Open letter to the National Council of La Raza

By Brad Grabs

Fair enough, La Raza. You have chosen to withdraw your 2009 convention from Kansas City because of the appointment of Ms. Frances Semler, a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, to the Parks Board by Mayor Funkhouser. You are right to be incensed that city leaders are associated with such a vigilante group. Losing your convention will cost the city millions of dollars in lost revenue, and your withdrawal from this city is understood, and arguably justified.

But please, La Raza, bring your convention back to Kansas City in 2010. We need you. I’m not speaking of needing your dollars. I’m speaking of needing you. The discrimination and insensitivity that caused you to leave this city are precisely the reasons that you must return.

La Raza, come to Kansas City and challenge us. Let us hear from you. Show us that despite the prejudices that you may face here, that you will come anyway, struggling to break down misconceptions and bigotry, and working to create a more tolerant and accepting society. Your mission statement states that you are “the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy group in the United States.” As such, I would hope that you feel a responsibility, and indeed an obligation, to engage those who seek to oppress Hispanic people at any level.

I’m sorry about this whole controversy, but it is not an isolated incident, as you know. It is indicative of the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in our society. I’m ashamed that we middle class white folks are sometimes so hard to live with. But you see, we’re comfortable. And we tend not to like things that challenge our comfortable lifestyle. We’re disturbed by immigrants who bring with them other cultures and other languages, so we blame them for lots of problems in our society and demand that they be deported. It’s a lot easier to view the things that challenge our comfort as problems, not as people.

But you can help to change that. Come and show us the gifts that are brought to a community through diversity. Though you have every right to hold your convention in a city that may be friendlier to you, you also have the opportunity to come back to Kansas City and face your adversaries with the dignity and resolve that I know you possess.

One more request: bring your convention back to Kansas City, but please don’t stay downtown in the hotels, isolated from our larger community. Come and stay with us, in our homes. Let us get to know you as people. After your day of convention, come to our homes and share dinner with us. Help us to discover that we all share similar hopes, concerns, and struggles as members of the one human family. And please, allow us to show you our hospitality and our welcome.

Yes, La Raza, come back to Kansas City. We need you, much more than you need us.

Brad Grabs is director of the Shalom Catholic Worker House in Kansas City, Kan.

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