The 2016 edition of New Times' Best of Phoenix is out now, featuring a series of "as told to" profiles that explore how our city's proximity to Mexico makes it better.
When I first came to Phoenix, I was working as a butcher at Food City. My artist’s eye noticed there was all this cardboard being thrown away at the market. I thought, “What can I do with it?” My coworkers would tease me: “Why do you want so much cardboard? Are you building a house?”
I’ve been here 10 years from Chihuahua, Mexico. There, I am a credentialed, licensed artist. I trained to be an art entrepreneur, and I worked at an art center making Mexican arts and crafts, a lot of western statuary and cowboy-themed things. I sold these through a wholesaler, and I was very successful. But then, Chinese companies came in and started copying our designs, and we went out of business. That’s when I decided to emigrate.
A company here wanted to hire me for my artistic talents, but they wanted to pay me only $400 a week. They wanted me to sign a contract, but it was only in English. I took it to a translator and she said, “Don’t sign this! They will keep all the rights to your work.”
I come from a long line of people who work in agriculture. My paternal grandfather was a carpenter. My maternal grandfather ferried coal. My father was a mechanic. I grew up on a farm, and I am certified by the agricultural commission in Acapulco. I am also certified to design and make street lamps, which I did in my hometown. But I always had artistic inclinations.
I came to America and worked hard. By 2007, the competition with the Chinese market to make and sell traditional western crafts was too great. I began to think about all my cardboard, and I thought about making piñatas.
Mundo Piñata got its start on May 10, 2010.
The piñata is originally a Spanish tradition. The traditional one has seven peaks, representing seven sins. It was a tool to proselytize people, to symbolize breaking apart sin by breaking apart the piñata.
I think most people recognize that a piñata is art. We opened Mundo Piñata for a Latino audience, but we found out that Anglo people love their piñatas, too. Eighty percent of our customers are Americans. They tend to really appreciate the amount of time and detail we put into each one. They will tip 10 or 15 extra dollars. They love characters from Frozen, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse. Donald Trump is the hit of the moment — a lot of Americans want that one.
A family comes in, they pick out what character they want, what color scheme they want, and my wife comes in and adds all the decoration. I like to personalize the piñatas, to put the little girl’s name on it or maybe a certain kind of shirt or flower. It’s the magic of what makes my piñatas special.
People say to me, “You have all these talents: You’re an artist and an agriculturist. But you are making piñatas.” For me, it is pure happiness. Because it’s not what you are making, it’s the feeling you get across making it. There’s an old saying: “No one is a prophet until they are recognized as one in a foreign land.” In my hometown, I was always a mechanic’s son. Here, I am recognized as an artist. I weep with happiness when I think of the opportunity I have here. — As told to Robrt Pela, translation by Patricia Escarcega