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Anti-Immigration Signs Walk Borderline

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Driving past the Casa D'Ice restaurant, on Route 30 in North Versailles, can seem a bit like tuning in to Rush Limbaugh ... except without the option to turn the dial. The restaurant's marquee out front, updated every few weeks, serves as a soapbox for the political observations (and, occasionally, the pasta and drink specials) of owner Bill Balsamico.

 

The most recent political musing, for example, read:

Don't disrespect this country. Spanish national anthems and wetbacks belong south of the Rio Grande. Push 1 to proceed in English. Push 2 for deportation.

 

Past messages lighting up the night have included:

Dear Mr. President, Piss on the camel jockeys. Bring home all the troops. Leave behind plenty of bombs. They will kill themselves. That's their way of life

 

And this one, celebrating the capture of Saddam Hussein and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden:

Spaghetti and salad, $3.99. God bless America. One piece of shit down, one more asshole to go.

 

Balsamico, the grandson of an Italian immigrant, says his remarks are entirely serious.

"I feel there's no reason in the world why I should have to push 1 to proceed in English in my own country," he says.

 

Most reactions to his sentiments are positive, he reports. He gets an occasional call about the sign's profanity, however, and he did recently get a call from a woman who objected to the term "wetbacks." She asked if he'd consider changing the word to "Mexicans."

 

"I said, 'Well, I'm Italian and I don't mind someone calling me a 'dago,'" he says. "The difference between a Mexican and a wetback is the term 'wetback' came from illegals swimming across the Rio Grande. I'm calling a spade a spade."

 

North Versailles police chief James Communale says he occasionally receives complaints about the sign. Balsamico generally changes the sign when the language is offensive enough to warrant a police visit, Communale says.

 

"Those words aren't what we would want to put on the sign," the chief adds. "According to the attorneys, he's covered by the First Amendment. I wish he wouldn't do it, but he has freedom of speech."

 

Neither the local Latino Chamber of Commerce nor the Latin American Cultural Union responded to requests for comments on the signs.

 

Jeffrey Krsul grew up near the restaurant, and still sees it when he visits his parents from his home in Wilkinsburg.

 

"I can remember driving past and seeing [the sign] and thinking, 'What right does this person have to inflict their opinion on people just driving by?'" Krsul says. "The coarse language ... everyone is exposed to that language. They aren't turning on their radio and choosing to listen to what he's saying."

 

Balsamico, who has several 10- to 16-year-old grandchildren, recalls a complaint from a mother about her child viewing "ass" and "bastard" while riding down the road.

 

"I said, 'Well, I'm very sorry about that,'" Balsamico recalls, "'but if that's the worst your child's going to come across in her life, you're still doing good.'"

 

Balsamico isn't troubled by the irony of posting anti-Spanish language rhetoric on a restaurant whose name is partly in Italian. Casa d'Ice may not be an English-only name, he acknowledges, "but you don't have to push anything to say it."

 

Sign archive: www.casadice.com.

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