Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma is our southern neighbor’s version of the National Mall: full of enormous marble and bronze statues commemorating the country’s greatest heroes. However, a grassroots movement of average Mexican citizens is erecting equally impressive monuments to their family members who died or disappeared because of organized violence or state corruption—and embarrassing the Mexican government along the way.

In 2014, Mexican police arrested 43 protesting teaching students who were never seen again and are presumed dead. When official investigations turned up nothing, the victims’ families created a clandestine network that built a 1,900-pound iron statue in the shape of a “+ 43” and placed it on Paseo de la Reforma in 2015. Embarrassed and worried about public outcry, the Mexican government did not take it down.

More anti-monuments soon appeared. One memorializes a 2009 fire in a daycare that killed 49 children. Another honors 65 coal miners buried in a 2006 mine explosion.

In 2021, feminist activists seized la Reforma’s traffic circle, renamed it “Plaza of the Women Who Fight,” and placed a cutout of a girl raising her fist on a pedestal that previously held a statue of Christopher Columbus before it was removed by officials in response to widespread condemnation of his casual genocide. The activists covered the pedestal with the names of women who fought for equal rights. The government painted over the names but the activists simply rewrote them.

Most of the anti-monuments remain on Paseo de la Reforma even as they serve to embarrass the Mexican government’s inability or unwillingness to protect its citizens from powerful corrupting forces that shape their daily lives. Protestors have committed to keep erecting them as long as their demands continue to fall on deaf ears.

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