Las Piñatas Art Project

Originally published on Remezcla.

For Tejanos, it’s pretty common knowledge that for a party to be a success, a piñata has to be involved. Ain’t no party like a piñata party. Drawing on its cultural symbolism in Tejano culture, a local architect out of Austin has created a public art project called Las Piñatas. With the help of the City of Austin Art in Public Places Program, citizen architect David Goujon has erected three burro piñata sculptures at Edward Rendon Sr. Park on the East side of Austin, and will have a mass piñata-breaking picnic as a means to celebrate the Latino ancestry of Austin’s East side – an area that is rapidly gentrifying.

The installation went up October 17th to much of the community’s delight, with kids climbing all over the burros, families having picnics around them, and visitors snapping photos of the colorful art pieces. However, not everyone was as pleased with the piñata presence, and nine days after the sculptures were installed, they were vandalized.

Beer cans and muddy fishtailed tire tracks littered the scene where the three sculptures had been shoved over. “They weren’t destroyed but they were uprooted from their concrete foundation, which was no easy task. The people who did this stayed at it for a while, which is what really hurts,” Goujon, the artist who made the structures, said. The large sculptures were designed with a waffle construction that required 25 sheets of plywood each, and were sturdy. Park services told Goujon that this was the most vandalism they had seen on a sculpture since the initiation of the art in public places program. Someone really didn’t like the piñatas. Or maybe it was what they represented.

The project is inspired by Jumpolin, a family-owned piñata store that was illegally demolished overnight.

What’s ironic is that the project was inspired by the story of Jumpolin – the family-owned piñata store in East Austin that was  illegally and unethically demolished overnight by newcomer developers in January of this year. The former Jumpolin site was left in shambles, a pile of rubble sprinkled with crushed piñata parts. Many handmade and imported piñatas perished in the destruction, as well as cash registers and other property, because the owners Sergio and Monica Lejarazu were not expecting the demolition; they had secured a lease until 2017. The tragic story spread like wildfire as evidence of the evils of gentrification and greedy insensitive developers. And in an interview about the razing of Jumpolin, one of the landlords Jordan French even compared the owners to cockroaches.

Austin’s East side is one of the more rapidly gentrifying parts of a city where rents are skyrocketing, new condos are sprouting at high rates, and people who have lived there for decades are being pushed out. Goujon says there’s a reason people are attracted to Austin and it’s because of this diversity and culture. Not to mention the foods. People want the juicy tacos, bubbling queso, and icy margaritas, but not the Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and their long-standing businesses? “We have to be able to show resiliency,” Goujon says. “These acts of destruction will not tear down the community. The Hispanic culture here is going to persevere.”

These acts of destruction will not tear us down. The Hispanic culture here is going to persevere.

He says the community’s response to the sculpture’s vandalism has been humbling. In fact, the whole chain of events has become a motivator to make his project even stronger in order to emphasize and honor Austin’s Latino heritage. Goujon wants to focus on getting as much of the community to come out for the Piñata Picnic event on November 14th. The event welcomes all neighbors – new and old residents – in an effort to unite people of the neighborhood. There will be a free piñata for everyone who comes and even a moonwalk provided by the former owners of Jumpolin. In order to make this event happen, Goujon is asking the community to pitch in by contributing to acrowdfunding campaign. Proceeds will go to reinvigorating local piñata businesses and to a scholarship fund distributed by Latinos in Architecture– a committee of the American Institute of Architects.

The symbols of our culture can be so pertinent to our trials. The piñata is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship that must be destroyed for its purpose to be fully realized. Goujon recalls sitting next to the damaged burros, heavy creatures knocked down on their sides, and calling Sergio Lejarazu who said, “They tore down my store, and they tore down your piñatas, but we have to show them we’re better than that.”

“It’s incredible because I’m here trying to support them, and here they are supporting me.”