Many Latin American Torontonians say the thriving fast food chain's logo is racist, but nobody is talking about the stereotypes it is plastering all over the city
When Francisco Vidal arrived in Toronto as a refugee from El Salvador’s civil war in 1991, his classmates called him “spic,” a word he didn’t understand.
They also tried “chico,” but that didn’t get to him either. Vidal recognized “chico” as a slur in the US against Puerto Ricans and other Latinos. But as a Salvadoran new to Canada, it wasn’t part of his history. The bullies didn’t have the cultural knowledge to get under his skin.
“They tried to offend me with some other people’s insult,” says Vidal, who manages community programs at the Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples in Toronto. “I knew they were trying to offend me, but it was ignorance.”
Advocates in the US popularized the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” as part of a project to unify and empower different communities of Latin American origin, and they succeeded.
But that hasn’t happened in Canada. If it had, Fat Bastard Burrito, the thriving fast-food franchise which has 22 locations in Ontario, including 13 in Toronto, might be facing more public outrage.
Its logo trades on the worst stereotypes about Mexicans. It features a fat man with a moustache and a gold tooth. He’s wearing a poncho and a sombrero. And he’s riding a donkey while eating a burrito which, for the record, is Tex-Mex cuisine as popularized in North America, not Mexican. “Don’t let the name fool you,” the company says on its website. “We are very serious about the products we sell.”
A company spokesperson writes in an email to NOW that “we have never received any complaints about our logo.”
The stereotypes in the chain’s branding are specific to Mexicans, but if Canadians from Havana to the Tierra del Fuego identified with them as fellow Latinos, there’d likely be a lot more offended people around to protest.
Part of the reason there aren’t is that Latin American groups here are generally newer to the country than in the US, and pan-ethnic feeling grows generation by generation in immigrant communities, explains Wendy Roth, a sociology professor at the University of British Columbia.
Identifying as “Latino” might also be less useful for Latin American Canadians, Roth says.
US Latinos adopted the word because, despite their varying backgrounds, they face unifying problems – like US immigration policy – and “Latino” helps them organize as one to confront them. But in Canada, Latin American Canadians are a diffuse and varied group divided along lines of national origin.
“We never say ‘Latino,’” says María del Carmen Sillato, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies, and self-identified Argentinian.
In 2011, Statscan counted more than 100,000 people of “Latin, Central and South American origins” in Toronto, about four per cent of the city’s total population. About 10,000 are Mexican Torontonians, and many have only come in the past 10 years. That’s not nothing, but it’s hardly a political force.
“The fact that there is a big Latin American community is not a big factor,” explains Fernando Martin Del Campo, a PhD student in computer engineering at the University of Toronto, and president of the Mexican Student Association. “This is an issue that is only going to concern Mexicans.”
There are working class Ecuadorians who arrived in Toronto in the early 1970s seeking economic opportunity. Many Guatemalan Torontonians came fleeing civil war, arriving in the 1980s with little money or education. In the 2000s, Canada brought in skilled, middle-class Argentines, among others, under its “human capital” immigration policy.
These groups do not have a lot in common – not class and not their relationship to Canada. For example, about 75 per cent of Chilean Torontonians are Canadian citizens, compared to just 44 per cent of Mexican Torontonians.
Still, it’s difficult to parse the different experiences of the nationalities under the “Latino” umbrella because Canada’s statisticians, like its racists, rarely count them separately. But perhaps they should.
For what it’s worth, the umbrella indicators for Toronto’s theoretical “Latinos” aren’t good. The median annual income, for example, among “Latin American” Torontonians is $41,300, according to the most recent Statscan data. That’s $15,000 less than the median income of most residents in the city, and about $3,000 less than the median income of persons of colour.
Advocates here are busy trying to lower school dropout rates and put more money in the pockets of poor people. Fat Bastard Burrito’s logo isn’t a priority. After all, there are also problems to address with the chain’s actual food, explains Will Koblensky Varela, a freelance reporter whose mother is Mexican.
“It’s racist,” he says of the company’s branding. But “I’m more offended that they put noodles in their burritos.”
F.T. Green is a graduate of City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.
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