A hotel owner from Texas in Taos, New Mexico, has a lot to learn.
Larry Whitten marched into this northern New Mexico town in late July on a mission: resurrect a failing hotel.
The tough-talking former Marine immediately laid down some new rules. Among them, he forbade the Hispanic workers at the run-down, Southwestern adobe-style hotel from speaking Spanish in his presence (he thought they’d be talking about him), and ordered some to Anglicize their names.
No more Martin (Mahr-TEEN). It was plain-old Martin. No more Marcos. Now it would be Mark.
Whitten’s management style had worked for him as he’s turned around other distressed hotels he bought in recent years across the country.
The 63-year-old Texan, however, wasn’t prepared for what followed.
His rules and his firing of several Hispanic employees angered his employees and many in this liberal enclave of 5,000 residents at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where the most alternative of lifestyles can find a home and where Spanish language, culture and traditions have a long and revered history.
“I came into this landmine of Anglos versus Spanish versus Mexicans versus Indians versus everybody up here. I’m just doing what I’ve always done,” he says.
Aside from the fact that Spanish is an official language in New Mexico — that was part of the deal when the state was admitted to the union in 1912 — and that the Spanish settled in the area long before the Pilgrims showed up on Plymouth Rock, even if they hadn’t, you don’t march into a town and expect everybody to do it your way, even if you did buy a hotel there.
After he arrived, Whitten met with the employees. He says he immediately noticed that they were hostile to his management style and worried they might start talking about him in Spanish.
“Because of that, I asked the people in my presence to speak only English because I do not understand Spanish,” Whitten says. “I’ve been working 24 years in Texas and we have a lot of Spanish people there. I’ve never had to ask anyone to speak only English in front of me because I’ve never had a reason to.”
Then Whitten told some employees he was changing their Spanish first names. Whitten says it’s a routine practice at his hotels to change first names of employees who work the front desk phones or deal directly with guests if their names are difficult to understand or pronounce.
“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.
When the first thing someone says is that “it has nothing to do with racism,” you can bet that it is. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt, Mr. Whitten doesn’t have the first clue as to how deeply ingrained Spanish and the Spanish culture is in America and has been for centuries. It was the Spanish who were the first Europeans to settle here, and while their methods of doing so were a little less than admirable, there’s no doubt that if there’s any claim to being the culture that has a first claim on dominance, it’s the Spanish, all the way from St. Augustine, Florida, to Sacramento, California.
And this is in Taos. You can’t get a whole lot more New Mexican than that. People coming from all over the America expect it to be Spanish; they don’t come there expecting to be greeted by someone with an Anglicized name any more than you expect to walk into a hotel in Paris, France, and be greeted by a desk clerk named Pete.
I have an idea for Mr. Larry Whitten. Why doesn’t he adapt to his new home and change his name to something more appropriate, like el Sr. Lorenzo Chingadero de Puerco.
HT to Melissa.