Bar Axing Name Over Cultural Appropriation, But Filipino Community Says Issue Runs Deeper

Members of D.C.'s Filipino community argue the four white men who opened Barkada did a disservice to the word's roots.
A Washington, D.C., wine bar is changing its name after the Filipino community called out the establishment鈥檚 owners.
A Washington, D.C., wine bar is changing its name after the Filipino community called out the establishment鈥檚 owners.
Courtesy of Jarell Mique

A Washington, D.C., wine bar is in the process of changing its name after members of the Filipino community called out the establishment鈥檚 owners for not only cultural appropriation but also what they say is the watering down of a culturally significant term, stripping it of its history of resilience.

Barkada Wine Bar, which is owned by four white men 鈥 Sebastian Zutant, Nick Guglietta, Nate Fisher and Anthony Aligo 鈥 caught the attention of the Filipino community when several news outlets published stories about its opening in the Shaw/Cardozo neighborhood this week.

Barkada does not serve any Filipino food or drinks, according to its menu. Its name is a Tagalog word meaning a group of close friends.

鈥淭his is something we feel really close to and you feel a lot of ownership over. So to have it taken in this way with no connection 鈥 [it鈥檚] like they were looking for a word,鈥 said Gem Daus, an adjunct professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Maryland at College Park and College of William and Mary.

In an Eater DC article that was widely circulated among the Filipino community on Thursday, Barkada鈥檚 owners said 鈥渢hat they identified with the term, and they said it also helped that 鈥榖ar鈥 is in the word.鈥

Zutant told Washington City Paper on July 2 that he pushed for the Barkada name and said 鈥渢hat it didn鈥檛 matter if our name was in a different language or not. I didn鈥檛 want to call it posse or homies or clique.鈥

However, for the Filipino community, barkada means more than just close friends.

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) Capital Region issued a statement Friday:

鈥淏arkada has a rich and meaningful history in the Filipino community. Today, it refers to your circle of friends, but its roots can be traced back to Spanish colonization of the Philippines. Barkada is derived from the Spanish word barcada, meaning 鈥榖oatload.鈥 Yes, the original barkadas were boatloads of Filipino prisoners shipped away from their homes by boat, but from these trying circumstances, our ancestors formed bonds that would help them survive colonization, imprisonment, and enslavement. To water barkada down to 鈥淎 totally cool word鈥 鈥 as Barkada Wine Bar鈥檚 website originally described it 鈥 strips it of its resonance as a symbol of FIlipino resilience.鈥

The NaFFAA also called out local food media for their 鈥渦ncritical promotion of the bar鈥檚 opening鈥 and 鈥渇ailure to notice the blatant absence of the owners鈥 connection to Filipino culture and community.鈥

On Thursday, Barkada responded to the backlash and posted a statement on its website and Instagram account:

We鈥檙e changing the name. We reached out to many people in the community to find a name that embodied a sense of friendship and bond between people. When we ventured outside of our own language to capture that sentiment, we missed the mark. We apologize to all we offended, and to our community we hope to serve. It was never our intention to appropriate or capitalize on the Filipino culture and we recognize we fell short in engaging more of the Filipino community. Our goal is to be a gathering place for friends in the neighborhood, and to become friends with those neighbors. We still hope to carry through the ideals of friendship, starting with our ability to listen. We are actively looking to change our identity and brand and engage in further dialogue with each of you. We look forward to hearing more of your thoughts, and how we can better capture the ideals with which we started this project. We will be donating proceeds from our opening to support the Filipino community as well. Barkada is a beautiful word with a deep meaning of friendship. We want to honor that, and you, as we move forward. We hope to hear from you at BarkadaWineBar@gmail.com

Sincerely,

Anthony, Nick, Nate, & Sebastian

Filipino community members and restaurateurs say that, although the bar鈥檚 decision to change the name and to open a dialogue are steps in the right direction, this moment reveals a systematic lack of knowledge about Filipino food and culture.

鈥淔ilipino food or culture is really special and holds a special place in our hearts. Hearing the word growing up in the Philippines, it鈥檚 more than what the word means,鈥 said Paolo Dungca, a D.C. area chef who was part of the team that opened Filipino restaurants Bad Saint and Kaliwa. 鈥淭his just has a deeper meaning than just like a cool word. So, I mean, seeing the restaurant, I have no problem seeing that. But the only thing is like there鈥檚 no Filipino connection whatsoever.鈥

What鈥檚 In A Name?

There鈥檚 a depth to naming a restaurant.

Katrina Villavicencio, co-creator of Filipino supper club dining experiences in the Washington area, said Filipino chefs are very intentional about the words that they choose to name their restaurant because it鈥檚 not just about the food.

鈥淚t鈥檚 the entire history of Filipino American resilience in this country. It鈥檚 the history of our personal struggles and our identity and trying to figure out how to be Filipino,鈥 she said. 鈥淎nd a lot of these modern chefs want to present, you know, in an upscale way. And they鈥檙e very intentional about how they may name the restaurant to embody all of that identity.鈥

It鈥檚 the reason Villavicencio reacted strongly about the Barkada name.

鈥淭o see the word barkada, which is obviously a very special word for brotherhood for us, and to see that it didn鈥檛 have any of the relevance (to Filipino culture) ... was very upsetting,鈥 she said.

The friction also raises questions about who can represent what.

鈥淚 think it would have been a different story, I feel, if there was more of a stronger Pinoy [Filipino] influence there,鈥 said Jappy Afzelius, executive chef for Tsismis NYC in New York. 鈥淚 think that as Filipinos and as Pinoys, we are all entrepreneurs and we鈥檙e all proud of our culture. We should have just more welcomed it... but it would have been better if there was a Philippine twist in the operation somewhere. It could have been in the drinks, could have been in the cuisine.鈥

Keesa Ocampo, vice president of Filipino Food Movement, a nonprofit organization that works to bring awareness to the Filipino culinary arts, said the bar naming is a cautionary tale for many businesses.

鈥淵ou may have the best of intentions. But equally important is the research and marketing of all of the different elements of your business. And we also find that it鈥檚 important to listen to your customers,鈥 Ocampo said.

Sonia Delen, Filipino Food Movement president, said this is a teachable moment that could lead to courageous conversations and more mindful decisions.

鈥淚f you鈥檙e going to use our name, connect with us, make it a more meaningful connection... that will celebrate the both of our cultures,鈥 Delen said.

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