By Philip Haldiman
Peoria residents are up in arms over the city’s recent cancellation of an event that showcases the city’s heritage.
In April, a community group began organizing and planning Fiesta del Pueblo Viejo, a local event that celebrates Mexican culture.
Member Eva Osuna said the idea was to model the event after the Fiestas Patrias, which had been held for decades at Johnny E. Osuna Park in Old Town, coinciding with Mexican Independence Day.
She said the committee met every two weeks since then planning the event, which was scheduled for Sept. 14.
This included choosing entertainment, vendors, hours, staging/lighting, choice of libations and vendor fees, among other things.
Then, July 29, without cause or justification, the city manager canceled the celebration, said Ms. Osuna, who has sat on a number of city committees over the years and is niece of former Peoria City Councilman Johnny Osuna.
The four-person group feels betrayed and disrespected because of the cancellation and claims the city would not give them a chance to respond to the cancellation, especially after putting in hundreds of hours to make it all come together, with only a few other things left to be completed.
In response, the group is asking residents to boycott the larger-scale Somos Peoria, a companion event to the Fiesta del Pueblo Viejo.
“This is slap in face. This is not how you treat people you want to be engaged,” she said. “We were adamant about being successful. People were really looking forward to this event.”
The city’s side
City Manager Jeff Tyne said he and other city officials met with the group to share their concerns and explained why it was in the best interests of the city to cancel the event.
He said after members of the group first convened earlier this year, they expressed a desire to expand the event greater than expected. This included an interest in dramatically expanding the event duration, entertainment programming and other aspects.
Mr. Tyne said this increases expected costs, responsibility and risk to the city. He said by Aug. 1, final plans had yet to be completed, additional funds had not been solidified, and staffing/volunteer managements had not been secured.
“With this in mind, and recognizing the need to begin active promotion of the event, the city made the decision to forgo the event for this year,” he said. “Although it was a tough decision, it was prudent from special event management, financial and risk perspectives, given the lack of finalizing the scope and elements of the event.”
The committee confirmed the July 29 meeting with Mr. Tyne and other city officials, but the organizers have a different account than Mr. Tyne, including a lack of opportunity to respond, they said.
Committee member Armando Macias said at least one city official met with the organizers at every meeting and members were never given any inkling they were overspending or straying from what was originally intended for the event.
The city allowed $10,940 to pay for Fiesta del Pueblo Viejo.
Additionally, committee members say certain council members — some via a third party — had promised to contribute a total of $7,000 to the event, for a combined total of $17,940.
But as the event drew closer, organizers said the council members withdrew their support of the event.
Members of the committee say previous to the last meeting, they created budgets for the event in both amounts — $10,940 and $17,940.
Mr. Macias said officials in the last meeting would not look at the budgets and refused any due process. He said vendors have been called — some losing money after purchasing insurance for the event — as well as bookings canceled, and since the meeting, members have not heard from the city.
“Any concerns about the event only came up at that last meeting. They wouldn’t even look at the budgets and wouldn’t give us specific criteria as to why the event was canceled. We are still in the dark,” he said. “There was no reason for him to cancel this event. The only things missing were day-of specifics — where performers were going to perform (at the venue), with times, etc. And promotion. Everything was already done.”
Two major events in Peoria have focused on Hispanic culture over the years — Fiestas Patrias and Somos Peoria, both held in Old Town.
Ms. Osuna said the Fiestas Patrias and Fiesta del Pueblo Viejo focused on the Mexican American culture known to the Peoria community, while Somos Peoria is a commercialized concert not focused on the culture, that brings in non-regional Hispanic, soul and various acts that don’t have to do with the Peoria community, but the West Valley and Phoenix.
“Fiestas Patrias always focused on the Mexican American influence to our community,” Ms. Osuna said. “The music, food, talent, entertainment and art has always been from our regional influence of Mexican American culture known to our community. It was originated by the local merchants, politicians and Mexican American families in Peoria.”
Mr. Tyne said some individuals felt the larger-scale Somos Peoria lacked the more intimate cultural understanding of the local Peoria Hispanic community.
As a result, he said the city and the group last year worked together, tapping into the Somos Peoria event budget to allow for the first annual Fiesta del Pueblo Viejo to be a companion activity the evening before.
But, he said, unfortunately, the 2018 event cost was high for its result — $43,729 in costs, 958 estimated attendance and roughly $2,500 in revenue.
“In assessing this pilot effort, it appeared the (Fiesta del Pueblo Viejo) event did not distinguish itself from the Somos event, and in an effort to be more successful, the city agreed to work with the community group this year for the second annual event, but at a much more scaled-down level,” Mr. Tyne said.
After the cancellation of Fiesta del Pueblo Viejo was announced on social media this year, organizers called for the Somos event, scheduled for Sept. 28, to be boycotted to demonstrate to the city there is popular support for original and traditional Fiestas Patrias, Ms. Osuna said.
“We worked and put in so many hours volunteering our time, talents and network and then we were blindsided,” Ms. Osuna said. “It’s important for citizen’s to contact the city and make their opinion known and voices heard. City officials should acknowledge the voices of the community. In canceling the event, the city attempted to silence the committee’s voice, but through the boycott we will make our voice heard with the support of our community.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.