On Friday a few of us will be attending a public hearing regarding the English-only policy at Geno’s Steaks. We’re not representing the ACLU (any die-hard member will see it’s a free expression issue) but rather as individuals and Philadelphians, to shake our heads in shame at Joey Vento, the once-great Philadelphia businessman turned anti-immigrant lunatic.
The hearing is at 1 PM at the Friends Meeting House at 4th and Arch streets. It’s open to the public, and we hope you’ll join us.
For those of you outside Philadelphia, Geno’s Steaks (along with arch-nemesis Pat’s, directly across the street) is a Philadelphia icon and tourist mecca. Drive by at almost any time of day and witness a small army of would-be diners queued around the neon monstrosity waiting for their greasy deliciousness, usually served with a heaping helping of Philly-style hostility from the staff.
Last year Joey added some new signs to Geno’s decor. Beside images of a bald eagle and an American flag (so you know it’s patriotic) the sign reads (and I quote):
THIS IS AMERICA
PLEASE “SPEAK ENGLISH”
Aside from offending (super-ironically!) those of us who appreciate grammar and punctuation, the signs also raised the dander of the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, who say they’re discriminatory and violate the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance.
Now, those of us who enjoy a Geno’s steak now and then (of which I am one, though I use “enjoy” loosely) understand two things:
(1) Geno’s staff is mean to everybody. Unwritten Philadelphia law says that if you take more than five words to order a cheesesteak, you get yelled at. Ordering a steak is supposed to be intimidating, it’s part of the experience. That little rush of fear when it’s your turn to order heightens your senses and makes the steak taste better.
(2) There are, at any given time, about twenty thousand people in line at Geno’s. They move the line fast by necessity.
You know those Visa check card commercials where everyone is moving through the checkout in machine-like rhythm until one lady pulls out cash and everything grinds to a halt? That’s what it’s like if you create a holdup at Geno’s – except being that it’s South Philly, several people will be shot to death as a result of the holdup. So one might make a case that a politely worded sign encouraging orders in English would be in the best interests of the business and all of the customers.
Instead, Joey Vento parlayed his signs into fifteen minutes of national infamy, touring various rallies and appearing on cable news networks to slander all immigrants – not just those who offered him patronage. Now mind you, Joey Vento wasn’t always a bad guy. He’s been philanthropically active around Philadelphia. But like others before him (*cough* Lou Dobbs *cough*) he got a dose of anti-immigrant rhetoric and he lost his freakin mind.
A few of Joey Vento’s greatest hits, courtesy of the PICC:
Joey on illegal immigration and crime:
“[Illegal Hispanics] are killing, like, 25 of us a day … molesting about eight children a day … All we’re getting is drug dealers and murderers.”
(Boy, statistics sure are effective when you make them up, huh?)
Joey on the history of immigration –
“These illegal invaders … are not the kind of immigrants our grandparents were … They knew to be successful in America, you have to speak English.”
(“To be successful” here apparently defined as “to receive a cheesesteak.”)
Joey’s suggestion for US citizen children of immigrants –
“You come here pop a baby, pick it up and take it back to Mexico.”
So what is the ACLU doing at the hearing? Well, nothing. Joey’s exercising his rights to free speech and free expression with his signs. Those of us who will be attending will be there as individuals, expressing our rights to free expression by telling Joey Vento that we are very disappointed in him. He’s taken a great Philadelphia landmark, an icon of our city visited by hundreds of thousands (millions, maybe?) of customers a year and made it into a neon monument to racism, xenophobia, and bigotry. He’s embarrassed our city by turning from a pillar of the Philly business community into a crazy anti-immigrant demagogue.
We’ll be there on Friday with “No Hate in Our Town” signs, demanding that Joey see reason and choose to take his signs down. Rumor has it he’s busing in a bunch of his supporters to attend the meeting – and they’ll all be getting free cheesesteaks beforehand.
Me, I’ll be getting my lunch at Jim’s.
Chris (triple whiz with) in Philly