Garden City made the pages of USA Today on Tuesday, in a feature about President Obama’s immigration plan that would protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and how it could impact Garden City in the future.
The article focuses on how immigration has shaped Garden City over the years. The author, immigration reporter Alan Gomez, interviewed a variety of residents, including Mayor Roy Cessna, state Rep. John Doll, former mayor and Kansas Board of Regents member Janie Perkins, along with business owners and workers like Flor Perea, Arturo Guerrero, and Eloy Gallegos.
But it was comments made by Roy Dixon, of Highlands Livestock Service and local American Legion Post commander, that caused a stir among many due to their racial connotations.
According to the story, Dixon responded to a question about the rising Hispanic population over the past 30 years by saying:
“I want out of here,” says Dixon, a livestock management consultant who has run for public office on several occasions. “A lot of them are good friends, don’t get me wrong. But I do talk quite regular about moving to a smaller town and getting back to the rural America that I so knew.”
Later in the article, Dixon is quoted saying, “Who are we now? We’ve lost our culture. We’ve lost our roots. It’s like the natives are being pushed out.”
Dixon said Wednesday his comments were taken out of context and do not accurately reflect his views on immigration or immigrants. He notes that the first quote, which is in print and included in a short online multimedia piece on the USA Today website, you can’t hear what question the interviewer asked.
“It rubs me the wrong way because I didn’t say that,” he said.
Dixon said what he meant when talking about leaving for a smaller town had nothing to do with the growth of Garden City’s Hispanic population. It had to do with a desire to return to the rural cattle/pasture environment he knew when he was younger, and mostly had to do with growing health conditions.
“I have a granddaughter and a grandson who are Hispanic,” Dixon said. “This really hurts me. It cuts to the bone. Immediately, it cuts my heart. It’s beyond words.”
Eventually, in the next year or two, Dixon said he wants to move to a smaller community due to his health. His comments about getting back to his roots had to do with living in a smaller community, it had nothing to do with immigrant populations.
Dixon said he “went ballistic” when he got a call from a business acquaintance about the article on Tuesday afternoon while driving back from Topeka. Dixon said he told the reporter that demographics have changed in the community over 30 years.
“I said this is a touchy subject that we’ve got to handle with compassion because we’ve got families here, kids in school. I said the federal system’s broken. We need these people in the dairies, we need them in the feedlots, in the hog operations and just about anything and everything,” he said.
Dixon also told the reporter he stands up for what he called the “Ellis Island” concept, which generally means support for a legal immigration process in which immigrants should have a working knowledge of English and the principles the country was founded upon.
“But I also said it takes too long. It takes too long to get a green card and to become a citizen. I said our system is broken. Yes, I believe we need stronger borders, but that’s a federal issue. We also need compassion on this,” he said.
Lona DuVall, president of the Finney County Economic Development Corp., thought the article generally painted a decent picture of the community, but she said some of the negativity expressed in it is not indicative of how the whole community feels.
“Those who are engaged in our community embrace our diversity, and certainly our community leaders, absolutely, embrace our diversity and recognize the benefit that all our citizens make to our community,” DuVall said. “I think you’d have to look really hard to find a handful of people who would be negative about our diverse population.”
Doll thought the USA Today story was well done and generally positive. He said he understands it was the USA Today’s reporter’s job to find different points of view, but hoped few people shared the negative view of immigrants that were shared by a couple of people.
“That was disappointing,” Doll said. “You’ll find that in every community. It’s just part of us being humans. I hope there’s a minimal amount of people who feel that way.”
Doll said he believes attitudes toward immigrants have gotten better over time, and hopes attitudes will continue to improve generation by generation.
“Each generation, I hope it’s less. In my circle it is because I don’t hang around people who are prejudiced. I don’t want to be around them,” Doll said.
DuVall said people who live in southwest Kansas have a different picture of immigration issues, one that may not be what national media expect. She said she believes only a small minority in the community share negative views about immigrants, especially considering how important those populations are for the local work force and economic development.
“The cultural mix they bring to our community is huge to recruiting businesses. When we have business interests come to town, it’s one of the very first things they notice,” she said. “Not only do we have this tremendous diversity, but we have such an acceptance of everybody who lives in our community.”
Kim Inderlied, executive director of Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it seemed like several of the people quoted in the USA Today article, not just Dixon, came off not in the best light.
“I don’t think any of those folks have ill feelings toward our immigrant population. I think everyone in this town knows that we would really have problems without these individuals, and we’re thankful to have them here,” she said.
Inderlied said she knows Dixon in a professional capacity and has worked with him on scheduling past events at the American Legion, and has found him to be nothing but gracious.
“And that includes people of Hispanic backgrounds or anybody else,” she said. “I’ve never seen him display anything but professionalism during the Veterans Day parade, and I know he loves the community.”
Jonathan Galia, organizer of the Coalition of Ethnic Minority Leaders, a group composed of representatives from many ethnic minorities in Garden City, was shocked at how Dixon was portrayed in the USA Today article because it’s out of character.
“Roy has been very supportive of us, so I was surprised by the story being written that way,” Galia said. “He has attended a lot of our activities. When I read the article, I think that is bad journalism. That’s not who Roy is.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Garden City Chamber of Commerce board of directors voted to remove Dixon from serving on the Chamber Ambassadors and Government Affairs committees due to Dixon’s statements to USA Today.
Steve Dyer, Chamber president, said Dixon’s comments in no way reflect the views of the Chamber or the Chamber’s mission, and were made independent of any relationship to the Chamber.
“We are working to make Garden City the best community possible. We believe what’s going on in the community is a great thing, and we’ll continue to support the efforts and activities of the community to embrace migrant workers and the immigration process,” Dyer said.
Keith Collins, Chamber board chairman, said his personal view is one of celebrating good people, not one focused on race, ethnicity or religion. He said he enjoys learning about other cultures, but he doesn’t go in for celebrating diversity as others do.
“I don’t care about the diversity of nationalities and religions and all of the other tags you would normally put on it. I do care about good people. That’s why I like Garden City so much. Garden City is full of good people,” Collins said. “I work with them as clients. I work with them to improve civic things, and I enjoy social events with them. I just don’t care about religion or nationality or anything else. I care that they’re good people who work hard and provide for their families.”
Dixon, 65, said he never noticed color or race growing up — he wasn’t raised that way. He said he was brought up to treat everyone the same. He said the Kansas Secretary of State’s office recommended talking to the USA Today reporter for the story, and he saw nothing wrong with it at the time. Now, he regrets talking to the reporter and is upset and angry about what turned up in print. He said he wonders if the reporter had an agenda and wanted to sensationalize things.
“It’s just so doggone wrong. You see the damage this has done. I’m at a loss of words. I don’t know if this guy is trying to be cute or what’s going on,” Dixon said. “This cost me a lot of good friends that I love dearly.”
The following is a link to the USA Today article: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/12/08/immigration-garden-city-kansas-obama-executive-action/20065585/