A report by José A. del Real for The New York Times.
There is a particular magic to Lotería, the card game, sometimes described as Mexican bingo and played by generations of Hispanic children, that lasts well into adulthood. It can transport you to an abuela’s house in Mexico, to a cousin’s birthday party in Texas, to a babysitter’s backyard in California.
But it can also make you wince.
Last year, as Mike Alfaro shuffled through an old deck of the game — notable for its folk-art drawings — he blanched at one image of “La Dama,” the lady. The card showed an affluent woman in an old-fashioned full-length skirt-suit, weighed down by flowers and a clutch. It struck him as symbolic of antiquated views about gender and identity within the Latino community. How would this young Hispanic woman identify in 2018, in the United States? He looked at other cards, some with undercurrents of racism and classism. What about those?
So began the process of reimagining Lotería for a new generation in America, with new cards and a message to better fit the times. Drawing on nostalgia and humor, Mr. Alfaro’s parody project, rendered in Spanglish, has caught fire on social media. It has amassed tens of thousands of fans, enough to draw the interest of a publisher that is distributing a full version of the game.
“La Calavera,” the skull, is now “El Gluten.”
“El Paraguas,” the umbrella, is “El Safe Space.”
“La Campana,” the bell, is “El Notification.”
We spoke with Mr. Alfaro, 30, who is a creative director at an advertising agency by day, about how the version of the game came about and what he hopes to achieve. The Q. and A. has been condensed and lightly edited.
Q. How did you get the idea for something like this? Did it start as a grand concept, or did you go one card at a time?
A. This was definitely a reaction to the shift in culture we’ve seen in recent years. I was looking through the cards and I saw “La Dama” and it just seemed so outdated, especially when looking at #MeToo and this broader conversation going on. I thought, ‘That card would be so much cooler if this was ‘La Feminist.’ And I started looking at the other cards in there and realized, ‘Oh, this could be updated too!’
Q. These cards have a very specific sensibility. They are funny and a little tongue in cheek, and some of them are also political. What’s the broader message here?
A. I think we need to find a way to represent Latinos in a more modern way, and I wanted to look at Hispanic life through a millennial lens. There’s some tension in the idea: We’re fighting Hispanic stereotypes and we’re winking at millennial stereotypes at the same time. I wanted to make something that does these things with this little wink, a little joy, with some nostalgia to it. And it has really resonated with people.
I think that the original Lotería is a little bit problematic if you look at it now. You see the gender stereotypes, the way some women characters are represented versus the men. You also see colorism reflected, which is true in Latin American countries for sure. When you’re young, you don’t realize that.
So I wanted to make a parody, a satire of the old Lotería, acknowledging the problems and flipping them around.
Q. And who would you say this version is for? How does this fit into the broader universe of Lotería, which has such a rich history spanning centuries?
A. Anyone can create their own version. And in this one, I wanted to bring a millennial version with a message that was expansive and talked about Latino culture on a grander scale. That was one of the reasons I did this in Spanglish; I go in and out of English and Spanish all the time and I don’t even think about it.
But I also want Latinos to be playing with Gringos. I don’t want to keep this siloed. It’s such a fun tradition that we have. Even if you’re not Latino, this is a game that you can play.
And there’s also a lot of conflict between generations. Our parents’ Latino generation is so different than Latino millennials when it comes to things like LGBT rights and gender norms. I think these cards provide an opportunity to talk about these new ideas.
Q. You said these ideas have been informed by your advertising work. There’s a kitsch quality to a lot of Latino outreach and some pretty silly pandering — you know, a sombrero, a piñata. Can you talk about that?
A. This game is a reaction to feeling many times like I need to do that pandering. It’s called ‘throwing some guacamole on it.’ That’s something my art director coined and I’ve been saying it ever since. When clients are asking you to do something for Latinos, they want to really feel like it’s “Latino.”
There is so much intersectionality in Hispanic millennial life. Here in the United States, Latinos are siloed into this idea of Latinidad, but we’re so diverse. And I think people can look at these cards and find themselves reflected there.
Q. How did you get involved in advertising work, and when did you move to Los Angeles?
A. I grew up Guatemala City. My parents don’t speak any English. They’re middle class in Guatemala, which is not like it is in the United States, and they worked really hard to start their own interior decoration shop. So I’ve always been around creativity. For some reason, I was a little kid who wanted to grow up to be an advertiser. When I was in high school I did a couple internships in advertising shops in Guatemala and realized that the type of advertising I wanted to do could only be done in the United States. That’s where decisions were being made.
I love movies and entertainment and so L.A. seemed like a really cool place to go. I used to watch “Friends”, and they would play in English in Guatemala, with subtitles at the bottom. I learned English basically by watching TV and trying to sound like the TV. And I convinced my parents to let me go study in the United States; I went to Chapman University in Orange County. And I’ve been here ever since. I came to the U.S. on a student visa, then I got an H1-B work visa after graduation.
Q. Given this political moment, did you consider including a card about the president and his administration?
A. I want this to live beyond this Trump era. I just feel like I don’t want him in my game. He’s already in so many people’s lives. It’s like, ’Sorry, no, you can’t be in this game.’