A California deli owner has triggered outrage by promising a free side dish to any customer who says “Send her back!” while placing an order.
In a since-deleted Facebook promotion last week, John Canesa, who owns Canesa’s Brooklyn Heros in Clayton, also declared that his meatballs are made of beef “[in case] we offend any of our overly sensitive pork haters.”
The post was apparently a reference to the “Send her back!” chant that broke out as President Donald Trump criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar at a July 17 campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina. The Minnesota Democrat is a Somali-American immigrant.
Canesa’s reference to pork may also have been a dig at observant Muslims like Omar who eschew pork products for religious reasons.
As news of Canesa’s promotion spread, internet users responded with outrage. The Facebook and Yelp pages for Canesa’s Brooklyn Heros were flooded with negative reviews, many accusing the owner of racism. Yelp temporarily disabled reviews of the business.
In screenshots of Canesa’s offending promotion posted to Facebook on July 19 by Clayton Mayor Tuija Catalano, one commenter said it was “very disappointing to see this racism in our own community.” In response, Canesa boasted that he had already given out 65 free sides.
“Come and get it we are about to sell out,” he said in another comment. “I have to post more often!”
The mayor comes out against John Canesa
However, Catalano made clear she was not amused by the controversy.
“When hateful comments are being promoted as part of a local business, they reflect on our community’s reputation,” she said in the post. “As an an elected official, who is also a woman and foreign-born, I personally find a comment about sending anyone back over their political opinions unacceptable.”
I am very saddened to have seen a FB post by the owner of local deli this morning. We all have rights to our own…
A day later, KTVU reporter Sarah Zendehnam tweeted from Canesa’s deli, saying that the business was uncharacteristically closed and that he told her he was dealing with threats.
John Canesa just called me. He said he did a Facebook live explaining his situation after his Facebook post. He said he’s a father of 3 and has been dealing with threats after his post. You can find his live statement here: https://t.co/1AoLAEBSE1 @KTVU
— Sara Zendehnam (@szendehnam) July 21, 2019
Canesa’s Facebook account was also deactivated along with a video he posted explaining himself.
However, amid the backlash, some locals voiced support for Canesa. According to a San Francisco Chronicle report, customers lined up outside his deli before it opened at 10 A.M. last Tuesday. By noon, the line stretched out the door, with 30 people waiting in the 97 degree heat.
Many customers said they had turned out specifically to support Canesa.
“It’s getting blown way out of proportion,” resident Nathan Smith told the Chronicle. “I know him and he’s not a racist.”
Another local, Candy K., said she understood Canesa’s posts as a joke.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “You don’t get the humor. You have to know the person. It’s a local business. Most of us know him and we all buy our sandwiches here.”
The Trump effect
Amid a series of racialized scandals involving Trump in recent weeks, “Send her back” has become a national meme. On the left, the chant represents Trump’s racism, while on the right, it sounds more like a protest of political correctness and anti-Trump hysteria.
Days before the Greenville rally, Trump was accused of bigotry for tweeting that Omar and three fellow freshmen Democratic congresswomen “of color” — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusett — should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Similar claims followed the president’s tweets this week slamming black leaders. He called Rev. Al Sharpton “a con man” who “Hates Whites & Cops” and blamed Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, for letting Baltimore become a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
As conservatives pointed out, Trump was hardly the first to make either claim.