How do you make a better piata?
How do you make a better piata? A piata designed to resemble Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is displayed with other piatas representing popular children's characters (AP photos)
How do you make a better piata?
Lexile: 1320L

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A Mexican party isn't complete without a piata, and Melesio Vicente Flores and Cecilia Albarran Gonzalez have spent the last 25 years making high-end versions of the papier-mch figures, which will later be stuffed with candies and broken open with a stick or club.

As they practice the centuries-old tradition of piata-making, the couple caters to a smaller market of consumers demanding higher quality "artistic" figures that pay greater attention to detail. Still, competition is tight as more run-of-the mill piata makers sell their creations more cheaply. Three other rooftops full of the drying figures are visible on the hillside below the couple's workshop and home.

At their four-story house, built into a hillside on the east side of Mexico's sprawling capital, the Vicente-Albarran family fashions cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse for children's birthdays, or caricatures of despised politicians for protests.

Now in their 50s, the couple began making piatas in 1989 and later expanded the family business to include their daughter, Elvia Vicente Albarran, and son-in-law, Guillermo Luna Martinez.

On the rooftop of their shared home, Luna covers with newspaper cement molds in the shapes of body parts and lays them out to dry. One story below, mother and daughter cut newspapers into strips, coat them in glue made from wheat flour and layer over gaps left after the shapes are cut from the molds. Vicente assembles the pieces into completed characters.

After drying in the sun, the piatas are brought inside to be painted. Colorful paper and tape create eyes, hair styles and costume details.

It takes about two days to complete a piata during the dry season, twice as long during the rains. With all four people working, the family can make 40 to 60 piatas a week.

"It's hard work and there are lots of things to do, so there is no chance of getting bored. Time flies," Albarran says.

Perennial favorites among the different figures include Spiderman and Buzz Lightyear. Characters from the Disney hit "Frozen" currently appear to be top sellers in local markets, and Albarran says "princesses never go out of fashion."

Piata vendors keep the craftsmen apprised of the market. Gerardo Moreno Alejo, who sells piatas at La Merced, one of Mexico City's biggest markets, says university students requested piatas of President Enrique Pena Nieto late last year amid anger over the disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers college.

Albarran says more recent entrants to the trade have cut prices and lowered quality, causing many people to leave the business. Her family's more elaborate piatas sell wholesale for around 180 pesos, or $12. Other vendors using cheaper materials sell theirs for several dollars less, a price difference many shoppers can't resist.

"Before if we sold 100, now we sell 50 in a week," says Vicente. "We earn just enough to get by."

Still, they hope to keep making piatas as long as possible.

"We are not here to make ourselves rich," says Albarran. "We like our job."

Critical thinking challenge: What two things have competitors done to lower prices?

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Assigned 32 times

  • Danield1
    2/12/2015 - 08:29 a.m.

    i never knew pinatas were made in like two days. i also didnt know they used cut newspapers, glue, and wheat flower. They coat them over and over. This family make about 40 to 60 a week.

  • GenesisG11
    2/12/2015 - 09:09 a.m.

    When I was little, I use to always go to birthday parties and would get so excited to see a pinata! I would always go first in line to hit it!

  • grace.40
    2/12/2015 - 09:24 a.m.

    Where did the pinata originate and why is it so popular at parties? They should sell the pinatas with candies already in them, i think people would buy more pinatas if they did.

  • doublemcweiner
    2/12/2015 - 09:48 a.m.

    I like pinatas a lot. I always try to have one on my birthday. Pinatas are filled with candy. I like candy a lot too. I cant wait to make my own pinata.

  • KimberlyT4
    2/12/2015 - 11:18 a.m.

    It seems like it is fun to make an Pinata, but takes too long. I would want to make an Pinata, a Hello Kitty one! Like really, what is a party with out a Pinata to hit and get candy from?

  • HicksQueen-DiB
    2/12/2015 - 11:39 a.m.

    Mexican people make pinatas because that's what they do. its part of their tradition and way of life. Also they teach us here in america how to do it here in america. you can even make a profit or way of life like a job or something. and its easy to do

  • nicholas.jones07
    2/12/2015 - 12:38 p.m.

    I think that king better pinatas is a great idea. I think that soon more people are going to buy more pinatas from them. I think that this is going to really go far.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    2/12/2015 - 12:59 p.m.

    Pinata expertise is a knowledge i am not well-versed in, so this article was quite informative. It seems a shame that so much work would be beatan down by a group of 3 year olds.

  • hunter.mellinger64
    2/12/2015 - 01:24 p.m.

    It is really awesome to see how people make piatas and is definitely considered art. The worlds largest piata was made in Philadelphia and is 94'long x 24 wide' x 60' tall! It was made for a carnival cruise commercial and has over 8,000 pieces of candy in it. Then they donated all the candy to charity.

  • apalacio-Che
    2/12/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    I like piatas I had them at parties when I was little there lot of fun for parties. In Mexico at the parties they have piatas. Its pretty cool how many different piatas they have and make now.

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