culture shockers: Mr. Whitten makes Latino employees Anglicize their names

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Larry Whitten is an ex-marine who has spent the past 40 years in the hotel business, recently took over one such hotel in Taos, a small town in New Mexico, a liberal and diverse community of around 5,000 residents, which has been home to the Spanish culture and language for hundreds of years. Within weeks of taking over the management of the hotel, Whitten (we couldn’t even make a name up like that) fired some employees, ordered that no Spanish be spoken in his presence, and insisted that the employees (of which there were many) change their Spanish first names- names like Marcos would be Mark and Martin (Mahr-teen) would be Martin. According to Whitten this was a routine practice that he implemented wherever employees would be answering phones, or be at the front desk.

“It has nothing to do with racism. I’m not doing it for any reason other than for the satisfaction of my guests, because people calling from all over America don’t know the Spanish accents or the Spanish culture or Spanish anything,” Whitten says.

A number of the employees who were fired said that they felt disrespected organized a protest, along with local townsfolk. Protester Juanito Burns Jr., who identified himself as prime minister of an activist group called Los Brown Berets de Nuevo Mexico said, “I do feel he’s a racist, but he’s a racist out of ignorance. He doesn’t know that what he’s doing is wrong.” After being interviewed by the local press and creating quite an uproar, with comments where he referred to townsfolk as “mountain people” and “potheads who escaped society,” Whitten has now apologized for the “misunderstanding” and said that he was never against any culture.

You would think that if we could elect a President with such a multicultural background and upbringing, then society’s attitude towards diversity and would show more acceptance. Unfortunately, this is far from the reality. A look at the headlines and our blog posts from the past month shows that the issue of race and seems to going from bad to worse. Very worrying.

If people took note of how much strength there is in the numerous cultures, languages and histories that make up this nation, then incidents like this would not occur and people like Whitten would use the rich cultural heritage of the area to his hotel’s advantage, rather than waste time and money defending his actions.

October 27, 2009 by ishita
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