‘No Extra Events’: Mexico’s Piñata Makers Badly Bruised by Pandemic

The piñata business, depending on social gatherings, has seen gross sales plummet. Some artisans, in a artistic bid to outlive, have added coronavirus figures to their lineups of superheros and princesses.


MEXICO CITY — The sight is jarring towards the backdrop of smog and concrete that marks this a part of Mexico Metropolis, a tangle of freeways and overpasses with previous buses rumbling by and belching smoke.

However there, bursting like flowers amid the ashen buildings, they dangle in row upon row: piñatas, painted each coloration, from vivid fuchsia to midnight blue to Child Yoda inexperienced. On the sidewalk, a Spiderman piñata stands beside Batman, whereas Mickey Mouse leans towards Sonic the Hedgehog.

And included among the many copyright-be-damned cartoon characters, superheros and doe-eyed Disney princesses is a newer addition to the Mexican piñata repertoire. Painted lime-green with a gold crown, spikes erupting in all instructions, the coronavirus glares at passers-by.

The pandemic piñata is one among his hottest choices, stated Ivan Mena Álvarez, who runs one of many oldest shops within the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood recognized for its piñatas.

Reworking a lethal virus into a comic book effigy would possibly strike some as a dangerous enterprise transfer, particularly in a rustic with the world’s third-highest Covid-19 demise toll. However Mr. Mena stated his prospects welcomed an opportunity to pummel a stand-in for an adversary that has wreaked havoc on the financial system and devastated whole communities.

“We Mexicans chortle even at demise,” Mr. Mena stated. “It’s turn out to be simply one other monster.”

Piñata makers, typically close-knit households whose enterprise will depend on the social gatherings which have largely halted in the course of the pandemic, have, like a lot of the nation, suffered each financially and personally for the previous yr.

Mr. Mena stated that his gross sales had plummeted, placing him in a dire financial scenario, however that the non-public losses had been even worse. Eleven members of his prolonged household have died of Covid-19, in addition to greater than two dozen others he is aware of of within the business.

“It’s so arduous for lots of us,” he stated. “It simply by no means crossed your thoughts that there can be so many lifeless in so little time.”

Final month, the Mexican authorities updated its official figures, displaying that the virus could have claimed greater than 300,000 lives, an astonishing toll for the nation of 126 million folks.

The impact of the pandemic on the financial system has been nearly as ruinous. Final yr, Mexico suffered its biggest annual economic slump because the Nice Melancholy, and the monetary fallout could push thousands and thousands into poverty.

The piñata commerce, a nationwide custom in Mexico courting again to the sixteenth century, has been largely idled by the restrictions on birthday events and different get-togethers, the place cracking open the treat-filled figures is a central a part of many celebrations.

The ache has been felt throughout the nation.

“You’ll be able to’t work, there aren’t any extra events, no one buys from you,” stated Dalton Ávalos Ramírez, who runs a piñata store within the metropolis of Reynosa, close to the U.S. border. He stated he had gone from promoting 20 to 30 piñatas per week earlier than the pandemic, starting from about $15 to $125 every, to only one or two some weeks.

Mr. Mena, in Mexico Metropolis, is the fourth-generation piñata maker in a household that he stated had been within the enterprise for nearly a century. His great-grandparents, he stated, had been among the many first to arrange store on this a part of the capital.

“We’re the piñata pioneers,” he stated proudly.

Mr. Mena made his first piñata when he was simply 6. On his work desk is a photograph of him at 9, when he made a few of his first large-scale piñatas within the form of a seven-pointed star, a central a part of Mexico’s Christmas custom.

“You develop a love for this craft,” he stated. “It’s in your blood.”

Nothing may put together Mr. Mena for the devastating influence of the pandemic. When a lot of the nation shut down at the end of March final yr, gross sales dropped by 90 %, he stated. 5 staff needed to depart Mexico Metropolis after being furloughed.

To outlive, Mr. Mena started improvising. Together with the coronavirus piñata, his store started promoting effigies of Susana Distancia, Mexico’s social-distancing superhero, in addition to of Hugo López-Gatell, the nation’s coronavirus czar who has been a lot maligned for vastly underestimating the pandemic’s toll on Mexico.

Individuals “would beat him however as a result of he wasn’t telling the reality,” Mr. Mena stated of the López-Gatell piñata.

To spice up gross sales, Mr. Ramírez, the store proprietor in Reynosa, additionally determined to diversify his retailer’s choices. He started studying how one can bake muffins, whereas his sister realized how one can make preparations with balloons.

“If we don’t have work in a single factor, nicely, let’s assist by making one thing else,” he stated.

However regardless of the ingenuity of those craftsmen, gross sales have risen little, and the Mexican authorities has given businesses next to nothing when it comes to stimulus to get by.

Sitting between a Marvel Lady piñata and a portrait of the Virgin Mary, Mr. Mena wiped away tears as he recalled how issues received so determined final summer time that his shoppers and neighbors started including meals parcels to their funds for piñatas to assist him, his household and different piñata makers who provide his enterprise get by.

“Individuals already knew us, thank God, good folks,” he stated. “They helped us.”

The household had hoped gross sales would choose up round Christmas, normally the busiest season, however in mid-December, the capital entered one other lockdown and the shop was compelled to shut. Nonetheless, removed from being bitter on the authorities, Mr. Mena stated he understood the necessity to “sacrifice our earnings for the great of the folks.”

The enforced slowdown introduced on by the pandemic has additionally given him extra time to understand the craft of making piñatas. “We’re going to make them with extra persistence,” he stated. “Going again to creating and instructing and feeling that love for what you do.”

In Reynosa, Mr. Ramirez, who lately turned a father for the primary time, can be experimenting with new kinds of piñatas, the inspiration for which might typically be private in addition to from fashionable tradition.

“I’m a dad, and I’ve a daughter, so now I’ve to make piñatas which can be extra cute,” he stated.

Whereas the current scenario stays grim, Mr. Mena is feeling extra optimistic concerning the future. With vaccines rolling out, though slowly, he believes his enterprise, and the centuries-old business he’s so happy with, will lastly begin to recuperate.

“Like a phoenix from the ashes,” he stated, “the piñata commerce is beginning to pull by.”

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