Two Steps Back

No sooner did I celebrate a timely focus on Latino issues (see my previous post) than a couple of developments erupted this week to let me know Hispanics have not quite earned full acknowledgement of such oddball concepts as civil rights and basic dignity.

First, in New Mexico, a hotel owner informed his Hispanic workers that, henceforth, their names weren’t their own. He demanded that, while working, they Anglicize such travesties as Juan by changing it to John, and the like. The owner, Larry Whitten, justified his order by claiming that English-speaking guests would be thrown when confronted with a real tongue-twister like Rosa.

Whitten further demanded that workers not speak Spanish in his presence. He said that he was concerned that they might be saying bad things about him. I can’t imagine what negative phrases the workers would say about the guy – certainly nothing like “Can you believe this prick is making us change our names?”

Whitten’s demands have sparked an outrage in New Mexico. To help him out of the situation, I have a suggestion: If Whitten is concerned about Latino names being cumbersome for the guests, why not call all the help the same thing? After all, they have no right to pick their own names, so one might as well do away with all pretense of individuality or dignity.

Just have all the women answer to the phrase “Hey, chica!” Yes, I know it still contains a vile Spanish word, but most guests can handle the extremely tricky pronunciation. As for the men, just call them all “boy.” It’s true that this word traditionally has been a demeaning term for black males, but I’m sure they won’t mind if somebody else borrows it.

There, now Whitten’s problem is solved.

The second development came out of Dallas. We all know that Texas has a huge Latino population (including Cousin #2). But apparently, the cops there are among the many Americans who think it is a crime to speak any language other than English. And I mean that literally.


Over the past few years, the Dallas police have ticketed about forty drivers for not speaking English. Needless to say, it is not illegal to speak Spanish, at least not yet, and the Dallas police chief has apologized for his troopers’ attempts to test people’s language proficiency.

That apology puts the cops one step ahead of the hotel owner. But neither story is a reason to celebrate.


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