — The opening of the restaurant Escobar on Fraser Street, in Vancouver (Unceded Coast Salish Territory), has generated massive outcry from people living in BC, Canada, and around the world. Via an official consular letter, phone calls, and social media posts, people are asking the owners of the business to understand the profound connotations, trauma and the symbolism the name carries, to offer a formal apology for their irresponsible choice of name, and to change the name of the locale.
The business was named after Pablo Escobar, a violent drug lord who terrorized the South American country of Colombia for more than a decade, killing over 5,000 people: civilians, journalists, judges, and politicians. His acts of terrorism included bombs planted in cities all over Colombia, including one who took down a passenger flight killing 110 people. His crimes also include torture, rape, and extortion. The collective and intergenerational trauma felt by the Colombian population living in Colombia, Vancouver, and around the world is Escobar's legacy, even 25 years after his death.
The announcement of the restaurant's inauguration has activated this trauma for people once again, as many of us were forced to leave Colombia after losing family members to bombings and other acts of terror perpetrated by Escobar and his army. The violence that is still present in many areas of Colombia is the direct result of structures and models of repression and corruption set in place during the Escobar years; unfortunately, this is not a historical issue of the 80s and 90s but continues to affect Colombians to this day. Additionally, the drug trafficking industry and its narco culture impact peoples in and across various Latin American countries each day. The opening of a restaurant that is 'inspired' by Latin American culture, under the name Escobar, by a team that does not consist of Latinxs, nor people with relations to the Latin American community, perpetuates stereotypes, appropriation and oppression. It capitalizes on people's pain and trauma while celebrating violence.
Opening a business with this name creates a living, breathing monument and commemoration to violence, death, drug trafficking, corruption, suffering, oppression, and fear. The name of a narco-terrorist will stand tall on the facade of a building in a city that is struggling with a devastating and growing opioid crisis. The restaurant will help to reinforce negative, excluding and oppressive stereotypes that Latin American communities in North America have to fight against every day. Therefore, we are demanding that the owners renounce the name they have chosen for their restaurant; it not only symbolizes bloodshed, and repression, but it is also an insult to the thousands of Latinxs who live and work in Vancouver and contribute actively and positively to the city’s world-class stature.
The opposition by the Colombian, Latin American and ally communities has received much welcomed and needed support. Unfortunately, it has also faced dismissal and minimization from people asking those who feel affected to "get over it". This is a minoritization of the Latin American diaspora and our perspectives. In addition, the argument we have received from the owners of the business and some members of the public is that "it is a very common last name" or it is a play on words. However, on various occasions, the business owners have confirmed that they chose the name Escobar for its entertainment value and the "name recognition" people get from the association to the Netflix series Narcos (Interview on CBC, April 29, 2018).
It has become increasingly clear to us that this business has chosen to use "outrage marketing" as their main marketing and public relations strategy. They are manipulating and taking advantage of people's collective trauma, and amplifying mainstream stereotypical views of Latinxs, to gain media attention. They have changed their narrative a few times in the past week and have strategically turned themselves from victimizers to self-proclaimed victims, spreading unfounded claims of being threatened. We have asked them to come forward and denounce any threats to the police, as for us, this is also a concern. We stand against violence, and instead seek respect and equity, which can be easily achieved if the restaurant owners recognize their mistake, offer a public apology, and change the establishment's name.
Above all, we seek to take this opportunity to engage in dialogue with fellow Vancouverites about the kind of ‘creative, cultural and business city’ we want to be. Is this one of respect, reconciliation and deep diversity, or one that allows for communities’ voices to be minoritized and silenced by those who capitalize on others' trauma and appropriate their cultures?
At the time this letter was written a petition was started asking the owners of the restaurant to change the name of the locale. The petition has reached close to 1,500 signatures. We invite people to sign the petition, continue to ask questions, and engage with the Latin American and Colombian community to learn more about our histories and our contributions to this city and province.
A peaceful demonstration has been scheduled in front of the restaurant on Friday, May 11, 2018 starting at 4:00 p.m. We invite all allies to attend.
We will be boycotting this restaurant and invite all allies to do the same.
We invite the media to join us and engage in conversation regarding the above-listed concerns.
The following members of the Latin American Community in Vancouver are available to answer questions.
Adriana Contreras, Visual Artist and Cultural Worker
Miguel Marín, Sociologist, M.A.
Sonia Medel, PhD Public Scholar and Educator
Alexandra Henano, Community Organizer
Carmen Rodríguez, Author and Educator
Carmen Aguirre, Theatre Artist and Author
Nohra Jacobsen, Artist and Entrepreneur