By Melanie Dabovich
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.
Former workers, their relatives and some town residents picketed 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," says protester Juanito Burns Jr., who identified himself as prime minister of an activist group called Los Brown Berets de Nuevo Mexico.
Does Whitten also want people with difficult English names to change their names? What about blacks and Asians with unusual names? And what about names such as Taylor or Terry? Are they male or female? Confusing!
I don't think Whitten is ignorant of what he's doing. He's criticizing the names of one ethnic group because he thinks his customers won't understand them. This isn't ignorance so much as stupidity.
And it's very clearly racist. Discriminating against one group and one group only is the epitome of racism, and that's what Whitten has done.
For more on the subject, see Highlights of the US Report to the UN on Racism.
Below: "Hotel owner Larry Whitten is seen at his attorney's office in Taos, N.M. on Oct. 1, 2009."