“America USA” marked in red letters on top of a layer of black spray paint covered the sign at El Jardín Santuario on July 21. That same day Centro del Pueblo organized a vigil starting at 6 p.m. where several dozen community members showed their support.
In an interview with the North Coast Journal, Arcata Police Sgt. Brian Hoffman stated that this act of vandalism can be classified as a hate crime because the crime targeted an Indigenous immigrant community garden.
“My initial reaction was anger,” said El Jardín Santuario volunteer Kathy Zamora. “I was really angry and I was also really heart broken. [When] I woke up and I saw that, I immediately drove there because I had to see it. I had to see it in person. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Adan Cervantes, master gardener at El Jardín Santuario, expressed how this act of vandalism has left the Latinx community and volunteers of the garden unsure of their own safety while there.
“I was surprised because I saw the color and said ‘black? What is that?’ then I passed by and it was there painted,” said Cervantes.
More than just a sign
Denise Villalva, El Jardín Santuario volunteer, explained the inspiration she had while illustrating the sign. Its main goal is to reflect the community of migrants that the garden strives to provide a safe space for.
“I’m always in conversation, thinking about how to make a graphic impact where we can come together and be represented, [and] use graphic design as a fighting tool,” said Villalva.
Centro del Pueblo’s community organizer, Karen Villa, added that all the details behind the sign were very intentional in order to be inclusive during her speech at the vigil.
“You will find that there’s different languages, and what is the word that we say in different languages? Welcome,” Villa said. “Because this is a sanctuary garden and when we’re in this space we want to make sure we feel safe.”
Call to action
Various calls to action were proposed to counteract the hate crime exhibited at El Jardín Santuario. Community members and volunteers hope that action is taken by the city of Arcata to put an end to these hate crimes. Centro del Pueblo also organized a self defense class on Friday, July 22.
“[I hope] more than anything that they take action on the matter, that they do not see it as just a few scratches,” Cervantes said. “This has to be looked into further”
Villalva asked that privileged individuals open up their spaces to others in order to unite the community and offer more opportunities to those who aren’t granted access.
“I am always pushing art and culture. I always say more more more culture, more gathering. I propose that people who have the privilege they have to the spaces, open them,” Villalva said. “Why don’t we think of others? Don’t leave anyone behind.”
Brenda Pérez, executive director for Centro del Pueblo, urged everyone who attended the vigil to stay strong during the open mic session. She also encouraged community members to come back to the garden as volunteers.
“There won’t be enough paint to cover our resilience,” Pérez said. “There won’t be enough paint to cover our strength. There won’t be enough paint to cover all the love we have for this place.”
Importance of El Jardín Santuario
El Jardín Santuario originated in 2020, just two years after the passing Arcata city ordinance no. 1490 deeming Arcata a sanctuary city for migrants. Centro del Pueblo, a community organization for immigrant Indigenous populations, had made many efforts to have the city ordinance passed. In-turn they wanted to create a space reflecting that victory.
“The whole purpose of naming it a Jardín Santuario was important, because we wanted to make sure we continued that legacy from that law into creating a space and a garden,” Villa said.
The produce from El Jardín Santuario has been used to teach volunteers where food comes from while also feeding the community. Cervantes used the potatoes and herbs from the garden to make a dish for those who attended the vigil.
“We are inviting you to be part of this garden so that many who do not know perhaps the vegetable, the fruit, know it rather than in a tin can, come and know it,” Cervantes said.
El Jardín Santuario has built a strong sense of community and unity for all who attended the vigil on Thursday evening. This garden serves as a second home for many of the volunteers.
“The plants are like my family,” Zamora said. “Adan has made that very clear that we all have a connection to the soil, to the water.”
For more information about El Jardín Santuario follow @jardin_santuario_arcata or @centrodelpueblo on Instagram or at cdpueblo.com. Volunteer hours are Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.