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Club policy smacks of racism

Lynn Nelson, past exalted ruler of the Evanston, Wyo., Elks Lodge has spoken: No more big Spanish functions at the Elks hall.

Nelson, who is also the club manager, rationalizes the policy by explaining that one Hispanic group caused $500 in damage to the lodge, Nelson said. "Kids spilled pop on the carpet. They busted a mirror. They threw rocks at our neon sign and busted it . . . and this is typical."

Nobody who rents a party hall should bust up the place. That's why private clubs and reception halls charge damage deposits and set down rules of conduct. But the past exalted ruler paints with a broad brush when he decrees that the bad behavior of one group — the members of which happened to be Hispanic — presupposes all Hispanics will behave poorly and therefore, cannot be permitted to rent the Elks hall.

The unwritten policy came to light when Leo Yapias' children wanted to rent the Elks lodge to honor their father, who recently retired after 24 years with the Union Pacific Railroad. His daughter was told the Elks don't rent their lodge to Spanish-speaking people.

The family, which immigrated to the area two decades ago from Peru, is well-known in Evanston for starting a soccer league and for being involved in student government. Leo's sons Tony and James are respected leaders within the Hispanic community in Salt Lake City, where Tony is director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs.

When he learned of the Elks' attitudes toward Spanish-speaking people, Leo Yapias advised his children to forget about renting the lodge if the members didn't want them there. The Yapias family threw a nice party for the elder Yapias this past weekend at a different location.

Since Yapias will likely remain in the area now that he's retired, he probably doesn't want bad relations with his neighbors. His reticence to confront his fellow residents is understandable.

But the Elks Club policy isn't. It's discrimination against a class of people. It might even run afoul of Wyoming's state civil rights and regulation statutes.

The Yapias brothers want to work with the Elks Club to further the organization's understanding of Hispanics and why broad generalizations about any group are reckless. We hope the Elks will do some soul-searching and reconsider this policy. It smacks of racism and is contrary to the central values of a fraternal organization committed to the ideals of charity and patriotism.