CNN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell goes after discriminatory hotel owner: Would you make me change my name too?

New Mexico hotel owner Larry Whitten is currently facing national criticism for demanding that his Hispanic employees change their names and stop speaking Spanish in his presence. Today on CNN, HLN host Jane Velez-Mitchell sharply went after Whitten, introducing herself as “Jane Velez-Mitchell. I hope you don’t mind if I keep using the word ‘Velez’ in my name.” She then went after him for asking his “Spanish” employees to anglicize their names:

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Did you, or did you not, tell someone who’s name is Martin (Mar-TEEN) to say that his name was “Martin,” or similar changes? […]

Advertisement

WHITTEN: Yes, I asked Martin (Mar-TEEN) to change it to “Martin” to better understand it over the telephone.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You can’t understand Mar-TEEN? Do you know that the vast majority of people in the community where you have your hotel are Latino? So your customers, to a large extent, are going to be Latino. Now how do you treat the customers when they come in? Do you them also to change their names? Like if I came in, would Jane Velez-Mitchell — so you could better understand my name — would you ask me to change it?

WHITTEN: No, ma’am — […]

VELEZ-MITCHELL: So the idea that you’re presupposing that people cannot understand Mar-TEEN, but they can understand Martin, really says a lot more about you, sir, than it does about your customers or anybody else.

Throughout the interview, as Velez-Mitchell pointed out, Whitten insisted on calling the employee by the anglicized pronunciation of “Martin.” Watch it:

Transcript:

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Can I jump in here, Larry? I’m here — My name is Jane Velez-Mitchell. I hope you don’t mind if I keep using the word “Velez” in my name. You say that you’re trying to turn around a dilapidated hotel. Did you, or did you not, tell someone who’s name is Martin (Mar-TEEN) to say that his name was “Martin,” or similar changes?

WHITTEN: Yes, ma’am, I was answering your question —

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Just answer that question though. Did you ask him to change his name and anglicize his name? Did you ask anyone to anglicize their name?

WHITTEN: Yes, I asked Martin (Mar-TEEN) to change it to “Martin” to better understand it over the telephone.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You can’t understand Mar-TEEN? Do you know that the vast majority of people in the community where you have your hotel are Latino? So your customers, to a large extent, are going to be Latino. Now how do you treat the customers when they come in? Do you them also to change their names? Like if I came in, would Jane Velez-Mitchell — so you could better understand my name — would you ask me to change it?

WHITTEN: No, ma’am —

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It’s ludicrous, sir. It’s ludicrous. You should just apologize and say that you made a mistake.

WHITTEN: — and we didn’t ask people in maintenance, and we don’t ask in housekeeping, to change their names. I only asked people on my switchboard, as I have done for 40 years, and again, I have never intentionally changed anyone’s names to insult them, insult their heritage, insult their culture.

It’s a matter of, I wanted Martin to get the recognition — who was a fine young man, I might add. We looked forward to him being one of our managers, if you want to know the real truth. He was an excellent fellow, and we wanted him to get the recognition over the switchboard, not say that “some boy” was good to me on the phone or did me a great service; we wanted his name to be recognizable. That name was proven not to be recognizable, and I wanted him to get the credit for great service.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, let me just say this sir: All of these states that we’re talking about with all of these stories — Texas, New Mexico — New MEXICO — California — they were all Mexico at one point. That’s why, when you look at the cities and street names, most of them are in Spanish to begin with. […]

So the idea that you’re presupposing that people cannot understand Mar-TEEN, but they can understand Martin, really says a lot more about you, sir, than it does about your customers or anybody else.

WHITTEN: Well, Miss Phillips, I’ve turned around 20 hotels using my same procedures. This one failed four times out of five, it was losing anywhere from $3–5,000 a day from no business supporting the payroll, lights, water, gas, insurance, and I’m here learning. I’m learning about diversity, I’m learning about tolerance, and I certainly appreciate all the differences in Taos. It’s a beautiful city, and again, it was never intended to insult anyone. I think Martin was a fine fellow. If he wants to come back tomorrow —

VELEZ-MITCHELL: You’re still calling him Martin!