This past summer, Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser appointed Frances Semler to the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners. But to associations like the National Council of La Raza and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the story is more complicated. Semler belongs to another group—The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
Members of the Minutemento patrol the U.S.–Mexico border—often armed—in an attempt to keep illegal immigrants from crossing into the U.S. Supporters believe the Minuteman are simply attempting to secure the nation’s borders, while opponents see them as vigilantes with a racist agenda.
The National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, has a real problem with the Minutemen—a problem so big that it’s threatening to pull its 2009 annual meeting out of Kansas City unless the situation is resolved to its satisfaction. The La Raza convention is expected to draw 2,000 attendees and to have a $5 million economic impact on the city.
According to press reports, La Raza has demanded that Semler either quit the Minutemen or that Funkhouser remove her from the parks board. Rick Hughes, president of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, says the question of whether La Raza will pull out of Kansas City should be resolved this week after La Raza holds a board meeting to decide the fate of its 2009 convention. “We’re kind of in limbo right now,” Hughes says. “We hope there is still room, and time, to come up with a solution.”
La Raza’s action could also affect the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s plans for it 2010 annual meeting scheduled for Kansas City. According to Hughes, the NAACP is “watching” what La Raza will do later this week before deciding on a course of action.
In the wake of the threat by La Raza to pull its convention, the Minutemen announced a plan to hold its own (much smaller) convention in Kansas City in December. The group has since changed the date of their meeting to February.
“Kansas City has just found itself in the crosshairs of a big national issue,” says Hughes, trying to explain what could potentially create a tremendous amount of havoc with Kansas City’s convention schedule. “Immigration is a real lightning rod issue—the kind where you end up with more questions and raised eyebrows than you do answers.” What Hughes finds particularly discouraging is that amid all of the controversy, there’s been a failure to see conventions and meetings for what they are: “A splendid tool for getting divergent ideas together so there can be debate, understanding, and a search for common ground.”