Yesterday, Pizza Patrón announced a new pizza promotion: On Tuesday, June 5, from 5 to 8 p.m., Spanish speaking customers get what every Spanish speaking customer desperately craves -- free pepperoni pizza.
The press release tried to preempt any possible backlash by doing its best to invoke a jovial tone: "Spanish is the language that is the common bond that unites all Hispanics and we want to celebrate this in a fun way."
The backlash came anyway.
An article in USA Today cites several advocates who are upset with the promotion. Marcela Gomez, president of Hispanic Marketing Group, a Latino marketing firm that does not represent Pizza Patrón, called the move discriminatory. Peter Thomas, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, said the move would punish people who don't speak Spanish. Does it?
In high school I was stupid and took French instead of Spanish. The only Spanish words I know I learned from a Taco Bell menu. If I were to order a pizza at Pizza Patrón it would likely come out "peperonio-pizka-pour-fah-vor-hey." And I bet I'd get a free pizza.
Pizza Patrón maintains the promotion is a fun way to increase the bond they have with their customers, but it's way too easy to compare this situation with a similar public relations snafu that centered around the linguistics of food ordering.
In Philadelphia, in 2006, a sign placed in the window of Geno's Steaks demanded customers order their goopy "wiz with" in English. (Anyone know the Spanish word for wiz?) The backlash was instant, and climaxed in a discrimination complaint filed by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. That complaint argued that the move violated the city's fair practices ordinance. In 2008, Philadelphia's Commission on Human Relations ruled in favor of Geno's, and in the two years the case remained open, owner Joey Vento got a lot of public attention that culminated in an appearance on Fox News.
If the folks at Pizza Patrón were aware of the precedent set in Philadelphia, could their recent promotions be an attempt to leverage controversy as our country continues to debate immigration rights in the coming presidential election? Probably. And it's already working. Do English-speaking customers who don't know Spanish feel discriminated against by the promotion? Maybe just a little, but they should get over it. As the immigration that built this country continues to add to its diversity, the Spanish language will only become more prevalent. Watch some Sesame Street and go order a pizza.