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Hotel Owner Bans Spanish—And Workers Fight Back

Emily Udell

Change your name and don’t speak Spanish. These are the appalling directives a proprietor of a Taos, N.M., hotel gave the workers at his newly-acquired business. Then he fired some of them for not complying.

Workers at the Whitten Inn in northern New Mexico were instructed to anglicize their names after Larry Whitten bought the ailing business with the aim of turning it around. This prompted former workers and others to stage a protest outside the business in an effort to draw attention to the policies of Whitten, a 63-year-old Texan who says he told workers to speak English because he didn’t want them to talk about him. 

He says the name changes were required for workers who have difficult names to pronounce and deal with the public. Fired employee Martin Gutierrez was told not to use the accent on the last part of his name. He told the AP:

I don’t have to change my name and language or heritage… I’m professional the way I am.

The national group League of United Latin American Citizens sent a letter to Whitten in support of the workers, after which messages against the group were displayed on the hotel’s marquee.

Pablo Martinez, the New Mexico director for LULAC, wrote in a September letter to Whitten:

In order to settle this matter, you are encouraged to reconsider and cease these prohibited labor and discriminatory practices. It is recommended that you create a better and friendlier environment to all people of color and other ethnicities.

CNN was expected to air a piece with Whitten today, but I didn’t see it posted on the site as of Tuesday morning.

Martinez released another statement yesterday, signing it, ironically, Paul Pablo” Martinez:

The Hispanic community is outraged that Mr. Whitten has no regard for the rights of his employees, much less the sensitivity to our culture and community.

Micah McCoy, a spokesman for the ACLU in Mexico, says that organization will be participating in a protest at Whitten Inn on November 14. The demonstration aims to call attention to the discriminatory policies at the hotel and ensure that justice is served for the workers.

NOTE: This post originally said the protest at Whitten Inn would be held on November 11. The correct date is November 14.

Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.
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