PERRYSBURG - A cloud of controversy hangs over the celebration, and while the Perrysburg Mexican-American Festival might not yet be a household name, Perrysburg Heights leaders are confident the celebration will be the community's most successful venture in years.
|File photo: Cecilia Stamper (right) and Lia Estra (left), from the Ballet folkorico Imogene's mexicanas dance group in Toledo, perform a dance from the Meixcan state of Guerrero at the South of the Border Festival in Perrysubrg August 12, 2012. The festival was rebranded the Perrysburg Mexican-American Festival this year. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Rebranded this summer in the shadow of Ohio's South of the Border Festival and slated from noon until midnight on Saturday, the event is meant to continue honoring Hispanic culture in the Latino-concentrated community while being inclusive to those of any heritage.
Some community members have reportedly organized a boycott of the festival in protest over controversy involving the Perrysburg Heights Community Association board, also claiming the change turns its back on the many Latinos who populate the neighborhood.
Latino bands are still the heart of the entertainment, though the Midwest Home Grown Band, a group that features popular, more mainstream music, has also signed on, said PHCA Treasurer Jason Craig.
Other performers include Tejano Sound Band, Los Hermanos Villegas, Xplozivo, Grupo Vicio and Grupo Dezeo.
"We are a highly Latino-populated neighborhood," Craig said. "We've dedicated all of our events, our fundraising, everything, to the Latino population (in the past). So in a sense we've neglected the other population of the neighborhood for all these years.
"I don't think by throwing one pop band, top-40 band, in, we're disrespecting a culture."
Craig doesn't believe the boycott represents a majority of the community. Rather, he said they're likely family and friends unhappy with the removal of Anita Serda, a long-time board member and organizer of Ohio's South of the Border Festival, from the board several months ago.
Turmoil in the neighborhood has perhaps never been higher, with some residents slinging mud and calling for the ouster of some trustees, even the nullification of the entire board's authority.
Craig said the trouble began when he determined the organization could not support operating the community center as well as paying salary to two employees. The community organization lost more than $100,000 in the last two years, including $69,000 in 2012, he said.
The board voted to stop paying for the two positions, one of which was held by Stephanie Serda, PCHA's executive director and Anita Serda's daughter, who earned about $42,000 per year.
Craig said the organization's $10,000 monthly budget was reduced to about $4,000 without a payroll. PHCA has a six-figure endowment but limited access to it, and saw its available cash fall to around $20,000.
"If we wouldn't have reduced our expenses, we probably would be near broke right now," he said.
Craig, a 16-year resident of the 'Heights, said he previously enjoyed a positive, friendly relationship with both of the Serdas. But when the board voted to stop paying her salary at his suggestion, it was like a switch had been flipped. Within a week, Anita Serda had called for Craig to be removed, and she herself was voted off the board.
"My personal opinion, it clearly had to be about the money," he said, adding that a better financial situation will allow for more after-school programming for the neighborhood's youth and more community offerings for everyone.
More troubling than the board controversy has been apparent efforts to sabotage the new festival.
Two email messages, provided to the Sentinel, were fraudulently signed by board members and sent to vendors, Craig said. One attempted to cancel a beverage arrangement with Pepsi in favor of a nonexistent sponsorship with 7-Up, the other to rent tables, chairs and a tent from a more expensive company than that which had already been contracted.
Craig said one company initially wanted to pull its sponsorship over the matter, though things were smoothed over. Efforts are underway to determine who sent the messages, though it would seem to be someone with access to festival contacts, he said.
One of the more popular targets of criticism, Craig swears that the trouble has lit a fire under the group and inspired its members to fight harder than before to ensure the future of the community association.
"This whole debacle we've had in the last couple months has made the resolve of the current board" much stronger, Craig said.
"Honestly, it's kind of rewarding. What makes you feel better than when someone's trying to take you down and you're able to keep standing? It's a sense of accomplishment."
Organizers are confident festival attendance will spike this year after a disappointing 2012 that saw just over 700 show up, while attendance in the past soared to more than 5,000, Craig said.
Recent efforts also did not lead to positive fundraising, with the festival experiencing a net loss over the last three years, he added.
The Perrysburg Mexican-American Festival is a free event with a $2 charge for parking. Admission to last year's event was $10 apiece.
The free festival puts more money back in guests' hands for enjoyment, Craig said. Rather than spend $50 or more at the door, that money can be used toward the games, food and other activities that made it a popular gathering in the past.
"We want everybody to come and feel welcome," Craig said, also noting that food prices have been slashed across the board.
Attractions include Adrenaline Rush, a 1,200 square-foot obstacle course, and other inflatables, as well as a jousting arena and a jalape√±o-eating contest. A dozen carnival games will allow guests to play twice for a $1 ticket with a chance to win 1,500 prizes.
More event details and a complete schedule are available at http://www.phcaohio.org/events/perrysburgfestival