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Steven Kurlander: Spanish-Language Pizza Promotion Gives Some Heartburn

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I'm a big fan of The Big Bang Theory, one of television's smartest sitcoms, ever.

In one of my favorite scenes an indignant Sheldon questions the "authenticity" of Luigi's Pizza after calling in his order -- in Italian -- and discovering the clerk can't understand a word.

The scene goes to show that in this country, pizza is no longer just an Italian dish, but an American one, no matter who's making it.

That's what's great about our country. For the last 246 years, we have successfully absorbed millions of immigrants into an American culture so heterogeneous that our diet now includes Italian pizzas, Mexican tacos, German hamburgers, Greek souvlaki, Japanese sushi, Mid-Eastern falafel, Jewish knishes, Russian pirogues and Chinese egg rolls.

Still, the integration of foreign languages and cultures has never been uncomplicated. And resistance has grown over the last half century with the arrival of millions of legal and illegal Spanish-speaking immigrants, who have drastically changed our demographic makeup. Included in the backlash is a call for English to be declared America's official "authentic" language.

Sparking the latest cultural flashpoint is a restaurant chain that caters to Hispanic communities in Florida, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Nevada and Texas.

Last week, Pizza Patron, a 104-restaurant chain based in Dallas, offered this promotion: "Ordena en español y llevate gratis una pizza grande de pepperoni." Order in Spanish and receive a free, large pepperoni pizza (on June 5, from 5-8 p.m.)

All you have to say is, "Quiero pedir una pizza de pepperoni."

But if you order in English, you must pay.

Turns out some people who don't speak Spanish, and don't want to speak it, are upset about the pizza promotion.

"It seems to punish people who can't speak Spanish, and I resent that," Peter Thomas, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, told USA Today. "In public areas, people should be speaking English, and that includes pizza parlors."

It's not the first time that Pizza Patron, founded in 1986 by Antonio Swad, of Lebanese and Italian descent, has aggravated some people's sensibilities. In 2007, the chain similarly piqued people with a "Pizza por Pesos" promotion, allowing customers to pay in Mexican pesos instead of dollars.

The question is whether such marketing gimmicks fuel resentment toward Hispanics in our country.

I don't think so.

Although I don't like the fact that when I go to a business in Miami and automatically get spoken to in Spanish, it's a fact of life that the city, along with the rest of Florida and the nation, is adapting to absorb the language, the culture and the cuisine of American immigrants.

Like it or not, speaking Spanish is a big part of today's American culture -- even when ordering a pizza.

In that Big Bang Theory scene, I'll bet that if Sheldon had ordered his pizza in Spanish instead of Italian, he would have had no problem completing his order.



This column appeared in Florida Voices on June 1, 2012

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary, writes a weekly column for Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel and Florida Voices and is a South Florida communications strategist. His email is kurly@stevenkurlander.com