St. Paul, MN – Protesters calling out a new restaurant for cultural appropriation delayed the business’ grand opening and forced a name change. Dozens of people protested outside of “Elotes Woodfired Cantina” inside St. Paul’s Keg & Case marketplace in the West 7th neighborhood Thursday evening over the use of the word ‘Elotes’ in its name. While Elotes is widely known to Americans as a Mexican corn dish, the history of Elotes is significant in Mexican and Indigenous cultures because its been a food staple for centuries. Its spiritual significance derives from its use in cultural ritual ceremonies.
“Elotes is sacred. It is a representation of our ancestral roots. It has been passed down from generation to generation and used in ritual ceremonies even today.“Sergio Quiroz, Co-Founder of Indigenous Roots
Protest Unicorn Riot filmed this action and interviewed protesters and the property manager of Keg & Case.
Prior to the protest, hundreds of people had signed a petition to remove the word Elotes from the restaurant’s name. Despite the public outcry no action to change the name was taken before Thursday.
“The issue is not that they are cooking their interpretation of Mexican food it is the use of the ancestral and sacred word ‘Elotes’ in the name of the restaurant that is problematic.”From the online campaign #NoMásCulturalAppropriation
Mexican and Indigenous business owners, community leaders, artists and activists sent messages to the owner, Brian Ingram, informing him that including the word Elotes in their business’ name was cultural appropriation. These messages also expressed personal and community offense for using a word that is derived from their heritage.
In addition to the petition and direct messages an online campaign also aimed to change the mind of the business owner.
After being ignored for weeks, community members felt that protesting was their only option to have their voices heard.
“Why does it have to come to this? We’ve been having dialogue with this guy for over a month. He’s been ignoring our calls and we’ve been telling him this is going to be problematic.“Tomas Araya, Freelance Architect and Multimedia Artist
Upon arriving at the restaurant on Thursday, September 10 at approximately 5:45 p.m., our reporter observed three installed signs which all read “Elotes Woodfired Cantina“. At that time it appeared as though an employee or contractor for the restaurant was beginning to remove the word Elotes from the signs.
Protestors arrived at 6 p.m. and at 6:18 p.m. the company removed the word Elotes from its facebook page.
“I spoke to Brian and he said he’s changing the name. I’m sorry it had to come down to this, but people messaged him and tried to tell him that this was going to be problematic. He still went ahead and painted the signs all with Elotes.“Isabel Lopez, Youth Organizer and Community Activists
The protest lasted about 40 minutes and included drumming, ceremonial dancing and speeches from Sergio Quiroz, Isabel Lopez and Victor Bustamante.
The closing ceremonial dance was interrupted by David Wickiser, Property Manager at Keg & Case. Wickiser requested one person put on a mask and threatened to call the police.
Wickiser then called the police who arrived within approximately ten minutes; protestors had already moved outside of the building by that time.
Officers from the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) spoke with youth organizer Isabel Lopez, who contextualized the protest. SPPD officers congratulated Lopez on succeeding in the name change and said they had been called because people weren’t wearing a mask, not because of any “illegal activity.“
No arrests were made and no citations were given.