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Pizza served with Mexican slang causes stir in U.S. border states

By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) - Even before the first pie is delivered, a jalapeño-heavy pizza with a Mexican slang name has produced chuckles among Spanish speakers in U.S. border states and an advertising ban by broadcasters who say the moniker could get them fined.

The new dish called "La Chingona," which can be translated most politely as "badass" but also interpreted as a more offensive profanity, has upset some franchise owners of the Pizza Patrón chain who refuse to put it on their menus.

"It's a colloquial Mexican term that's used very commonly among our core customers, which is a Mexican-born, Spanish-speaking customer, in part of their everyday lifestyle," said Andrew Gamm, brand director at Pizza Patrón, based in Texas and located in states with large Hispanic populations including California, Arizona and Florida.

The stakes are high and growing for the Latino market in places like Texas, which has a $1.4 trillion economy and where Hispanics account for nearly 40 percent of the population.

To stand out, Pizza Patrón has had other controversial campaigns, including one where it allowed customers in the United States to pay in Mexican pesos.

The "Chingona" pizza, which goes on sale on March 31, has 90 slices of jalapeño-infused pepperoni topped with diced jalapeño peppers.

National and local Spanish-language radio stations have refused to air the commercials, citing concerns about bad taste and potential fines by the Federal Communications Commission.

Univision Radio, the largest U.S. Hispanic radio network, said it will not run the ads because the name of the pizza is considered a profanity and violates FCC regulations.

In one ad, a man asks for the new pizza at a store but is warned only "chingones" can handle its spiciness. The customer proves his worth by claiming he can clap with one hand, make music with the tails of rattlesnakes and live with his mother-in-law for a month.

Roberto Calderon, a Mexican-American studies professor at the University of North Texas, said the pizza name, which conveys an image of toughness, can be seen as divisive.

"Young people in particular love the phrase and don't feel offended by it," Calderon said. "The older folks, including in the English-speaking community, are probably going to be the most disapproving."

Nearly 20 of the chain's 90 outlets have refused to sell the pizza. To ease the worries of the its franchise owners, the company fiddled with the name by calling it "La Ch!#gona" in some print ads.

"We thought we'd do a little bit of self-censorship, tongue-in-cheek, and add the exclamation point and hashtag inside the word," Gamm said. "But if you know the word, you can still read it very easily."

(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Eric Walsh)

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