As holiday traditions return this time of year, April Saldana, a sophomore at Fresno State, researched how a popular Latin game, “Loteria,” has stereotypical imagery that date back centuries.
It was Saldana’s final paper for the Chicano and Latin American Studies critical thinking class with Dr. Luis Fernando Macias. According to Dr. Macias, one of the options was for students to think about a common tradition in the larger LatinX community in the U.S. and argue whether or not the community should end it, modify it, or keep it as is.
Saldana chose to research the origins of the traditional game of chance similar to bingo, which uses images on a deck of cards instead of plain numbers, after Dr. Macias mentioned he wanted to see a Loteria paper and why there is such a card as “El Negrito.”
Lotería is the Spanish word for lottery and the deck is composed of a set of 54 different images, each one on a card. It originated in Italy in the 15th century and was brought to New Spain (Mexico) in 1769.
But it was the images that caught Saldana’s attention, she looked closely and noticed stereotypical imagery. She noticed light skin latinos on certain cards were depicted as wealthy or high class such as “La Dama” while the darker skinned Latinos were depicted as the negative stereotypes of LatinX culture.
“Certain images project stereotypes of different groups within the LatinX community by giving them certain skin tones to either keep some groups to a higher standard or alienate others,” said Saldana.
Saldana found how some of the characters in the Loteria came to be featured and argues that they are dated and problematic because they reproduce negative stereotypes.
“Since the game is played everywhere and is for people of all ages, those representations can really inform a person’s worldview of a particular group or person,” said Dr. Macias.
Saldana believes the images should be modified to more positively and equitably portray groups that are fundamental to the cultural fabric of the community but that have been historically marginalized such as LGBTQ+, Afro-Latinos, Indigenous populations, and Women.
She believes it’s important to express her passion for speaking up for injustices within the Latinx community by addressing the stereotypes and projection of others within the community through the traditional game, usually played around the holidays.
“The fact that I get to use my voice in a paper to conceptualize how I feel about all the stereotypes and projections is great,” said Saldana. “I found this as my opportunity to voice how the Latinx Community continues to project colorism or racism.”
Saldana proposes the LatinX community re-evaluate how the media in the culture continues to project stereotypes and to raise awareness of LatinX representations.
“If you like playing Loteria, maybe find a version from other artists that create their own interpretation of the classic game,” Saldana said, “ We can change our habits and what we consume, we can choose to support another artists’ interpretation of this piece by purchasing and supporting their views.”
In early December, a new version of the classic Mexican game was presented as Millennial Lotería by its creator, Mike Alfaro- a writer and creative director. Millenial Loteria is a parody that reimagines the game with more updated references, including “La Dama” as “La Feminist,” “El Catrín” as “El Hipster” and “Las Jaras” as “La Hashtag.”
The new version incorporates Latin American struggles and how millennials see their struggles within their intersectional identities. It is currently listed as the number one best-seller card game on Amazon, but Saldana believes this version also intersects with the American culture by having playing cards such as “La Student Debt.”
“The creators are trying to reconnect with a tradition that is rightfully theirs and doing it with humor. What April is proposing is in the same conversation with Millennial Loteria but a bit more purposeful in its imagery,” said Dr. Macias.
Dr. Macias believes the idea is great and he encourages people to reclaim and reconnect with their traditions.
“I would love to work with other students and faculty and propose we create a Central Valley focused Loteria game highlighting our rich culture and community. Perhaps have characters like “Mis Heroés” with proud depictions of hardworking parents or “La Intelectual” showcasing our unparalleled female faculty.”
It’s those kind of images, Macias says, portray the true strength of communities in the Central Valley, and what better time to highlight those strengths than around the holidays with family and friends, while having fun.