Barkada is a Fillipino slang word for a group of friends. No one of Filipino heritage is involved in the business.
A natural wine bar called Barkada opened off U Street NW earlier this month. The owners elected to name their business using a Filipino slang word for a group of friends despite the fact that the establishment is not owned by anyone of Filipino heritage and does not serve Filipino food and drink.
One of the bar’s owners, Sebastian Zutant, told City Paper on July 2 he “pushed for the idea” and “that it didn’t matter if our name was in a different language or not … I didn’t want to call it posse or homies or clique.”
That name will soon be abandoned. After Eater and other local food news outlets published stories about the wine bar this week, fierce backlash against the name spread on social media and pressure to change it grew. Criticism from members of the Filipino and Filipino American communities in D.C. was particularly pointed.
In a post that has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook, Jessica Millete wrote: “This is problematic on so many levels. Completely ignorant and of course, a PRIVILEGED thought-process. What makes you think it’s okay to take a word from another culture when you pay no respect or homage to the culture itself?” Later in the post, Millete points out that “the Philippines was colonized by SPAIN and SO much of your wine menu is from there!”
Ernest Jay Apaga, a longtime D.C. bartender who is Filipino American, also spoke out. “This is a nuanced case of cultural appropriation where they’re only taking a word,” he tells City Paper. “It seems fine, they’re not wholly misrepresenting a culture with decorations that are cultural artifacts or bastardizing Filipino food. But if you’re following all this, you know that not all racism is saying the ‘N’ word or holding a Confederate flag.”
By “all this,” Apaga refers to the nation’s reckoning with race, violence, power, and equity. There aren’t enough people of color in the rooms when important decisions, like naming a business, are made because there aren’t enough BIPOC business owners, period. Nor is there enough BIPOC representation in the media. City Paper should have more thoroughly questioned Zutant about co-opting a Filipino word when no people of Filipino heritage would benefit from its usage.
“Some of it can be very small and innocuous,” Apaga continues. “But at the same time, you’re still using it for profit and gain. It is now the name of your business. You have possession of it. The possession of that is the part that’s the most disheartening … It prevents me or another Filipino in the industry from moving forward and using that name in our own business and its full representation.”
Nick Guglietta and Anthony Aligo also own the business located at 1939 12th St. NW. Together with Zutant, they made the following statement on Instagram this afternoon:
We hear you. 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 our brand and engage in further dialogue with each of you. We look forward to hearing more of your thoughts and how we can 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 world 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.
Upon hearing that Barkada will be changing its name, Apaga responded, “I like Sebastian. I like natural wine. I like [Zutant’s Brookland restaurant] Primrose. If it was any other name that wasn’t appropriative, I would have supported it. But it’s so thoughtless that it offended me. I hate to see that. This is a smaller offense. There are way more offensive properties in D.C. that no one’s yelled about.”
City Paper will update this story when a new name is chosen.