Speculation Surrounds the Cancellation of MACC Awards

Did choice of emcee lead to cancellation of annual Latino excellence awards?

Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (Courtesy of City of Austin)

The Mexican American Cultural Center's recent postponement of its annual excellence awards honoring local Latino artists has given rise to theories its delay was due to the selection as event host of District 6 City Council Mem­ber Don Zimmerman – a polarizing figure in the Latino community – rather than to a faulty selection process in finding honorees.

The MACC's advisory board in early May abruptly postponed the event a mere three days before it was to be staged. MACC advisory board members cited a lack of adequate publicity by city staff in promoting the event – efforts yielding just nine nominees for five awards – as the reason for pulling the plug.

But board member Juan Oyervides, who sought out Zimmerman to host the event, doesn't buy it. During an interview, Oyervides said he heard concerns over the choice of emcee for the event – including from District 2 Council Member Delia Garza, who called him personally to express dismay. "That's the only time she has called me," Oyervides said. "She wanted to know if it was too late to use somebody else for the awards ceremony. She was very disturbed by it."

But by that point, it was too late to find a replacement emcee. "The invitations were all printed, and it was too late. We can't walk it back," Oyervides recalled telling the council member. Garza is on maternity leave and was unavailable for comment, but Oyervides provided a call log as evidence of her contact. Zimmerman did not respond to a request for comment.

Don Zimmerman
Don Zimmerman (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Zimmerman has put forth a string of nominees to serve on municipal bodies that were ultimately rejected by council. The Latino community was alienated by his would-be appointee to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs, Rebecca Forest, who was ultimately rejected after anti-immigration comments she made at a political rally were aired publicly.

Oyervides is convinced Zimmerman's selection is what ultimately prompted the canceled awards event – a theory buttressed by voiced concerns over the emcee selection after Zimmerman accepted the invitation. Tasked with finding an emcee, Oyervides said he went down the list of potential hosts – Mayor Steve Adler, D7 CM Leslie Pool, D3 CM Sabino "Pio" Renteria, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, and others – but none were available. Finally, exhausting all other potential hosts, he reached out to Zimmerman – who immediately accepted the invitation, Oyervides said. Eventually, he came to see the emergence of Zimmerman as host through a different paradigm, viewing his presence at the ceremony as a first step in fostering unity with the Hispanic community. Seen through that lens, Oyervides said he was able to achieve peace in his selection.

But MACC advisory board member David Carroll disputes the notion that the event was canceled because of who would be hosting it. "The awards ceremony was canceled because the process is flawed," he wrote in an email responding to the Chron­icle's questions. "It had nothing to do with Zimmerman. The board is concerned about the process and the extremely low number of applicants."

At the May 6 meeting, MACC advisory board members were asked to sign a statement echoing Carroll's rationale for pulling the event. In part, the statement notes that 30 award nominees were secured last year compared to only nine for this year's ceremony. Oyervides objected to the postponement, and was the lone holdout on the advisory board in refusing to sign the prepared statement – even with its assertion that the event might be resurrected in the fall. Oyervides pointed to the hard-copy statement itself as probable evidence that the fix was in – the announcement was drafted before the board had taken up the issue.

The statement explained the delay by saying, "In respect to the awardees selected this year, several of the deserving awardees should be included in the postponed Award of Excellence ceremony in the fall and recognized for their contributions and accomplishments."

Carroll said the intent of the statement was merely to confirm the reasons for the postponement, and nothing more: "A letter was prepared to be absolutely clear on the reasons for the postponement. This was done to avoid anticipated rumors, speculation, and misinformation which an action like the one the board took may spawn."

It's effectively a case of he-said, he-said. But the postponement of the cultural arts event continues to reverberate, exposing tension and conflict within the MACC advisory board in the process.

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Mexican American Cultural Center, Don Zimmerman, Juan Oyervides, Delia Garza

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