Peso debate gets loco
Ventura County Star
January 21, 2007
The collateral furor around the immigration debate shows signs of soaring into the irrational. Proof of that is the overreaction to a marketing campaign by a Southwest pizza chain.
As a wintertime promotion, Dallas-based Pizza Patron advertised that through February it would accept pesos at its cash registers. The chain serves a heavily Hispanic clientele — its staff and menus are bilingual. And the reasoning was that its Mexican-American and Mexican-immigrant customers might be returning from the holidays with pesos in amounts too small to be worth exchanging, but sufficient to pay for a couple of pizzas.
See a need and meet it — seems like good, old-fashioned American capitalism. Others saw darker forces at work. The company was swamped by calls and e-mails, some supportive, but others death threats and hate messages — some of the milder being "Quit catering to illegal Mexicans" and "If you want to accept the pesos, go to Mexico."
Since businesses in border towns have long accepted pesos, the reaction was something of a surprise. One explanation is that sensitivities have been heightened by the immigration debate, and another that some of Pizza Patron's outlets are far from the border in places where pesos are a novelty.
If anybody found the whole deal quintessentially American — an entrepreneur of Lebanese-Italian descent from Columbus, Ohio, selling an Italian staple with Latin flourishes to customers of Mexican origin — it went unremarked in the news accounts.
We Americans are said not to be terribly self-aware, and maybe there's something to this. Admit it: Every traveler has been in a shop whose signs he can't read, helplessly and hopelessly asking the owner, whose language he doesn't speak, "Do you take American dollars?"