Hotel Owner Causes Fury After Asking Latino Workers to Change Their Names

In an effort to resurrect a failing hotel in Taos, New Mexico, new owner Larry Whitten, a former Marine, made it his first order of business to stop his workers from speaking Spanish in his presence, USA Today reports. He feared they were saying negative things about him.

“I asked the people in my presence to speak only English because I do not understand Spanish," Whitten explained. "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."

After firing several Latino employees, he then ordered others at the Southwestern adobe-style hotel to Anglicize their names. Marcos would now be called plain old Mark. That would make things easier for everyone, right? Not so fast.

Residents in the highly liberal town weren’t going to tolerate such racist and appalling behavior. After all, Spanish language, culture and traditions have a long and revered history in Taos.

Martin Gutierrez, a fired employee, says he felt disrespected when he was told to use the unaccented Martin as his name. He says he told Whitten that Spanish was spoken in New Mexico before English. "He told me he didn't care what I thought because this was his business," Gutierrez said.

"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," Whitten said. Large groups, including former employees of the hotel and their supporters, gathered to picket in front of the establishment.

"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 protester Juanito Burns Jr., who identified himself as prime minister of an activist group called Los Brown Berets de Nuevo Mexico.

Taos Mayor Darren Cordova says Whitten wasn't doing anything illegal. But he says Whitten failed to better familiarize himself with the town and its culture before deciding to buy the hotel for $2 million. "Taos is so unique that you would not do anything in Taos that you would do elsewhere.”