Some of the best tacos I’ve had in Denver come from a taco truck with a growing reputation as one of the best food trucks in the metro area.
Are you ready for the name? Take a breath. It’s not what some of you think it means.
Kiké’s Red Tacos.
Hold off on clutching your taco bibs for a minute and let’s serve up some context here.
Kiké is a Hispanic/Latino nickname that is short for Enrique. It’s pronounced KEE-KAY. A professional baseball player has the name, along with many other athletes and other notables.
I bragged about my Kiké’s lunch the other day on Twitter with the slight hunch and expectation one or two people would lose their lunch over the name.
“The tacos look delish but you know Kike is a well known very offensive derogatory slang term for a Jewish person right ?,” one of my followers asked.
The same user followed up, suggesting I shouldn’t have posted a photo of the truck.
“My point is that Jeremy should eat as many tacos as he would like at this truck and tell all his friends personally but he doesn’t have to post the photo which contains a name which is an ethnic slur to Jewish people,” the user wrote.
“Unfortunate name,” another Twitter person wrote.
Other Twitter people expressed mild surprise at the name but seemed to quickly understand there is no racial intent and that a dude in a taco truck is not out to sling hate.
I reached out to Kiké’s Red Tacos over Instagram and the person responding told me they are of Mexican descent and that the name is so common to them, they were not aware of the negative connotation.
Kiké’s told me they constantly have to deal with offended people who say they won’t show up to eat. Other people have showed up with cell phones recording video while asking food truck workers about the name.
Eventually Kiké’s added the accent over the “e” in their branding hoping that would help mitigate the unwanted hate, but there are still people out there who can’t digest the fact words outside of their own culture have different meanings.
And Kiké’s is not the first Spanish word/name to offend the misunderstood.
Crayola often has to defend itself from people who see the label “negro” on their black crayons as racist. The word means “black” in Spanish and is part of an effort to help kids learn other languages.
One of my Twitter followers posed a perfect question about this issue.
“25 years ago I worked with a Korean woman whose name was Koon,” David wrote. “It was painful for me to say but it is her name. Should she have been forced to change it for my comfort?”
As I was putting this post together I reached out to Jeremy Shaver at the Mountain States Anti-Defamation League, which tracks antisemitic incidents.
He told me some people have actually called the ADL with concerns about Kiké’s taco truck in the past. He said the ADL has used the opportunity to explain the true intent of the name.
“Once people understand the cultural context they are usually relieved,” Shaver said. “We do not see the taco truck’s name as racist, antisemitic or offensive because there is absolutely no intent in using the name as a slur.”
Over the last few weeks I’ve been gaining some of my Spanish proficiency back with mini daily lessons on my phone. I’m reminded how language is a glue of culture and an identifier.
But if we immediately expect others to conform to our own native language and hide their identity for our own personal comfort, that ain’t American and it’s just in bad taste.