We've become a very tolerant society, in which we don't judge people by their names any more than by the color of their skin. Assimilation still requires some accommodation by the newcomers -- learning English, first and foremost -- as it should. But it doesn't mean entirely giving up some attachment and affection for one's origins, even distant ones.
It's one thing for an employer to insist his staff speak English on the job (which Whitten did as well) and quite another for him to require a Marcos to become Mark or tell a Martìn (Mahr-TEEN) to pronounce his name with the accent on the first syllable or else. The former represents an obvious business advantage; it allows customers to understand what is being said in their presence and supervisors to know that employees are not being insubordinate. But the latter just seems insulting, to both employees and customers, who are presumed be too bigoted to accept Spanish names.
And the irony couldn't be more acute, given the venue. Whitten's hotel is located on Paseo del Pueblo in Taos at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I suppose if Whitten had his way, he'd Anglicize all those names as well -- though no doubt the separation-of-church-and-state fanatics would have a field day if New Mexico chose the Blood of Christ as the new name for its spectacular mountain range.
Whitten has a record of turning around distressed hotel properties in several states, so he must be a savvy businessman. But in the state of New Mexico - -where Chavezes outnumber Whittens or Smiths, for that matter, and have been there a lot longer -- he'd be wise to turn around his attitude if he hopes to make money.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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