Saturday, April 01, 2017

The Best Day

I know it sounds weird, but making a real piñata has been on my bucket list for years. Ever since I first saw the row of shops with their brightly colored creations hanging outside in Tegucigalpa, I’ve been fascinated. So when I got to take a field trip with two of my Spanish teachers to a local piñataeria, I was excited. And the trip did not disappoint. I had my best day in Honduras so far.

Appreciating Art & Culture
Here in Honduras, piñatas are insignificant things—toys for children. But the creativity and artistry it takes to make just one is nothing short of inspiring. And my new friend, Blanca, makes thousands every year in her living room. To her, it’s a job that provides for her family. To me, it is a beautiful expression of the Latin American culture.

Resourcefulness to Admire
Blanca is one of the most successful piñata makers in Siguatepeque and she gives much of the credit to her resourceful use of materials. I think her methods are ingenious. Not a scrap of paper goes to waste. At the end of the day she sweeps the floor to gather small bits of tissue paper that have fallen. She puts the colorful mixture of scraps into baggies and sells them as confetti to her customers. When shiny papers became expensive and too hard to find, Blanca asked the local elementary school to save the chip and cookie bags left after snack time. Now she washes them, turns them inside out and cuts interesting shapes from the shiny foil inside. These shapes add sparkle to car hubcaps and glitz to princess crowns. Her neighbors and friends save newspaper for her and the local party store gives her damaged mylar balloons so she can paste popular children’s characters on some of her creations. Not only is Blanca a smart businesswoman, she’s an innovative recycler!

Passion Unleashed
There’s one thing that creative people have in common, no matter their culture—passion. The more Blanca talked about the process of making a piñata, the more animated she became. She could barely contain herself as she explained how to make a complex shape or how to choose which colors of paper to use. She prides herself in bringing delight to the children who receive her piñatas, but it’s clear that they bring her just as much joy.

Overworked & Underpaid
Blanca spends 5-8 hours creating each work of art (not including drying time). And she works like an Energizer bunny. She cuts fringes from tissue paper at an unbelievable pace while carrying on a conversation and not even looking at her hands. It’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch. To save time, she uses her hand to apply the homemade paste rather than delicately applying it with a brush, as you’d expect. She can shape wire into a Mickey Mouse shape in a matter of minutes. In April, she’ll begin preparing for Day of the Child celebrations to take place in September. She’ll work seven-days-a-week making hundreds of piñatas for the holiday—no two exactly the same. For all her effort, she’ll sell the larger, more complex piñatas for L. 200 (about $10). What a shame that a Van Gogh goes for millions while these imaginative pieces go largely unappreciated. Crueler still is that Blanca’s art will be destroyed in a matter of minutes! Still, there isn’t a child in the world who wouldn’t squeal with happiness at the view of a piñata hanging at their birthday celebration. And to Blanca and me, that’s worth far more than a Van Gogh.

I learned a lot about making a real piñata at Blanca’s house. And it was an experience I’m grateful for. But the real reason I’ll look back on that day as one of the best is that as we immersed our hands in paste or transformed hanger wire into meaningful shapes, we talkedmy teachers, Blanca, her mother, her friend and me. We talked as women do. We talked about our kids (all boys as it turns out). We talked about cooking and laundry. We talked about struggles and blessings. And for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t thinking about language or culture. I wasn’t concentrating on every word I spoke so hard that my head hurt after two minutes. I wasn’t thinking about how different I was or how I stand out. I was just laughing and talking with my friends and making something beautiful. This day was special, not because I got to cross something off my bucket list, but because it’s the day I realized that I am finally at home in Honduras.