‘No More Parties’: Mexico’s Piñata Makers Badly Bruised by Pandemic

The piñata trade, depending on social gatherings, has seen gross sales plummet. Some artisans, in a inventive 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the backdrop of smog and concrete that marks this a part of Mexico Metropolis, a tangle of freeways and overpasses with outdated buses rumbling by and belching smoke.

However there, bursting like flowers amid the ashen buildings, they cling in row upon row: piñatas, painted each colour, from brilliant 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 certainly one of his hottest choices, mentioned Ivan Mena Álvarez, who runs one of many oldest shops within the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood recognized for its piñatas.

Remodeling a lethal virus into a comic book effigy may strike some as a dangerous enterprise transfer, particularly in a rustic with the world’s third-highest Covid-19 dying toll. However Mr. Mena mentioned his clients 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 snigger even at dying,” Mr. Mena mentioned. “It’s turn into simply one other monster.”

Piñata makers, typically close-knit households whose enterprise relies on the social gatherings which have largely halted through the pandemic, have, like a lot of the nation, suffered each financially and personally for the previous 12 months.

Mr. Mena mentioned that his gross sales had plummeted, placing him in a dire financial scenario, however that the private 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 trade.

“It’s so arduous for lots of us,” he mentioned. “It simply by no means crossed your thoughts that there could 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 virtually as ruinous. Final 12 months, 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 possibly can’t work, there are not any extra events, no person buys from you,” mentioned Dalton Ávalos Ramírez, who runs a piñata store within the metropolis of Reynosa, close to the U.S. border. He mentioned he had gone from promoting 20 to 30 piñatas every 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 mentioned had been within the enterprise for nearly a century. His great-grandparents, he mentioned, have been among the many first to arrange store on this a part of the capital.

“We’re the piñata pioneers,” he mentioned 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 mentioned. “It’s in your blood.”

Nothing may put together Mr. Mena for the devastating impression of the pandemic. When a lot of the nation shut down at the end of March final 12 months, gross sales dropped by 90 p.c, he mentioned. 5 employees needed to go away 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.

Folks “would beat him however as a result of he wasn’t telling the reality,” Mr. Mena mentioned 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 the right way to bake desserts, whereas his sister discovered the right way to make preparations with balloons.

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

However regardless of the ingenuity of those craftsmen, gross sales have risen little, and the Mexican authorities has given businesses next to nothing by way of 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 bought 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.

“Folks already knew us, thank God, good folks,” he mentioned. “They helped us.”

The household had hoped gross sales would decide 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 mentioned he understood the necessity to “sacrifice our earnings for the nice 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 mentioned. “Going again to creating and educating 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 varieties of piñatas, the inspiration for which might typically be private in addition to from common tradition.

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

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

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

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