Understanding the National Council of La Raza’s boycott of Kansas City

By Theresa L. Torres, OSB

In June 2007, new elected Mayor Mark Funkhouser made a number of appointments to several city boards. He made one appointment, Frances Semler, in which he bypassed the usual appointment process. He did not select from the over 100 resumes of qualified individuals who had submitted their resumes for membership on the park board commission. Funkhouser selected someone who had worked on his political campaign and who did not give him a resume at the time of her nomination. She first declined the position but the mayor asked her to reconsider due to her strong interests in parks. She agreed to be on the parks board and submitted a resume; one that did not include her participation in the Minutemen and later she explained that she only noted those items in her resume that she thought were relevant and membership in the Minutemen was not.

When local Latino leaders heard that Semler was appointed to the city parks board, they were upset because of her local activities with the Minutemen. These leaders requested that Semler resign or be removed from the parks board because of her association with the Minutemen. This request was not acceptable to the mayor, who told them he did not have to have their approval for any putting anyone on a board. When Semler heard about the concerns, she offered to resign from the board but the Mayor refused her resignation and “stood his ground.” As a way to get a hearing from the Mayor, Latino leaders went to Janet Murguia as the Director of National Council of La Raza and requested that she consider removing their scheduled convention from Kansas City. Their hope was economic pressure would help the mayor change his mind.

The mayor’s decision was incomprehensible to the Latino leadership of Kansas City. These leaders, largely members of non-profit organizations who daily work with Latino/as and immigrants, recognized the implications of giving credibility to someone who is a member of the Minutemen. The Minutemen have harassed, threatened and in some cases, caused bodily harm to immigrants. While she has not participated in these types of events, Semler has repeatedly stated that what she wants is the enforcement of immigration laws and believes we must end all immigration. Of concern, is her attachment to a group that promotes racism and anger towards the Latino members of this country. Racism exists when certain individuals are singled out for being who they are. Racism does not separate out citizens from non-citizens, which is a major concern for Latino/a leaders.

If this issue was not about race, then the Minutemen would be about protecting all at-risk borders but they do not. They are only concerned about the borders between Mexico and the United States, not the Canadian border nor our seaports. Of major concern is the continuing anti-Latino/a rhetoric in the media, particularly talk-radio, and talk shows. The discourse on these shows, as well as a number of the Kansas City Star letters to the editor, reveal hateful messages and the promotion of violence against this population. In his discussions, the mayor never offered to address the core issues so the city lost of the National Council of La Raza Convention. This is not the end of the discussion. Latino leaders believe they need to stand strong against racism and for the civil rights of all, whether documented or undocumented.

Theresa L. Torres is assistant professor of anthropology and religious studies at UMKC.


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