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: 930L

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A Mexican party isn't complete without a piata.

Melesio Vicente Flores and Cecilia Albarran Gonzalez have spent the last 25 years making high-end versions of the papier-mache figures. The figures 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. The buyers want higher quality "artistic" figures that pay greater attention to detail. Still, competition is tight. More run-of-the mill piata makers sell their creations more cheaply.

The family lives in a four-story house built on the east side of Mexico's sprawling capital. The Vicente-Albarran family fashions cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse for children's birthdays. Or they create caricatures of despised politicians for protests.

Now in their 50s, the couple began making piatas in 1989. The business was expanded 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. They coat them in glue made from wheat flour and layer them 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. It takes 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. 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. It caused 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 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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  • joshuat2015
    2/12/2015 - 12:19 p.m.

    i agree to because a mexican party all ways have to have a pinata because its a tradition .to be a better brand and not break easy and look good that is why competitors done to lower prices.

  • makaylar-Che
    2/12/2015 - 01:45 p.m.

    the regular piatas are the best because they are natural and they are still fun to hit at parties they should never change it if they are going out of style because Mexican people are still going to buy them for their kids parties they don't care that's my opinion.

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

    A piata is a tradition to all Mexicans party. Some of the piatas are easy to break and others not so much. I love breaking piatas especially if it has money.

  • Brenna-Arm
    2/12/2015 - 02:08 p.m.

    I feel bad for the owners of this humble little piata shop. Here they are, taking two-four days to make a piata, ad only getting 180 pesos, or $12 for it, while large franchises can export the work and ask for a lower price. It isn't fair! The people who take their time and doing it right are being slowly pushed out of business, causing them to scrape the bottom of the pan for a living.

  • Erica-Arm
    2/12/2015 - 02:11 p.m.

    Competitors have done a few things to lower prices. One includes making them from home. Another includes making them from cheap material. Making them from home means not having to pay for an office or workplace. Also, at 8:30 at night, they could put finishing touches on one if one layer is dry. That way, they don't have to wait until the next day. Making them from cheap materials benefits businesses. Instead of buying paper for it, they could just use old newspapers to put on it. Also, they can use cheap paint. Cheap paint works just as well. You wouldn't have to risk the paint chipping because the kids will just break it open anyways. I love piatas, and I think they should be at every party, no matter how much they cost.

  • torionastewart123
    2/12/2015 - 04:07 p.m.

    I agree that Mexican parties always have a pinata. I think they should make pinatas that stand out more. That are way more artistic and colorful. Because piata are a huge part of the party. Without them, it would be as traditional or even festive.

  • Colby N Turquoise
    2/12/2015 - 05:36 p.m.

    I would have to agree, I never had a Piata for a birthday party but I always loved to take a swing at one at a friends party. Just as they said "A party isn't complete without a piata." I always was fascinated by the creation process of a piata and now I know, and knowing is half the battle!

  • SabinaS-5
    2/12/2015 - 07:12 p.m.

    Pinatas are the best part of a Mexican party. When I was little I loved to play with a piata when I went to a party. piatas were very popular when I was little and are still popular but mainly for little kid parties. Piatas are paper making items that are colored and filled up with candy. I love piatas and still do.

  • JasonW-1
    2/12/2015 - 07:24 p.m.

    There are apparently such things as "high end" pinatas. There is a family that makes them. They do not make a large profit from it. However, they are being stubborn and continue to make them. Do people really need fancy pinatas? You're just going to smack them until they're a pile of trash anyway. The family apparently loves it. They should probably make something practical so they can get by easier.

  • sophies-4
    2/12/2015 - 08:19 p.m.

    This article is about how to make good piatas. Melesio Vicente Flores and Cecilia Albarran Gonzales have spent 25 years of making really good quality piatas. These paper-mache figures are usually stuffed with candy and broken with a stick or bat. The couple sell their high end piatas to a smaller kind of buyers. They want good quality piatas that are artistic and have detail. I think it would be really cool to get one of these for my birthday party. These are probably really hard to make.

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