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Published: Friday, 8/2/2013

Latino group boycotts festival in Perrysburg

BY FEDERICO MARTINEZ AND MATT THOMPSON
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Anita Serda Anita Serda
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Some area Latino leaders are calling for a boycott of the Perrysburg Mexican-American Festival organized by the Perrysburg Heights Community Association.

The boycott call comes weeks after the association’s founder, as well as the executive director, of the community center — who are both Mexican-American — were forced out of the organization.

The Latino Alliance of Northwest Ohio voted unanimously during its monthly meeting Wednesday to call for a boycott of the festival, which is noon to midnight Aug. 10 at the Perrysburg Heights Community Center.

The boycott was announced after weeks of meetings of local Latino leaders, the remaining Perrysburg Heights Community Association board, and Perrysburg Heights’ predominantly Latino residents failed to resolve the controversy.

“The Alliance is supporting the residents of Perrysburg Heights who are calling for the boycott of the festival,” said Ramon Perez, a member of the alliance. “This boycott is a way of getting the board’s attention. The residents want some accountability, they want to meet with the board. ...

“This is a board that has become self-serving instead of serving the community they’re surrounded by.”

More than 150 Perrysburg residents have signed a petition supporting the boycott, officials say.

Perrysburg Heights officials say they plan to proceed with the festival.

“Our intentions are good, there are two sides to the story, and we have no motivation other than bettering the community,” board treasurer Jason Craig said.

Mr. Craig and other festival organizers acknowledge criticism over renaming the longtime event and putting less emphasis on Latino culture this year. They say they are trying to attract new people.

The former two-day South of the Border event has been renamed the Perrysburg Mexican-American Festival and reduced to one day to cut costs, Mr. Craig said.

It will still feature five Latino music groups and one pop group that sings in English. Previously, festival admission was $10. This year it will be free.

“We want to be inclusive to all people, not just Latino,” Mr. Craig said. “There are rumors we are abandoning the culture and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The controversy erupted after several board members, including Mr. Craig, voted to remove organization founder Anita Serda from the board in May.

The board conducted the vote in closed session and allowed one board member to vote by phone, according to records of the vote. Anita Serda and her daughter, Stephanie Serda, who at the time was the association’s executive director and a board member, were not allowed to vote.

The board has never disclosed publicly the reason for Anita Serda’s ouster. Numerous accusations and counter accusations by both sides have muddied the waters.

For example, depending on whom you ask, Stephanie Serda resigned in protest or was fired from her paid position. Similarly Anita Serda either was ousted as the festival organizer or stepped down in protest after being removed from the board.

In a previous interview, Anita Serda told The Blade her removal from the board was a personal attack that appeared related to her typing a transcript of a previous meeting at which she said closing the center was discussed.

Rico Neller, editor of La Prensa, a weekly bilingual newspaper based in Toledo, said he believes Anita Serda was unfairly treated.

“It’s a nonprofit that has been taken over by a board that has no interest in the Hispanic community,” said Mr. Neller, who is a dues-paying member of the Latino Alliance.

Several Latino residents, including Anita Serda, founded the Perrysburg Heights Community Association and center in 1991, Mr. Neller said. The center has been a valuable asset for a community that is two-thirds Hispanic and has residents who can’t afford many activities or don’t feel welcome some places, he said.

Mr. Neller said La Prensa doesn’t plan to endorse officially the festival boycott. He said he was unsure if he will publish advertisements for the event. He said the paper will not cover or mention the event in advance and will encourage readers to patronize a same-day festival in Columbus, he said.

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154



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