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Midwestern Eatery Chain Faces Backlash Over Trademark

The owners of Chicago-based eatery Aloha Poke were simply trying to enforce the trademark of their business when their legal representatives contacted several competing restaurants with similar names. What they didn't see coming was the power of culture and heritage to bind people together in opposition to a common enemy.

Attorneys for Aloha Poke, which has multiple locations in several states, sent cease-and-desist letters to eateries with similar names, asserting that their trademark over the phrase "aloha poke" was their exclusive business domain.

However, poke is a Hawaiian delicacy, an essential piece of Polynesian culture. Hawaiian natives across the US have been creating and sharing poke for generations. And "aloha" is a common Hawaiian greeting, used to evoke a familial sense of hospitality. Thus, many Hawaiian natives have been offended by what they perceived to be another example of cultural appropriation.

"'Aloha' is an incredibly cultural significant term for our people," said physician and activist Kalama O Ka Aina. "It is something that has been completely commercialized and denigrated. To trademark that word and to punish people for the use of this? A Chicago company?"

In response to this perceived act of aggression, Polynesian activists are spreading the hashtag #noalohapoke. To stem the tide of the backlash, Aloha Poke released a statement on its Facebook page, clarifying that restaurants are free to use either the phrase "aloha" or "poke," just not both. That statement hasn't pleased critics, who allege that trademarking such a central piece of Hawaiian lore is a betrayal of their culture and the hospitality it represents.

Potential Preaching Angles: Living with a kingdom mindset requires both generosity of spirit and cultural humility. When we lack either or both, it gives ammunition to our enemies. Cultural identities are helpful so long as they aren't used to exclude people from the community of faith.

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