On April 10, as 18,000 people marched in an immigration-reform protest that began at Milam Park and ended in HemisFair Park, the board of directors of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center convened a special meeting to discuss personnel matters.
No one except a handful of GCAC employees and dance instructors were in the audience as the board met to ponder President Bret Ruiz’s firing of education-program director Mary Jesse Garza and a sexual harassment and racial discrimination complaint that another employee, Dolores Zapata Murff, filed against Ruiz with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Ruiz has come under fire recently for allegedly making disparaging remarks about people in the West-Side community that surrounds the GCAC, but none of Ruiz’s detractors were at the special meeting `see “Culture War,” February 8, 2006`.
Except one. Marisela Barrera spoke before the board last Monday, and without giving a detailed reason, submitted her resignation from the post of theater-arts director, effective at the end of June.
“I gave verbal notice last week,” Barrera said, describing a committee meeting that included her and Ruiz. “I’m being put up against the wall,” she said before she handed her signed resignation to board chairman Juan Aguilera.
Ruiz later said he did not have a copy of Barrera’s resignation, and said he would not release it to the public. “That is an internal document.” He had no comment about the resignation as of press-time Monday.
Barrera is the founder of the GCAC’s annual TeatroFEST, which takes place this year from May 26 to July 2. Performances are scheduled at various venues, including San Pedro Playhouse, Jump-Start Performance Co., Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and the GCAC.
Barrera did not give any details of the committee meeting, saying only that Ruiz said something “that hit my threshhold.”
Barrera developed TeatroFEST to showcase the varied experiences of Latino culture in the United States through performance. It is the only theater festival organized in San Antonio, and the only Latino theater festival in Texas. Last year’s performers included San Antonio’s nationally renowned poet, Amalia Ortiz; and Puro Slam was last year’s opening-night event. Barrera worked for two years to obtain seed money from the National Performance Network to produce TeatroFEST 2005. For this year’s event, Barrera secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in addition to funds from the NPN.
“I don’t want to walk away from my responsibility,” said Barrera as she wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m emotional because I’m so connected to our mission. If you can make it in Chicano arts in San Antonio, you can make it anywhere, and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is the corazón.
“This is a busy time to quit,” said Barrera. “I hope they can work with me. I’m not about negative energy. I want what’s right.”
After Barrera submitted her resignation, the board went into executive session, without Ruiz, to discuss the other personnel matters. After two-and-a-half hours, the board emerged, and Aguilera said the board upheld Garza’s termination, and found Murff to have “no basis for complaints.” The board took no action on Barrera’s resignation.
Aguilera said the board wants to respect the privacy of all GCAC employees. “We want you to feel comfortable. The board bent over backward to make sure it was done fairly. We really looked into the matter. We will continue to move forward and the Guadalupe will continue to be vibrant.”