Kansas City will gain from the National Council of La Raza conference

Janet Murguia (center), who heads the National Council of La Raza, pushes for immigration reform.
Janet Murguia (center), who heads the National Council of La Raza, pushes for immigration reform. National Council of La Raza

Immigration reform will be a big topic at the 2015 National Council of La Raza Annual Conference, starting Saturday at Bartle Hall. But the Latino population, like the rest of America, is concerned with so much more than that.

In addition to meaningful talks on immigration, focused on permanent solutions, the 10,000 or more convention-goers will brainstorm on voting rights, education, civil rights, health care, workforce development and youth leadership. For four days, the Kansas City event will spotlight issues affecting America’s largest and one of its fastest growing minority groups.

Janet Murguia, who has headed La Raza for 10 years as president and chief executive, is bringing the nation’s leading Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization to the community where she was raised. It’s going to be a celebration with a theme of “Lead. Connect. Empower.”

The anticipation is a far cry from nearly a decade ago when Kansas City made headlines for losing the 2009 La Raza convention because then-Mayor Mark Funkhouser had appointed to the city park board a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which conducted armed patrols on the U.S.-Mexican border.

Lost were millions of dollars La Raza convention-goers would have pumped into the Kansas City economy at a time of recession. This time around, Mayor Sly James is scheduled to address the conference.

The convention’s profile ticked up a few notches last week when organizers announced that former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton planned to attend. Previously, Democrat Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, had been the only presidential candidate to accept an invitation.

GOP candidates have shied away from addressing immigration reform, fearing it will turn off their conservativebase. That avoidance is especially nonsensical for presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who profess strong Latino ties.

“It is disappointing and disheartening,” Murguia said. No serious candidates should take this set of American voters for granted, and Republicans who want to reach Latino voters must find a way to communicate with them on all issues.

The U.S. Latino population grew from 16 percent of the total in 2010 to an estimated 18 percent of Americans this year. In Kansas City, where the Hispanic population has been part of this community for more than 100 years, Latinos make up more than 10 percent of the population. In Kansas City, Kan., they comprise more than 28 percent of the residents. Murguia, a Kansas City, Kan., native and rock star among Hispanics, told The Star’s editorial board, such change “makes people uncomfortable and anxious.”

“People fail to understand how much we love this country and how much we sacrifice,” she said.

Instead of scapegoating Hispanics — GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is the latest worst example of this — people should look at the opportunities and economic growth that Latinos bring to this country. La Raza is right to invite people from this area to the conference and National Latino Family Expo to register, educate and mobilize eligible Hispanic voters and to help others on a path to U.S. citizenship.

The conference also will focus on the wealth and health of Latinos, offering town hall meetings on the economy, technology, education and health care. Sprint Corp. Chief Executive Marcelo Claure will be among the speakers.

La Raza plans to showcase this area’s Latino community centerpieces such as Villa Guadalupe, the Guadalupe Centers’ new 10-building, 19-acre campus at the site of the former St. Paul’s School of Theology at Truman Road and Van Brunt Boulevard.

The conference will be an opportunity to bridge cultural gaps and embrace the diversity of this community and nation.