Saturday, April 20, 2024

Hotelier's Practices Draw Racism Charges


Larry Whitten, 63, is a former Marine and Texan who has spent the last 40 years resurrecting more than 20 struggling hotels across the country. In late July he arrived in Taos, New Mexico with the plan to turn around a hotel by instating rules he used a number of times before. Among the new rules, Whitten forbade Hispanic workers from speaking Spanish in his presence and even made others Anglicize their names; Martin (Mahr-TEEN) became plain Martin and Marcos would be Mark.

He soon found that the liberal town of 5,000 residents was not as understanding as he would have liked. Many residents, some former workers and their families, were soon picketing across the street from the hotel.

“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,” said Juanito Burns Jr., one of the protestors and the prime minister of an activist group called Los Brown Berets de Nuevo Mexico.

Upon arriving, Whitten met with employees and set up his new ground rules; he said that he immediately noticed hostility to his management style. He was worried they would start talking about him in Spanish and “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.”

Whitten fired some of the employees because he felt that they were being hostile and insubordinate. Kathy Archuleta, fired hotel manager, said that the workers tried to be flexible with his requests. Then he began telling employees to change their Spanish first names – what he calls a routine practice at his hotels.

“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.

Martin Gutierrez, another fired employee, said that he was told to use the unaccented version of his name and when he protested Gutierrez said, “he told me he didn’t care what I thought because this was his business.”

The New Mexico chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) sent Whitten a letter after the firings, expressing concern regarding treatment of Hispanic workers. Whitten sent them a letter in return and posted messages on the hotel’s marquee claiming the civil rights groups referred to him with a racial slur. LULAC denied the charge.

During a two-hour interview with The Associated Press Whitten became less enraged and explained that he was sorry for the misunderstanding and claimed that he was not racist.



  1. I think there are bigger problems than this. As a Venezuelan-American I see his point. It’s often rude to speak Spanish in front of those who do not know the language. How is this different than us calling up an outsourced company in India? Their names are all American.

    Interesting post.

  2. What a RACIST. This is America, we are a nation of immigrants.

  3. Us hispanics, whenever possible, should have the courtesy of not speaking Spanish among ourselves when a non-spanish speaker is present. That’s just good manners. That a boss would expect his employees to speak a mutually comprehensible language is simply common sense. It is also not uncommon for a foreigner to accept a colloquial pronunciation of their name when they’re in a new country, at least in certain circumstances. If “Laura” moves to France, she might have to get used to being called “Lau-ha” (you know what I mean). Of all the problems that confront Hispanic Americans, the way in which people pronounce our names shouldn’t have high priority. Perhaps, however, Mr. Whitten should have sponsored some ESOL classes for his employees, especially if they were genuinely struggling with English.

  4. CrazyGringo says

    What do you mean “plain Martin”?? Now that’s racist!

  5. Olga – I agree that speaking Spanish in front of others that don’t understand can be rude, but forcing your employees to Anglicize their names because some people may not know how to pronounce “Marcos” is simply unacceptable. And ridiculous.

  6. Carla Reyes says

    Ok- Is Whitten pronounced with a long I or short I? As I do not want to offend anybody.

    His requests for name changing is ridiculous. I doubt his workers are going to correct anybody for pronouncing their God given name incorrectly. Not speaking spanish to him or around him or non-spanish speaking people is understandable, for obvious reasons.

    He is resurrecting struggling hotels while stripping hispanic workers of they’re natural names. Yes, Marcos and Mark are two different names- and how hard is it to pronounce “mAr-Kos” in english, anyway? Next thing he will be requiring them to lose their accents. Let’s do something about this!

  7. El colmo de los colmos!!!!!!!

  8. Why should we care if this is his personal business?

    Because this likely violates state or federal anti-discrimination policies in the workplace.

    To be polite and not speak a different language in front of non-native speakers of that language is one thing. Simple, cultural differences that can be discussed and even ironed out.

    However, to codify and to officially implement as policies contractual obligations as conditional for employment is another issue all together. I think civil rights organizations as well as state and federal agencies would and should have issues with these policies.

  9. flimmigrant says

    This guy puts the “white” in “Whitten” and needs to meet more people outside of his bubble. It’s never OK to force someone to call him/herself by another name in the workplace. Punto.