Copyright 2019 Kaushalya Bannerji
This is a work inspired by both living in Mexico for a while, and, seeing its plight in the face of multiple challenges, both internal and external. A complex and fascinatingly diverse land, Mexico cannot be reduced to a single image or emotion. Loteria draws on the rich symbolism of images that portend an uneasy syncretism…one in which domination and subjugation are intertwined in both the sacred and the mundane .
Loteria is a game played in Mexico and similar to the U.S. game of Bingo. The images have been around for 0ver 500 years, apparently originating in Italy and being brought to Mexico in the late 18th century. Popularized by the beginning of 2oth century, even the Catholic Church in Mexico issued its own set of Loteria cards.
As a person of colour, a lesbian , a visitor to Mexico, and a “Latin Americanist” by academic training, my take on Loteria aims to subvert some of the traditional imagery and symbolism of the classic Loteria drawings. For example my use of the rainbow flag for the traditional image of the Mexican flag/La Bandera. This speaks to the hope held by LGBT activists in Mexico, that Mexico may combat its own homophobia, to which hundreds have fallen victim in the few decades. While wealthy gay tourists may enjoy resort communities like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico has a long way to go in challenging and overturning LGBT-phobia for ordinary Mexicans, both judicially and in the popular imagination.
Equally, a card like the Lady/La Dama generally represents a fair skinned woman, where as I have chosen to use the image of a brown skinned native woman. In Mexico, indigenous women are generally seen as inhabitants of a world of historical subjugation and contemporary marginalization since they are so often treated like 3rd class citizens in their country. The high rates of femicide in Mexico affect indigenous and poor women disproportionately. Thus I take a partisan stance!
For the World/El Mundo, the image of Atlas, is replaced by that of a woman of colour whose overlooked labour fuels a variety of socio-economic systems, such as slavery, debt peonage, share-cropping, informal markets and household services and maquiladora manufacturing around the world. For the image of the brave one or El Valiente, I show an elderly disabled Indigenous man, celebrating the courage it takes to live on a pittance with mobility and other problems.
With the cards of el Apache and El Negrito/the Little Black Man, I was confronted by the highly stereotyped imagery of previous cards. I wanted to show the agency of these historically disenfranchised peoples, through both the use of colour and the image of a “slave”, breaking his chains. Many do not know that the Southern coast of Mexico was historically home to a slave-based plantation economy, relying on African labour, as in the Caribbean. There are nearly 1.5 million Afro-descended Mexicans! In recent years, Afro-Mexicans are organizing and taking their rightful place in Mexican society politically, economically, and culturally.
Like the Tarot, numerous stylized images of Loteria are testament to the way in which it captured the popular imagination over centuries. The original game had the caller sing out the cards through the form of riddles. While these riddles may no longer be integral to the game, Loteria is still a potent symbol of Mexican popular culture. I hope I have contributed to an interpretation of Mexico that celebrates its beauty, colors, and hope for a more representative and just future!
Below, I have included the Wikipedia information on the Loteria riddles. Enjoy!
The following is a list of all the original 54 Lotería cards, traditionally and broadly recognized in all of Mexico. Below you will find each card name and number with the riddles (in Spanish) sometimes used to tell the players which card was drawn. However, there are several less traditional sets of cards, depicting different objects or animals.
1 El gallo (“the rooster”)
El que le cantó a San Pedro no le volverá a cantar.
The one that sang for St. Peter will never sing for him again.
2 El diablito (“the little Devil”)
Pórtate bien cuatito, si no te lleva el coloradito.
Behave yourself buddy, or the little red one will take you away.
3 La dama (“the lady”)
Puliendo el paso, por toda la calle real.
Polishing as she steps, all along the royal street
4 El catrín (“the dandy”)
Don Ferruco en la alameda, su bastón quería tirar.
Sir Ferruco in the lane, wanted to toss away his cane.
5 El paraguas (“the umbrella”)
Para el sol y para el agua.
For the sun and for the rain.
6 La sirena (“the mermaid”)
Con los cantos de sirena, no te vayas a marear.
Don’t be swayed by the songs of the siren. (In Spanish, sirens and mermaids and their song is synonymous.)
7 La escalera (“the ladder”)
Súbeme paso a pasito, no quieras pegar brinquitos.
Ascend me step by step, don’t try and skip.
8 La botella (“the bottle”)
La herramienta del borracho.
The tool of the drunk.
9 El barril (“the barrel”)
Tanto bebió el albañil, que quedó como barril.
So much did the bricklayer drink, he ended up like a barrel.
10 El árbol (“the tree”)
El que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija.
He who nears a good tree, is blanketed by good shade.
11 El melón (“the melon”)
Me lo das o me lo quitas.
Give it to me or take it from me.
12 El valiente (“the brave man”)
Por qué le corres cobarde, trayendo tan buen puñal.
Why do you run, coward? Having such a good blade too.
13 El gorrito (“the little bonnet”)
Ponle su gorrito al nene, no se nos vaya a resfriar.
Put the bonnet on the baby, lest he catch a cold.
14 La muerte (“Death”)
La muerte tilica y flaca.
Death, thin and lanky.
15 La pera (“the pear”)
El que espera, desespera.
He who waits despairs. (A pun: espera “to wait” and es pera ” to be a pear” are homophones in Mexican Spanish.)
16 La bandera (“the flag”)
Verde blanco y colorado, la bandera del soldado.
Green, white, and red, the flag of the soldier.
17 El bandolón (“the mandolin”)
Tocando su bandolón, está el mariachi Simón.
There playing his lute, is Simon the mariachi.
18 El violoncello (“the cello”)
Creciendo se fue hasta el cielo, y como no fue violín, tuvo que ser violoncello.
Growing it reached the heavens, and since it wasn’t a violin, it had to be a cello.
19 La garza (“the heron”)
Al otro lado del río tengo mi banco de arena, donde se sienta mi chata pico de garza morena.
At the other side of the river I have my sand bank, where sits my darling short one, with the beak of a dark heron.
20 El pájaro (“the bird”)
Tu me traes a puros brincos, como pájaro en la rama.
You have me hopping here and there, like a bird on a branch.
21 La mano (“the hand”)
La mano de un criminal.
The hand of a criminal.
22 La bota (“the boot”)
Una bota igual que la otra.
A boot the same as the other.
23 La luna (“the moon”)
El farol de los enamorados.
The street lamp of lovers.
24 El cotorro (“the parrot”)
Cotorro cotorro saca la pata, y empiézame a platicar.
Parrot, parrot, stick out your claw and begin to chat with me.
25 El borracho (“the drunkard”)
A qué borracho tan necio ya no lo puedo aguantar.
Oh what an annoying drunk, I can’t stand him any more.
26 El negrito (“the little black man”)
El que se comió el azúcar.
The one who ate the sugar.
27 El corazón (“the heart”)
No me extrañes corazón, que regreso en el camión.
Do not miss me, sweetheart, I’ll be back by bus.
28 La sandía (“the watermelon”)
La barriga que Juan tenía, era empacho de sandía.
The swollen belly that Juan had, was from eating too much watermelon.
29 El tambor (“the drum”)
No te arrugues, cuero viejo, que te quiero pa’ tambor.
Don’t you wrinkle, dear old leather, since I want you for a drum.
30 El camarón (“the shrimp”)
Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.
The shrimp that slumbers is taken by the tides.
31 Las jaras (“the arrows”)
Las jaras del indio Adán, donde pegan, dan.
The arrows of Adam the Indian, strike where they hit.
32 El músico (“the musician”)
El músico trompas de hule, ya no me quiere tocar.
The rubber-lipped musician does not want to play for me anymore.
33 La araña (“the spider”)
Atarántamela a palos, no me la dejes llegar.
Beat it silly with a stick, do not let it near me.
34 El soldado (“the soldier”)
Uno, dos y tres, el soldado p’al cuartel.
One, two and three, the soldier heads to the fort.
35 La estrella (“the star”)
La guía de los marineros.
36 El cazo (“the saucepan”)
El caso que te hago es poco.
The attention I pay you is little. (A pun: caso “attention” and cazo “saucepan” are homophones in Mexican Spanish)
37 El mundo (“the world”)
Este mundo es una bola, y nosotros un bolón.
This world is a ball, and we a great mob. (A pun: bola can mean both “ball, sphere” and “crowd, mob”, bolón is a superlative with the latter meaning)
38 El Apache (“the Apache”)
¡Ah, Chihuahua! Cuánto apache con pantalón y huarache.
Ah, Chihuahua! So many Apaches with pants and sandals.
39 El nopal (“the prickly pear cactus”)
Al nopal lo van a ver, nomás cuando tiene tunas.
People go to see the prickly pear, only when it bears fruit .
40 El alacrán (“the scorpion”)
El que con la cola pica, le dan una paliza.
He who stings with his tail, will get a beating.
41 La rosa (“the rose”)
Rosita, Rosaura, ven que te quiero ahora.
Rosita, Rosaura, come, as I want you here now.
42 La calavera (“the skull”)
Al pasar por el panteón, me encontré un calaverón.
As I passed by the cemetery, I found myself a skull.
43 La campana (“the bell”)
Tú con la campana y yo con tu hermana.
You with the bell and I with your sister.
44 El cantarito (“the little water pitcher”)
Tanto va el cántaro al agua, que se quiebra y te moja las enaguas.
So often does the jug go to the water, that it breaks and wets your slip.
45 El venado (“the deer”)
Saltando va buscando, pero no ve nada.
Jumping it goes searching, but it doesn’t see anything. (A pun: venado “deer” sounds like ve nada “see nothing”
46 El Sol (“the sun”)
La cobija de los pobres.
The blanket of the poor
47 La corona (“the crown”)
El sombrero de los reyes.
The hat of kings.
48 La chalupa (“the canoe”)
Rema que rema Lupita, sentada en su chalupita.
Lupita rows as she may, sitting in her little boat.
49 El pino (“the pine tree”)
Fresco y oloroso, en todo tiempo hermoso.
Fresh and fragrant, beautiful in any season.
50 El pescado (“the fish”)
El que por la boca muere, aunque mudo fuere.
The one who dies by its mouth, even if he were mute. (In reference to a fish being hooked by its mouth, even though it doesn’t utter a sound.)
51 La palma (“the palm tree”)
Palmero, sube a la palma y bájame un coco real.
Palmer, climb the palm tree and bring me a coconut fit for kings. (Lit: “A royal coconut.”)
52 La maceta (“the flowerpot”)
El que nace pa’maceta, no sale del corredor.
He who is born to be a flowerpot, does not go beyond the hallway.
53 El arpa (“the harp”)
Arpa vieja de mi suegra, ya no sirves pa’tocar.
Old harp of my mother-in-law, you are no longer fit to play.
54 La rana (“the frog”)
Al ver a la verde rana, qué brinco pegó tu hermana.
What a jump your sister gave, as she saw the green frog.