AURORA | An Aurora City Council member who filmed himself in 2020 imitating Mexicans, Arab Muslims, South Asians and other minority groups as advertisements for his sports bar is drawing growing scorn from a spectrum of community leaders, in addition to national Islamic advocates.
The Sentinel was alerted via a confidential tip to the existence of the videos showing Councilmember Steve Sundberg, who was elected in 2021, promoting Legends of Aurora Sports Grill by performing stereotypical impressions of various groups.
Community leaders shown the videos responded with frustration and disappointment, while Sundberg did not respond to multiple requests for comment and a detailed list of questions sent Monday.
“It’s disrespectful, and it’s insulting to our city. Aurora is a very multicultural city. What’s his intent, just to get people to go to his business? That’s not the right way,” said Lucy Molina, a Chicana mother of two and community organizer who works in Aurora.
“I used to run a restaurant and a bar, and I would have never done something like that for bank. It’s horrible. It shows so much bad taste. ‘Mal gusto,’ we say.”
In a statement, Mayor Mike Coffman said the videos were in “poor taste” but that he did not see a racist motive behind the ads.
“They are an unfortunate attempt at humor, and they are in poor taste, but I don’t believe that he, being married to an African immigrant and having biracial children, is in any way a racist and that he is somehow incapable of being an elected representative in one of the most diverse cities in the United States,” Coffman said.
Sundberg also drew a sharp rebuke from a national Muslim civil rights group Tuesday.
“The message that these videos send to members of minority communities in Aurora is that they are not respected and cannot expect to be represented by this elected official,” Ismail Allison of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement. “We urge him to meet with leaders from the impacted communities and commit to serving all constituents equally. We offer our services to coordinate that meeting.”
“The American Muslim community and CAIR stand in solidarity with all those challenging anti-Black racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and all other forms of bigotry,” Allison said.
Often described as Colorado’s most diverse city, Aurora is home to close to 390,000 people, around 21.2% of whom identify as foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than a quarter of the city, 29%, identifies as Hispanic or Latino. Around 16.6% of Aurorans are Black, 6.6% are Asian and 10.6% are two or more races.
“Using brash stereotypes of our communities does not respect the many hard working families that live and contribute to Aurora,” said Dilpreet Jammu, a leader in the local Sikh community and executive director of Colorado Sikhs.
“Aurora is one of the most diverse cities in our state, and we value the contributions of all citizens to make this a wonderful and safe place to live.”
Three former Legends employees, who spoke with The Sentinel on the condition of anonymity, said Sundberg came up with the ideas for the videos himself and encouraged workers to take part.
While none recalled Sundberg threatening workers into participating, they said the supervisor-employee relationship between Sundberg and his employees made some feel uncomfortable saying “no.”
Sundberg imitates a variety of accents in the videos while wearing costumes that resemble stereotypical depictions of Mexicans, Arab Muslims and other groups.
In one video, he sits cross-legged on a carpet, dressed in a turban and robe, and brandishes a scimitar after being offered bacon by an employee. He then repeatedly exclaims “haram,” a term referring to behavior prohibited under Islamic law, such as eating pork.
In another video, Sundberg wears a Mexican falsa blanket, folded to look like a poncho, and pretends to be a translator for a kitchen employee, saying in Spanish that the man has “26 girlfriends” and asking if the viewer likes his large “conejos,” which literally means “rabbits.”
Colorado State University associate professor of Spanish Andrea Purdy, who translated the clip for The Sentinel, questioned whether Sundberg instead meant to say the similar word “cojones,” which is Spanish for “testicles.” Sundberg also imitates a Mexican accent throughout the video.
“What is offensive to me about the video is putting in a Latino employee in this situation of seeming to be the person with language dominance and then have the person who owns the business pretend to be a Spanish translator,” Purdy wrote in a follow-up email. “It may be that he thought it was funny, but it has racist overtones nonetheless.”
He imitates a South Asian accent in another video meant to promote the curry sold by Legends as well as in a video promoting the Maharaja IPA produced by Avery Brewing Co.
In another video promoting Legends’ dark lager beer — referred to by its German name, “schwarzbier,” meaning “black beer” — Sundberg imitates a German accent as he performs a skit revolving around the stereotype of Black men having large penises.
The discovery of the videos marks the second time this year that Sundberg’s workplace behavior has been called into question. In October, The Sentinel reported that Sundberg had been investigated for making sexually suggestive comments in the presence of city employees.
In another video, Sundberg dresses as a Viking; jokes about “raping and pillaging season coming up soon;” refers to a woman, apparently a Legends bartender, as a “bar wench;” and asks another if she wants to be his “shield maiden.”
The videos in which Sundberg imitated Arab Muslims, South Asians and Mexicans, and joked about Black men and rape were posted on the Legends Facebook page in 2020 and remained publicly available as of Monday afternoon.
Community leaders reacted to the videos with anger and disappointment. Iman Jodeh — spokeswoman for the Colorado Muslim Society and who represents the district including Legends in the Colorado House of Representatives — said the videos were “clearly not intended to welcome a diverse population to Sundberg’s establishment.”
Two years ago, Jodeh became the first Muslim elected to Colorado’s General Assembly. The child of Palestinian immigrants and refugees who came to Colorado in the 1970s, she was raised in Aurora and is also the first Palestinian-American to earn a seat in the legislature.
“How can diverse communities trust that our government is working for our best interest when our elected officials use cliche stereotypes to mock our heritage, our religious practices, and our struggles?” Jodeh asked in response to the videos.
“I’m not sure what’s more offensive about this pathetic use of trite, racist tropes: his desperate attempt for financial gain at the expense of marginalized people or his blatant disregard of the impact perpetuating these stereotypes has in a community needing to come together, decrease racial tension, and increase inclusivity when he is an elected official in this city.”
Aurora NAACP president Omar Montgomery said that, beyond the videos, he was additionally disappointed by Sundberg’s involvement in council decisions to eliminate unfilled positions in the city’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and in an office created to monitor the actions of police following the death of Elijah McClain.
Sundberg was the first to suggest that the council cut the city’s diversity office and joined fellow conservatives in supporting the cuts to the internal police monitor during the 2023 budgeting process.
Montgomery said videos like those posted on the Facebook page of Sundberg’s business hindered the city in its goal of building trust with residents of color.
“If he wants to make jokes about diversity and things of this nature, maybe he ought to fund that office so it can do the work of educating our city and our council members that Aurora is a diverse city,” Montgomery said.
“We need to do all we can to increase trust, and some of what the council does continues to drive a wedge between communities of color and the city itself. Commercials like these are not a good way of developing trust.”
Qusair Mohamedbhai — a Denver-based attorney and a member of the South Asian community who has represented high-profile Aurora clients such as the family of Elijah McClain — said he believed Sundberg’s mocking of certain ethnicities could open the door for employees to sue him for creating a hostile work environment.
“That costume with the poncho and everything, that’s like Exhibit A for ‘my boss is a racist,’” Mohamedbhai said. “The fact that he’s trying to advertise his business… I hope it has the exact opposite effect.”
If Sundberg was discriminating against customers on the basis of race, Mohamedbhai warned he would also be running afoul of the state’s public accommodation laws. Mohamedbhai said the videos reminded him of recent debates about the appropriateness of ethnic groups being used as mascots by schools and sports teams.
“It reminds me of that phrase, ‘my culture is not a costume,’” Mohamedbhai said.
Wow, people know how to blow “jokes” out of proportion. If these where posted in 2020 that would most likely mean that he was trying to get creative and keep business alive through covid. These videos would never be a problem if this guy wasn’t an elected official.
Racism isn’t funny, Sandra.
If it weren’t for democrats’ false sense of moral superiority, they would have no reason to get up in the morning.
Let me guess: You don’t understand why you can’t use the “N” word, since black people use it themselves?
No, that would be a definite problem from any person anywhere. More people know about it now because he an elected official, so that gives him visibility.
And also, we hold our elected officials up to a higher standard. That has always been true.
These conservatives are above our laws , rules, ethics and anything else they decide is ok for them to do but not for you to do.
You spelled leftists wrong
Take a break Mr. King. This conservative is way above your ability to understand what makes a society or a community work well or what is right or wrong for the betterment of all of us. Just take a deep breath. Love a little.
Take your own advice, DICK.
Ill-advised given the climate, certainly. Will I get worked up over this, no. Will others, yes.
I had forgotten about Legends. It must be a quarter of a Century since I have been there.
It’s official. The woke left is eager to be offended by anything. Comedy is dead.
Cancel culture! 🙁
The man is just trying to make a living post-COVID. It is said that if you put a 100 red ants and 100 black ants in a jar they will get along. However, if you shake the jar vigorously, the red ants will think the black ants are their enemy and visa versa and the will kill one another. The true enemy is the person that shook the jar. Moral to this story: STOP shaking the jar!!!
wow! That’s gross. WTF!
This is so disturbing it’s almost beyond words. It’s definitely beyond decency. Sundberg clearly doesn’t deserve to represent the people of Ward II or the people of Aurora. He needs to be removed from city council immediately
Totally agree. If this had happened in the city of Denver, Sundberg would already be gone. Wake up Aurora! This is not funny or cool. It’s ignorant and insensitive.
Good luck with that.
And since Mayor Coffman stated he doesn’t believe Sundberg is a racist or “incapable of being an elected representative in one of the most diverse cities in the United States” indicates that he also must be removed from office or at the very least voted out in November
Funny and witty. Some people have no sense of humor and lack appreciating creativity. Seems thathey want to nit-pick anything about which they can appear politically correct.
Minority wife and I shall dine at Legends to show our support.
The fact that you continue to refer to her in multiple comments as “minority wife” makes me feel incredibly sorry for her.
I don’t think if Ms, Adams was a member of one of the groups Sunberg insulted she might not be so amused. We are the most diverse city in the State and one of the most diverse large cities in the United States. If you think this kind of stunt by a public official will help us with the dire recruitment shortfall of minorities for the police and fire academies you, and others like you who find what Sunberg did amusing, are tone deaf.
The videos were clearly made in jest. If you knew Steve, you would know how much he cares about the city of Aurora. Remover kids, just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right.
I think it would be a class act move on Mr., Sundberg’s part if at his next Ward II town hall meeting he apologize to his constituents for the negative publicity this has created and that the intent was not racist.
That’s what every racist says when called out for making a racial slur: “It’s just a joke! Don’t be so sensitive! etc.”
Define “racist,” most people can’t. Superiority, Labeling, Emotional or Physical harm, or Denial of Constitutional rights based on race have to be present for racism.
You must be of like mind. If your narrow definition helps you justify your “racist” treatment of others, then I know you, Sundberg, and others of your ilk will continue to use and defend such prejudicial statements, actions and treatment of others you see as inferior and inconsequential.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
This is the dumbest possible response I can think of.
Not funny, horrible to think this is acceptable. He is obviously appealing to rednecks and good ole boys and it’s a disgusting display of racism.
I am tired of discriminatory people who like to attack protected groups being elected as our leaders, especially in Aurora. Sad and disgusting.
I presume you are referring to councilmember Juan Marcano, who has called all Republicans “a sadistic death cult” on multiple occasions? Or are you talking about councilmember Coombs, who had this gem to share after she had directly disobeyed police orders to disperse the protest she and Marcano attended?
Gregg Bergan, is that you?
I don’t care about the content of this guy’s stupid postings, but the crappy food at his “restaurant” is another issue. As far as paying for overpriced drinks and watching sports, well you can do that at home and save loads of money. That’s why I like the free enterprise system. Don’t like his product or service? Cut him off at the knees financially. That’s always fun.
Time for Councilman Sundberg to step down. Not only was this in poor taste but, he’s a racist and we should all boycott his restaurant/bar. Let’s all picket his establishment on Monday Night. Send a clear message that he’s not fit to serve our great City of Aurora.
Hang in there Steve. Do not reply to these idiots trying to throw dirt on you. When totally unimportant people to our community such as Omar Montgomery, self made millionaire, (off the back of Mrs. McClain), Mohamedbhai and Jodeh say such self serving statements about such a non important event, take it as a compliment.
These three people along with Dave Perry and the Sentinel disgust me. This is not a newsworthy event and it occurred long before you were a leader in our community. I hope you just let it go even though this Sentinel blog will have editorial after editorial about your attempt at business marketing, making it seem that you hate the world, especially minorities in Aurora. Remember this is just a few hate mongers trying only to advance their minority interests in our community.
Steve, again, welcome to Aurora minority politics 101.
Not for long Dave, not for long. Only about a year left to spread your hatred in this blog. Maybe you could get Mrs. McClain and her lawyer to fund your blog for an additional year. They have a few million off of the Aurora taxpayers. That would change my over/under for this Sentinel blog.
You’re a sad, sad man, Dick. I feel sorry for you.
Imagine having a business so empty that you could film all these…
It was during Covid, so of course It was empty 🙄
Yet again, another member of the conservative squad goes off the rails! It is clear from Jurinski ignoring experts in public hearings to calling the acting police chief trash on the radio to Sundberg making several racist advertising videos for his MAGA buddies that all of them lack the emotional control and requisite decorum to represent our diverse city. Next year VOTE THEM OUT! They’ve done nothing to earn any future votes. That includes our crappy mayor who doesn’t think there was any racist intent. Look again! And then repeat your idiotic observations!
Mr. Moore, the councilmembers you mention will not be up for election for more than 3 years from now.
This is what happens when business owners think they understand marketing and can DIY instead of hiring a professional to promote their business. You get what you pay for!
I think he needs to attend a sexual harassment class which my employer makes me go through every two years. It may be funny but I think it is outright illegal and may obe open to lawsuits. He could tone it down or better yet all these could be turned into fun positive stuff instead demeaning. He could just make fun of himself instead of making fun of others but I think it shows where his real mindset is.