Cacti and Social Conscience: El Charco del Ingenio

By Honey Sharp

Public gardens invariably contain a message. They express a vision, a purpose, and a mission ranging from botanical education to esthetics. Here in San Miguel, El Charco del Ingenio is also coming forward with a profound socially responsible message. Triggered by the tragic Ayotzinapa events that occurred on September 26 involving the abduction and likely murder of 43 college students, El Charco has installed two outdoor works in commemoration. One includes a tall garambullo cactus with small, painted gourds displaying a photograph and name of each student; icons, such as hands on a red background; and the words “Ayotzinapa” and “Justicia.” At the top is a black star and ribbon, such as typically seen on street doors of homes honoring the dead.

While El Charco often features art exhibits, many with an environmental message, recent outdoor installations by its staff, students, and community members have reached a new, more immediate, and poignant level. As Mario Hernandez, its director says: “This is about justice. We have a responsibility to both nature and people. As a bridge to the community, we are paying attention to what’s going on in Mexico and in the world.” In town, other signs, acting as powerful reminders, have also been aplenty. One includes a protest banner (often removed and replaced) at the Parroquia and an exhibit at the Bellas Artes. Many theories abound regarding who is responsible for Ayotzinapa: the mayor and his wife, the local and state police, the Federales, and Los Guerreros Unidos, the state’s infamous drug cartel. Issues go far beyond the perpetrators, however. They involve the utter complacency of the government’s response, which led to massive de-monstrations, including three in this “quiet” town. Just this January, a more extensive work was installed at El Charco. Rows of painted black T-shirts hanging from clotheslines greet visitors along a path surrounded by the garden’s typical “sentries” (nopales, organos, and garambullos). Its primary organizer is Gabriela Osorio, a young woman from Michoacán and an art therapist with a master’s degree. “I was inspired by a workshop for a group of veterans with PTSD in San Antonio, Texas, which involved painting uniforms. This led to a sense of healing,” she explained. “After Mexico’s tragic events, I wanted to express the pain, frustration, and anger of the people. “Fue la gota que derramó el vaso.” (It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.)

“Universally, black represents mourning. By displaying the shirts and their messages along a path, they can’t be ignored. People have to walk through them, making for an emotional experience. I was particularly touched when I saw children reading the words,” she explains.

A Facebook page called Ayotzinapa SMA, with more than 500 members, including those who worked on the T shirts, continues to be active. Soon to number 50, the group is expanding to honor issues such as Michoacan’s suffering, disappeared, and murdered women, and people oppressed globally.

For more information on upcoming events: Gabriela Osorio,


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