Mario Hernández, San Miguel Ecologist
Personality of the month
By Jade Arroyo
Mario Hernández is a trained sociologist and environmentalist. He is passionate about authentic sanmiguelense culture. For the past seven years, he has been the director of El Charco del Ingenio botanical garden and nature reserve, a position that has earned him the sympathy and admiration of many in the community.
Mario has a master’s degree in sociology, with studies in groundwater and integrated watershed management. He expects to complete his PhD in philosophy soon. However, there isn’t the least hint of pedantry in his loud and hearty laughter.
His training in sociology increased his interest in matters that had concerned him from childhood, such as social inequality and respect for natural resources.
As a native of San Miguel de Allende, Mario grew up in close contact with nature and authentic traditions of the people. Remembering a much more homogeneous childhood prior to the free trade that arrived in 1994, he mentions that NAFTA was a turning point during which he began receiving avalanches of information. In recent years, San Miguel has gone through a great social and cultural transformation that has adopted cement and lights according to what some politicians have called progress, leaving aside the local culture and forgetting our botany and plant heritage. An example of this is that today’s youngsters can name a jacaranda or a decorative ficus, but they cannot recognize a huizache or a mesquite while walking through the hills of San Miguel.
The existence of a nature reserve has much consequence in both the ecosystem and society. El Charco del Ingenio represents the great lungs of San Miguel, which provide us with oxygen and regulate the temperature of the city. It is a sacred space for maintaining biodiversity through which animals and insect pollinators can do their jobs. The regional plants are extremely valuable and necessary for balance and maintaining life.
At a time when we face the fact that our grandchildren may not have water available for drinking, the work of people like Mario and the team of biologists and environmentalists of El Charco seems much more relevant than that of people engaged in building another development with prototype buildings or another golf course dedicated to leisure for one percent of the population.
Mario shares with honesty and dignity the daily work of this independent organization, apparent in every little plant from el Charco and every step of amazement by the visitors.
“All of us here, we would give our life for the Charco. Working here is something that gives me great satisfaction because I know I’m doing something important and meaningful with my life. It is not only a way of life, it is a work.”
Besides his work for preservation and environmental education, he realizes that somehow el Charco represents a resistance to the masses and the “often empty marketing of tourism, which seeks only to encourage luxury experiences and the cliché of the “Mexican experience,” while the actual employees in these well-oiled machines are sanmiguelenses who earn 75 pesos a day, unable to compete with the aspirations set by the city.”
El Charco del Ingenio also serves as a ritual space for indigenous cultures and their expressions. Carlos Fuentes, Mexican writer and great chronicler of Mexican culture, said that until we recognize and embrace our indigenous self, Mexico will have a mutilated culture. “We have forgotten the strength of our culture. We must seize this anew and therefore dignify the human being.”
Mario is also a husband and father, a situation that gives him a greater commitment to his beliefs. According to Mario, the biggest challenge we face as a municipality is poverty and social inequality. San Miguel de Allende is the poorest municipality in the state. “How can it be possible that while having the most exclusive and expensive hotels, we have the Crusade Against Hunger because of the precariousness of the life of people? We are falling into neo-colonialism.”
Another very important issue is water. This year, the Charco del Ingenio reaches its 25th anniversary. Coinciding with this event, Mario received recognition as Citizen of the Year from the Rotary Club of San Miguel for his social commitment and collaboration with and protection of the biodiversity of San Miguel de Allende. “We have generated a sanmiguelense project with much dignity, working together.”
Future plans are to generate programs to teach farmers how to tend their land in a sustainable manner. They will create an alternative so that they can maintain themselves and have a decent life. “This is where we want to advance.”
The most important thing that Mario wants to convey to citizens is to make agreements and return to basics. “The ways that have been sold to us are no longer working; we have to stop waiting for others to make decisions and get together and make an effort to recover what we have lost.”