In 2012, immigrants Mila Ramirez and her husband, Andrés Araya, opened 5 Rabbit Cervecería in Bedford Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. It is the first Latin American-inspired brewery in the U.S., infusing flavors from Latin America into beers. Ramirez was born in Peru but has lived all over the world, including Costa Rica, where she met Araya, who is from there. For almost a decade, she and Araya have lived in Chicago, the longest Ramirez has lived in one place. In 2015, 5 Rabbit sparked controversy when it signed a contract to brew a golden ale house beer for Rebar, located inside Trump Tower Chicago. But when Trump called Mexicans rapists during a campaign speech, Ramirez and Araya decided they needed to take a stand, and they pulled the beer from the bar. In honor of Trump’s racist remarks, the brewery renamed the beer the jocular Chinga Tu Pelo, which translates to “Fuck Your Hair.”
In 2019, filmmaker Jason Polevoi directed the short documentary, also named “F*** Your Hair,” focusing on the brewery’s plight with the beer and the backlash the brewery received. In this Voices in Food interview, as told to Garin Pirnia, Ramirez talks about the upcoming election and how everyone, especially Latinx people, need to vote.
[Our vision hasn’t always been] about having a huge production facility. It was about making the beer with the ingredients we know, and it was more about the connection with the people and becoming a center for community. Let’s brew something that is familiar to us, that we grew up with, that we know we can teach people who don’t know, and hold hands with those who do and remind them of the music they listened to growing up, the fruits that their grandmother told them about. I think that’s what 5 Rabbit is.
I think it’s terrible [that immigrant-owned businesses are struggling]. But I think that’s the reality of life in the U.S. It’s not only immigrants; it’s minority-owned businesses too. It’s Black and brown that struggle for these loans, and yes, we’re the first to shut down. It’s sad. I hope that it changes. We’re talking about businesses, but I always bring up children. Who are the first to not be in class, to not having working internet, now that we’re going through COVID? I wish it would be more equal.
I think Trump’s presidency has impacted us in every aspect. We’d never experienced hate mail before. That’s a big one, because I thought Americans were this pot of everything. As it turns out, as soon as Trump gets elected, it’s not everything. It’s “you get out of here, you dirty Mexican.” It’s “let’s go ahead and put children in cages and separate them from their parents.” Forced separation, in my opinion, is torture. To tell you the truth, I grew up with that notion that the Trump-style shit we’re seeing right now only happened in other countries.
I wish we had brewed Chinga Tu Pelo once and that’s it. It’s not a beer that gives me joy or any great fuzzy feelings. We were very criticized [about] it. It was like, “Why are you brewing anything to protest? Just focus on making beer.” I understand I’m probably not going to overturn anything with a beer, but it’s my voice and I feel like everyone needs to use their voice. I don’t know if we would consider ourselves to be a political brewery. I consider myself to be a political person, more than anything, because I see so many injustices and I think that translates to the brewery. I think it would be a disservice for us to have some social media presence and be able to chat with people in the taproom and just stay quiet and make beer and talk about watermelon and cucumber all the time. There’s a Mexican lager in the Chicagoland area that has the eagle from the Mexican flag on their label and the name has nothing to do with anything Mexican. They just decided to drop the eagle and the flag. It bothers people. Maybe no one makes a big deal about it and we let it go. But that’s part of the problem — we let things go for so long.
We started a small voting campaign: Chingonas [badass women] Vote. I was introduced to two wonderful women, and we stand at the brewery on weekends and we ask people: “Have you voted?” “Can we help you register?” “Can we explain to you why it’s so important for you to vote?” “Were you born here?” “Yes, but my parents weren’t.” “Then you vote for your parents.” It’s so important to vote. I wish I could stand somewhere and scream it to everyone. It’s that strength of the Latina in particular: The woman who is in charge, who is strong and adapts, because that’s my new word. She doesn’t stay quiet. She uses that voice, that right. She exercises it. I think there’s always hope.