There's no such thing as a free meal.
Restaurants will tell you that one item, or even an entire dining experience is free, only to have you pay some hidden surcharge or leave you beholden to them on a return visit, but for the Dallas, Texas based pizza company Pizza Patron, their concept of a free meal cost only three little words.
"Pizza, por favor."
That's it. I learned about this deal from my girlfriend last week, and for today (June 5, 2012) only from 5-8 p.m. at Pizza Patron's 104 establishments throughout the southwest, all a caller needs to say are those three little words to get a free pepperoni pizza. While this may seem like a benign marketing tool, some have viewed the "Ordena en espanol y llevate gratis una pizza grande de pepperoni" (Order in Spanish and get a large pepperoni pizza free) campaign as discriminatory, by placing an unfair advantage on a perceived "foreign language" over our own.
As quoted in a USA Today article, one man, Peter Thomas, the chairman of the Conservative Caucus, said, "It seems to punish people who can't speak Spanish, and I resent that. In public areas, people should be speaking English, and that includes pizza parlors."
After reading this, the only thought I could fathom was "when did ordering a pizza become such a big deal?"
The media attention to this issue shouldn't really surprise me though. Pizza Patron is no stranger to controversy, as they made a previous media storm similar to this in 2007 when they announced that they would start accepting Mexican pesos as payment (which resulted in several executives receiving death threats). As for the issue of the perceived prevalence of the Spanish language, immigration, particularly from the southern U.S. border, has been a hot topic issue for over a decade, and issues of immigration reform are well-placed on the lips of every politician this election cycle. But why do these three little words even matter?
For people like Peter Thomas, saying "Pizza, por favor," must seem like the kowtowing of some "truly American" ideal to a foreign interest. By this train of thought, Pizza Patron is further degrading Americanism, the ideals that truly made America "great," and taking those positive qualities and degrading them.
I can't help but disagree vehemently with Peter Thomas and people like him. This is a simple advertisement campaign, and a smart one at that. Pizza Patron has all of its locations in areas where the Spanish language is prevalent (they even brand themselves as the leading pizza company to the Hispanic population). By inserting this deal Pizza Patron has not only created national attention for themselves, but they are also trying to further ingratiate themselves with their key demographic. It's good business, nothing else. For those that feel it is racist and discriminatory against those who can't speak Spanish, the ads themselves teach people how to say the phrase, making it accessible to anyone who can remember those three little words. What troubles me more than the ad itself is the response that it has generated from the likes of people like Peter Thomas.
At the heart of Thomas' stance seems to be the remnants of the same nativist sentiment that allowed for racial quotas on immigration to exist legally in the U.S. until 1965 (some of these laws include the complete exclusion of Chinese people in 1882 in the aptly named Chinese Exclusion Acts). The key to the opposition's argument is somehow centered on race and the question of "what truly is American?" But when did the two become mutually exclusive in some instances?
This anti-Spanish speaking sentiment completely runs counter to the heart of the American mythos of the past two centuries, being that America is a melting pot of different immigrant cultures, including "our" own. We pride ourselves on this belief in acceptance, dating back as far the Puritans, but completely ignore the times that we have had policies running counter to it. Whenever the issue of bilingualism in the public sphere is brought up, people ignore the prevalence and importance of immigration to this own nation's founding, and instead balk at any proposal, viewing them as un-American or even racist.
With three little words and the promise of a free meal, Pizza Patron has started a fight over race, immigration and even advertising ethics. Honestly, I don't see why people care so much. It's an advertisement, there is no political agenda behind it, but rather Pizza Patron wants to make money and get its name out there, something it is certainly doing in both cases. There is no cultural agenda for them, it's just money.
Actually, I'm a little hungry, I wouldn't mind some pizza por favor.
— Preston Peeden is a senior in history. He can be reached at email@example.com.