Celaya, Guanajuato, México

No Mexican party or picnic is complete without a piñata. Piñatas are usually store-bought nowadays, but once upon a time they were made at home by the hosting family. At some point during the party or picnic, after everyone has eaten, one of the drunk uncles remembers about the piñata and struggles to hang it from a nearby tree. The children form a circle around the piñata while watching one blindfolded child attempting to strike the piñata with a stick. Of course, the fix is in because no one wants one of the first few children to break the piñata right away. Every kid should get a turn to hit the piñata. Before a child gets a turn, he or she must be blindfolded and spun around a few times. This child is so disoriented by then that he or she must be pointed in the direction of the piñata and starts swinging wildly at the piñata. Meanwhile, everyone sings the piñata song: “Dale, dale, dale, / No pierdas el tino / Porque si lo pierdes / Pierdes el destino.” Everyone sings the piñata song repeatedly until the child swinging the stick gets so sick of hearing it that he or she finally breaks the piñata.

I have broken a few piñatas in my lifetime. But I definitely enjoy watching children break them a lot more. When I was in Mexico as a boy, my aunt made a piñata from a clay pot that she filled with candy. I was so fascinated watching her make it. Ever since, I have believed that this is the truly authentic way to make a piñata. However, when the piñata breaks, those flying shards could seriously injure someone. Never mind the swinging stick that’s still swinging as the children are diving toward the falling candy! Perhaps the new supermercado piñatas are safer for everyone involved.

Once, before my sister went to Mexico, she asked me if I wanted her to bring me back anything. I knew I was supposed to ask for something, anything, so that she would feel useful and wanted. Finally, I said, “Yes, I’d like a piñata bat.” “What is a piñata bat?” she asked. I wasn’t actually sure if there was such a thing as a piñata bat, but surely some ingenious Mexican must have invented one since there are so many piñatas in Mexico. My younger sister has always looked up to me, so I didn’t want her to think I was as soft as the tortilla of a tostada after sitting on the buffet table at the birthday party all day because the kids found out it was made with tongue. “What!” I told my sister, “You never heard of piñata bat? What kind of Mexican are you?” She was visibly embarrassed. “Okay, I’ll bring you back a piñata bat,” she promised. Imagine my surprise when she returned from Mexico proudly waving a piñata bat over her head. “You don’t know how much trouble I went through to get this!” she said. “I hope you appreciate it.” And then I realized she was actually swinging the bat at me. But I dodged it since I never had the ambition to be a piñata. Apparently no one in Mexico had ever heard of a piñata bat, either. However, my sister actually found one. And a beautiful bat it was! Someone had carved designs in the bat and painted it in many bright colors. The bat is so beautiful, I have never actually brought it out of storage to break a piñata! At every party, my sister keeps asking about the whereabouts of my piñata bat.

When I was a boy, my mother made a piñata so indestructible that not even a crowbar could break it! But it always looked like it was just about to break. So everyone took several turns trying to break it. After the third turn, no one even wore the blindfold and we were using a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. But alas, the piñata would not yield its precious cargo. When it was Lupe’s turn to break the piñata, she insisted on wearing the blindfold and using the stick. We tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. So, we spun her around a few extra times after she was blindfolded and we didn’t point her in the direction of the piñata. We started singing the piñata song and Lupe started swinging. And swinging and swinging. And missing and missing. Then, someone shouted, “Go to your left” and Lupe turned to her left and swung. And missed, of course, because there was no piñata there. “Go straight,” someone else shouted. And Lupe moved forward a few steps and missed again. All the children started giving her different directions and she would follow them. Someone had the brilliant idea to have her go outside of our backyard. No matter what direction we gave her she obeyed it. Soon she was going around the block blindly swinging wherever she imagined the piñata to be. We all tried not to laugh to make this last as long as possible. We actually went around the block on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. Lupe was followed by all the children at the birthday party and quite a few adults, too. Soon some of the neighbors also started following. At least a hundred people where now following Lupe, who was oblivious to all this excitement. We finally led her back to our yard and everyone else came into the yard. Finally, we told Lupe where to swing and she broke the piñata! She never even knew that she left the backyard. Even after we told her several days later, she didn’t believe the story!

¡Dale! ¡Dale! ¡Dale! No pierdas el tino.

Vote for Pedro

From my DVD collection

In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, we see Mexicans in, of all places, the state of Idaho! As an added bonus, you may also listen to the movie dubbed in Spanish. The first time I saw the movie, I thought, “But there are no Mexicans in Idaho!” Then I met a Mexican name Irene from Idaho. So I guess there really are Mexicans in Idaho after all. In the movie, Pedro the Mexican is viewed as a foreigner by the high school principal who tells Pedro on his first day of school, “You do understand English. This isn’t really that complex.” And Pedro just stares at the principal, so the principal asks Napoleon Dynamite to show Pedro where his locker is. Pedro is the only boy at the high school with a mustache that Napoleon admires.

Napoleon and Pedro become friends because they’re both outsiders in this cliquish world of jocks and cheerleaders. They get along so well because they complement each other very well. Napoleon accepts Pedro for what he is and Pedro listens to Napoleon’s stories and lies without questioning them. Pedro speaks English, but sometimes it’s not perfect. For example, Pedro plans to ask to ask the cheerleader Summer Wheatley to the dance. When Napoleon asks how Pedro will get Summer to go to the dance with him, Pedro says, “I’ll build her a cake or something,” with a heavy Mexican accent. When Summer says no, Pedro asks Deb, Napoleon’s prospective date, to go to the dance. So that leaves Napoleon without a date. Pedro offers advice and Napoleon follows it. Napoleon is on his home turf in that high school, but Pedro seems to exude more self-confidence than Napoleon throughout the movie.

Pedro even has the courage to run for school president. Napoleon uses his skills to help Pedro for the school election. Later when Pedro runs for school president, Napoleon tells a kid who is being bullied, “Pedro offers you his protection.” When one of the school bullies tries to take that kid’s bike, Pedro’s cousins, listed as Cholo #1 and Cholo #2 in the final movie credits, show up in their low rider that says, “Vote 4 Pedro” on the door, and they gesture to the bully to stop. The bully runs away without the bike. Of course, Pedro’s cousins look like the stereotypical gangbangers from East L.A. who would beat up the bully if necessary. The two cholos merely shake their head and the bully gets scared and runs away. The movie purposely plays into these Mexican stereotypes.

When Pedro makes a piñata of Summer Wheatly and the students break it, the principal calls Pedro into his office “Look, Pedro. I don’t know how you people do things down in Juarez … Smashing in the face of a piñata that resembles Summer Wheatly is a disgrace to you, and me, and the entire Gem State.” But Pedro doesn’t understand why not since they do it in Mexico all the time. Pedro and his family represent the foreign element in the otherwise homogenized American society of Idaho. Pedro really stands out at the high school as being an outsider because he hasn’t assimilated yet.

In the end, there is a school assembly for the presidential candidates Summer Wheatly and Pedro Sánchez to address the school. In Summer’s campaign speech, she promises two new pop machines in the cafeteria, new cheerleader uniforms, among other things, and then asks, “Who wants to eat chimney-changas next year? Not me! With me, it would summer all year long. Vote for Summer.” Of course, Summer, too, uses the Mexican stereotype for the purpose of fear mongering. For his speech, Pedro promises, “I think it would be good to have some holy Santos brought to the high school to guard the hallway and to bring us good luck. El Santo Niño de Atoche, is a good one. … If you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true.” Pedro doesn’t change his speech despite the fact that Summer Wheatly made Pedro look like an undesirable foreigner.

In the end, Pedro wins the election and becomes school president with the help of Napoleon’s skit. Well, the students accept Pedro and Napoleon for being themselves. Pedro’s family celebrates by having a picnic for Pedro. Of course, there’s a cake with red, white, and green stripes that says, “Presidente Pedro! Felicidades!”

I think this movie illustrates how people have accepted Mexicans without realizing it. Until the immigrant marches last year, Mexicans were largely invisible. No one saw them as individuals doing landscaping, housekeeping, working in factories, among other jobs. And they seemed to accept Mexicans exactly for who they were. Whether America admits it or not, a lot of people are voting for Pedro.

Vote for Pedro and Napoleon!