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Update: 7/31: The National Federation of Filipino American Associations issued a statement this afternoon addressing both the name of the wine bar and how food media covered the establishment’s opening in an uncritical way. You can read it at the bottom of this story.

Update 8/2: A Change.org petition was created over the weekend asking the owners of the wine bar not to change its name. You can read more at the bottom of this story.

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. 

Statement from The National Federation of Filipino American Associations

Barkada is Cherished, Not Appropriated: A Statement from the Capital Region Filipino American Community to Barkada Wine Bar & DC Food Media

This statement represents many Filipino organizations, Filipino business owners and workers, and concerned Filipino community members within and beyond the DC Metropolitan Area. See the names below for details.

We are deeply concerned by the lack of apparent sensitivity and awareness displayed in the naming of the Barkada Wine Bar on U St. Sebastian Zutant, Nick Guglietta, Anthony Aligo, and Nate Fisher, the owners of said establishment, should not have used our language as an accessory for profit, as they do not share our cultural heritage. It is disrespectful and misleading to use a Tagalog word for a bar that does not serve Filipino-inspired food or drinks, nor use Filipino vendors for the products they sell. 

Barkada 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 “boatload.” 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 “A totally cool word”—as Barkada Wine Bar’s website originally described it—strips it of its resonance as a symbol of FIlipino resilience. 

We are also disturbed by the uncritical promotion of the bar’s opening. Six publications that covered the bar’s opening – Eater DC, PoPville, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian, WTOP, Patch, Newsweek, The List – failed to notice the blatant absence of the owners’ connection to Filipino culture and community. At the time this is being written, only 2 of those publications have covered the backlash over its name. We believe this issue stems from the lack of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) representation within these publications. This deficit of representation within your newsrooms impacts all racially marginalized communities and contributes to our erasure in the food scene in DC and across the nation.

How can we move forward?  After consulting with Filipino American community leaders, academics,business owners and workers, we are urging the following:

To the establishment owners:

1.Follow through with changing the name of your establishment. 

It is necessary for the bar to change its name, as it seems that the owners did not conduct enough outreach to the Filipino community nor research the name for a deeper understanding of its meaning and of Filipino culture. The use of a word from our language in such a superficial manner conveys that the white, non-Filipino owners did not understand the context in which it is used, and thus, is cultural appropriation, not cultural sharing or appreciation. Cultural appropriation is rampant against marginalized communities and continues because many do not understand the difference between appropriation and appreciation. It is appropriation because it is the usage of the term that is being used for profit with no regard for the community and experience it comes from. 

2. Issue an apology that reflects an understanding of white privilege and cultural appropriation. 

As a non-Black establishment, we ask that the business owners examine their relationship with the rapid gentrification of U St. Who is the bar really for? How are they showing up for the community—especially in this moment? We believe this message should extend to all non-Black businesses operating in all neighborhoods undergoing gentrification.

3. Become allies for the BIPOC community.

We urge the business owners to commit to a habit of unlearning, undoing, and unmaking in an industry that is not isolated from racism. As established restaurateurs in the area, they have influence and connections in the industry that many BIPOC do not; they have a voice that is not afforded to marginalized communities. We ask that they commit to supporting minority-owned businesses as well as be transparent in how they choose to serve the community moving forward. 

To news outlets covering the D.C. food scene:

1. Hire more writers and editors of color and educate your staff on white privilege and cultural appropriation in food and dining coverage.  

Local DC Food Media were complicit in the cultural appropriation by promoting the bar and ignoring any cultural significance associated with the name. Food media plays an important role in gatekeeping what is seen or unseen in the DC food world and having a strictly white gaze does a disservice to BIPOC businesses and institutions. We hope this can be avoided in the future and that these outlets act with more cultural competency through the following: 

  1. By being more cognizant of issues of cultural appropriation in all food & dining coverage and to be more critical when such issues arise.
  2. By including immigrant and BIPOC food writers in editorial positions and giving them equal access to your platforms as you would your White editors and writers. Additionally, create Diversity and Inclusion departments and positions in their offices.
  3. By recognizing immigrant-owned businesses from all communities in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area.
  4. By highlighting immigrant workers and their stories to showcase the driving force behind their restaurants. 
  5. By acknowledging the brutal reality of opening a business during a pandemic for restaurant workers (the physical labor, demanding hours, unsafe conditions and low pay). Local media and business owners alike should listen to employee grievances, and give them space to demand better working conditions, better pay, and better benefits.
  6. By covering small independent businesses that were negatively impacted by COVID and reporting about resources and opportunities that allow for recovery. 

2. Give equal news coverage to BIPOC business owners. 

We urge that BIPOC business owners be given equal  news coverage by the local food media. It is particularly disheartening to see Barkada’s opening receive the amount of coverage that it did when Filipino business owners have been wary of giving their establishments Filipino names lest they alienate customers.  While many in the DC area may be familiar with the Filipino cuisine offered by Purple Patch, Kaliwa, and Bad Saint, the following restaurants have been promoting Filipino culture in the DC area as well and have not received the same coverage as Barkada Wine Bar:

Kuya Ja’s, Bistro 1521, The Game, Timpla DC, Kalye DC, Manila Mart, Egg Karne, Mama Rosa’s Grill, Matthew’s Grill, Gwenie’s Pastries, Pinay Creations, Eat Mana, Fairfax Inn, Filipino Global Supermarket, Star Foods, Lumings, Kabayan, KC Filipino Restaurant, Grillipinos, Heritage, Atchara Baltimore, Calasag Pop-Up

We also want to uplift the collective at Bartenders Against Racism led by Allison Lane, Paola Velez of Bakers Against Racism, Erica Christian, Erinn Tucker,  Andra Johnson, and Furard Tate of DMV Black Restaurant Week and countless others who have been speaking out about inequities in the industry.

Our calls to action are equitable, realistic, and needed. We hope that we can continue to explore more forms of accountability and education, together. 

In community and solidarity,

NaFFAA Capital Region 

If you would like to show your support of this letter, please fill out this form.

See running list of supporters here

A New York resident, who says she’s a member of the Phil-Am Lions Club, created a Change.org petition over the weekend asking the wine bar owners to leave the name of the bar intact as Barkada. The debate over the name change has gotten national attention. The petition author, who is Filipino and goes by Ella Paige, says she made it in response to the social media post by Jessica Millete that initially called for Barkada to change its name. Part of Millete’s post, which has now been shared more than 12,000 times, is quoted in the above article. 

“I feel like we are missing the point here,” Paige tells City Paper in an email. “My point is it is okay to use it because the word ‘Barkada’ is not a trademark—anyone can use it and we should be proud of it.” She says Millete’s post “bullied” the restaurant. “She does not represent all Filipinos.”

The introduction to the petition (sic) reads: 

The Barkada Wine in DC have face criticism because they used word “ Barkada” meaning “ Kaibigan or friendship in Philippines.

the majority of Filipinos are okay with this and we do not see any problems.

filipinos are very hospitable, kind, sweet, caring and happy and humble people. And Suddenly, this woman name, Jessica have ruined our reputation. We are not jealous and we are okay for them to use this word. And the majority are agreed and proud. Please sign this Petition so they don’t have to remove or change the name. Thank you 

let’s give them a chance . Instead bashing or bully them, Jessica first move should have speak to them if she really felt entitled. But bullying and ranting here and involved a truly Filipinos who doesn’t even care about this. Let’s support the restaurant