Hispanic Group Quits Kansas City

La Raza Pulls Convention; Will NAACP Follow Suit?

La Raza’s Monica Lozano


La Raza’s Monica Lozano

The nation’s largest Hispanic group, the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of La Raza, has decided to pull its 2009 annual conference from Kansas City, Mo., because Mayor Mark Funkhouser appointed a member of the controversial Minuteman Civil Defense Corps to the city’s parks board.

At press time, the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advance-ment of Colored People was considering whether to pull its 2010 national convention from the city as well, in a show of support for La Raza.

Losing the two conventions, which combined have a estimated economic impact of $15 million, would be a blow to the city, which has invested more than $4.5 billion in economic development over several years to position itself as a major meetings destination. For its part, La Raza stands to owe the city as much as $70,000 for failing to meet its contracted hotel room block.

“It is unfortunate that this dispute, which is really part of a larger, national impasse, is playing out here in Kansas City,” said Richard Hughes, president and CEO of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association. “We are talking about the appointment of a 72-year-old, rose-growing grandmother to a five-seat parks commission.”

The grandmother in question is Frances Semler, a member of the MCDC, which opposes illegal immigration. The NAACP’s national board vice chairperson, Roslyn M. Brock, said her organization was “deeply concerned” about Semler’s appointment and charged that the MCDC “has a disturbing reputation of threatening and working to intimidate” Hispanics.

“Our decision is a clear expression of support for Kansas City’s Hispanic community,” said La Raza board chair Monica Lozano in a statement. “An active member of the MCDC should not be an official representative for a city that purports to believe in diversity.”

Al Garza, national executive director of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based MCDC, said he was “appalled that [La Raza] would use the race card” against an organization “fighting for the rule of law and national security,” adding, “Our reputation speaks for itself.”

Mayor Funkhouser told the Kansas City Star that he was “disappointed” in La Raza’s move but held that Semler “has the right of freedom of association and freedom of speech. I don’t think her belonging to the Minutemen impacts her work on the parks board.”

The ongoing controversy, said Hughes, casts a twisted view on Kansas City and undermines its achievements, including the fact that group bookings for the first half of this year are up 70 percent over 2006.

A spokesperson for La Raza said the group has contacted some potential alternate cities for its conclave, expected to draw up to 20,000 attendees, and will make a decision by the end of this month.