Alibi V.25 No.24 • June 16-22, 2016 

Culture Shock

Double Barreled Garden Spade

The great velocity of Guns into Gardens

Guns into Gardens
La Plazita Institute

I asked Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, “Why here? Why now?” There was a long pause and a deep sigh. “Let's look at just [a few] weeks ago,” she began. “Two weeks ago in Albuquerque a 15-year-old was shot and killed. An 18-year-old was shot and killed … A 24-year-old was shot and killed. There were two home invasions where people were critically injured. That's just one week in Albuquerque.” And nothing's changing—in 2015, 339 people were shot and killed in the state of New Mexico according to Viscoli. When you included those who were critically injured by firearms, the number triples.

Combatting such far flung violence isn't an easy task, but collaboration, education and a restorative brand of justice is foundational. As such, in a poetic disavowal of gun violence, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, La Plazita Institute, Veterans for Peace, RAWtools, Albuquerque Mennonite Church, Immanuel Presbyterian Church and American Friends Service Committee are hosting “Guns into Gardens: From Weapons of Destruction to Tools of Construction.” At this event, the forges of RAWtools will transform weapons that have been used to perpetuate violence—guns confiscated by APD—into garden tools to be used at La Plazita Institute's community gardens. It's a resonant artistic act that carries a great deal of gravity. The event brings together artisans, poets, activists and gardeners, as well as perpetrators and victims of violence. It aims to be inclusive, sensitive and constructive. “We made a decision to make this a healing event ... We want folks to transcend the trauma,” Albino Garcia Jr., the executive director of La Plazita was quick to emphasize.

La Plazita Institute has for more than 10 years worked with the local community—particularly those who have been incarcerated, are or were involved in gang activity, and come from families of color that are impoverished, facing substance abuse issues and historically marginalized—to engage and empower them holistically, with great attention given to culture and the broad concept of healing. One endeavor of La Plazita is a large community garden, which has an exclusive contract with the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center, supplying their kitchen with food from the community garden. There's a strong element of reciprocity here, Garcia pointed out, “The food is grown and managed by us, but the weeding, seeding, harvesting, planting … is done by people who are coming out of the system … These are people who were part of the problem and now are part of the solution. [Guns into Gardens] will be really, really healing for us.”

The event will include poets, musicians, speakers and local foods, but the highlight, of course will be the repurposing of the firearms. As Viscoli stressed in the course of our conversation, “It's not just about discussion, it's about action.” The tangible transformation of steel designed to kill into tools used to create and sustain life is an action that reverberates across communities and impacts us all, because “no one is immune to gun violence. It's our responsibility as members of this society to stand up and say: We've seen enough gun violence in this state and in this country,” Viscoli said. And the ability to do that is rooted in collaboration—that's why the event pulls in so many diverse organizations.

“This is really transcending a lot and acknowledging truth,” Garcia explained. “The collaboration requires a painful transparency [of differences and history] without getting stuck on it. [It's] an effort to looked past it and roll up our sleeves and work together.” Dovetailing with Garcia's words are Viscoli's: “[The issue] is vast. It's substance abuse, it's domestic violence, it's economic disadvantage, it's education … The only way we're going to end gun violence is if we work together.”

On June 18 at La Plazita Institute (831 Isleta SW) in the South Valley, the community will rally in an act of defiance against a growing culture of hostility, violence and separation to instead embrace unity, mutual support and empowerment. Garcia, who is Apache and Aztec, explained that in his culture there is a concept of the balance of opposites. At the intersection of the two opposites, there's a spark, and that spark is the essence of life—it is the battle between positive and negative energy. What we all strive for is the balance between the two. “This event brings opposites together to create life,” he went on. “We're taking something that can be used to take a life and turning it into something that creates life—plants and food.” There was a brief pause as we both consider the inherent power in that transformation before he concluded and I agreed: “That's deep stuff.” And important. Guns into Gardens kicks off at noon and is totally free.