“DOLLAR PALACE AND FIESTA SURPRISES: PORTRAIT OF A SMALL BUSINESS IN GARLAND” (Summer 2013) by Candace Elizabeth Brooks (a.k.a. Ariadne Phoenix Levinson)


By: Candace Elizabeth Brooks (a.k.a. Ariadne Phoenix Levinson)
(UNPUBLISHED: Written June 2013)

Garland, TX

In December of 2012, Rosalinda Coss de Guerra, 42, and husband Ricardo, 44, of Cadereyta, Nuevo-Leon Monterrey, Mexico, Latin America, together opened the neighborhood store, called “Dollar Palace and Fiesta Surprises,” a party store for children’s birthdays. The major attraction to the store: Mexican piñatas. When one walks into the store, the first impression is overwhelming. Dozens of Mexican piñatas hang, affixed to the ceiling, colorful, made from paper, and glue. Some dozens of piñatas are on the ground. The defining characteristic of the piñatas is that they have large eyes. At the age of sixteen Ricardo moved from Mexico to West Texas, USA, with the intention of gaining a better quality of life. In the beginning he worked as a field laborer for a fruit farm. By the age of eighteen, Ricardo lived in Rockwood Texas, now working for a construction company. During this time, he began his courtship of Rosalinda frequently driving all night from Rockwood to Cadereyta to “go see the girlfriend every two weeks.” They listened to Ramon Ayala, the accordion legend of Mexico. In 1991 they married. In 1995 they moved from Rockwood to Garland. From her marriage to Ricardo until 2001, when she elected to work at Garland ISD as a desert chef and cashier for the school cafeteria at Sam Houston Middle School, Rosalinda stayed at home to raise their three children: Rosalinda, the eldest, 21, Ricardo, 18, and Maria-Elena, 14. In 2010 she began to work at the front desk of a Dentist’s office for two and a half years, until sometime between August and October 2012 when she got the idea of opening the Fiesta Store, which officially opened on December 22, 2012.

The timing being right and the financial climate of her family favorable to this venture, Mrs. Coss de Guerra states that in 2012 she decided that she wanted to open her “own business,” despite not knowing immediately what kind of business to open. The family, she says, came together, to think about what kind of business to open, and decided to just “do it.”

“We just tried to do something that worked,” Coss de Guerra states.

The Fiesta store in their lives provides a purpose that unites the actions of the couple in a way that consumes most of their spare time, so that, as Mr. Guerra says, they have “no plans for vacation this year,” despite that last year the family took a trip to Orlando. Not only does Mr. Guerra put in regular twelve-hour shifts for the construction company that employs him in the building of bridges and roads, but also he claims to work an additional 40 hours or more a week for the fiesta store. Mrs. Coss de Guerra works at the store every day, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. At the back of the store there is a section dedicated to sales of items priced at $1, though most patrons are focused more on the party section.

The average cost of a piñata at the store ranges between $14 and $30, while the most expensive piñata in the history of the store, a five-foot tall cowboy boot, cost $40. The store also helps families prepare for the Catholic tradition of the celebration of a child’s first communion, selling white dresses (for girls) and candy to commemorate their drinking of the transubstantiated blood and body of Jesus Christ, the Catholic son of God, on the day of their first church mass. The store also sells trinkets to mark the event of a child’s birthday, such as personalized chocolate bars with the name of the celebrant printed on the wrappers, and the date of their party.

Modern historians trace the geographical origins of the piñata as known today back as far as the travels of the famed Venetian traveler-merchant, Marco Polo (1254-1324), who discovered the custom of filling colorful paper fashioned in the shapes of cows and oxen with seeds, to celebrate the Chinese New Year. After breaking the animal shapes with colorful sticks, participants burned the piñata, keeping the ashes for good luck. From China, the trend followed Marco Polo to Europe, where it became reinterpreted in the celebration of the Catholic tradition of Lent, which utilized the breaking of earthenware pots rather than smash paper shapes. The Spanish word, “piñata,” comes from the Italian word, pignatta, which refers to the origin of the usage of the pot. After the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Catholic tradition of the piñata underwent another evolution, assimilating an already extant Aztec practice of breaking a pot decorated with feathers and filled with offerings to the idol of the solar god of war and sacrifice, Huitzilopochtli, in celebration of his birthday. The use of feathers presumably refers to the impregnation of the war god’s mother, Coatlicue, who appears in legends as having been impregnated by a ball of feathers from heaven. By coincidence, the birthday of Huitzilopochtli coincides with the same month and season as that of the Catholic tradition which appropriated it during the creation of Mexico for evangelical purposes, that of the Spanish Posada, a nine day religious festival representing the nine months of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy, beginning on December 16, and lasting until December 24. Modern historians trace the use of blindfolds to Mayan piñata traditions appearing elsewhere in Hispanic America.

Worshipers of the war god, originally a revolutionary figure of Aztec origins coming from the Mexica tribe who led his people to new territories and greatly influenced the development of their national identities, eventually dedicated to him (and to Tlaloc, the God of rain and agriculture) the major temple built in the area now known as Mexico City, on which construction lasted between the years 1375 and 1487. Approximately 20,000 prisoners of war lost their lives in human sacrifice on the inauguration of the last of the seven temples comprising Tenochtitlan, once the Aztec Capital City. There remains historical uncertainty as to the frequency of human sacrifices that the Aztec worshipers of Huitzilopochtli offered him with the hopes of preventing the end of the world. Modern historians cannot say with assurance whether the human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli occurred daily, or only on festive days, but a common myth of his religion suggests that human sacrifices revealed a paranoia among worshipers that the God required human blood in order to sustain the life of the world at large for another 52 years.

Historical responsibility for the destruction of the temple of Huitzilopochtli falls on the shoulders of Spanish Conqueror, Hernán Cortés (1485-1547), who in 1521ordered the eradication of the Mayor Temple. Immediately following this, the Spanish proceeded to build a new city upon the ruins of Huitzilopochtli’s Temple.

By 1586, local records report that Augustinian monks appropriated the tradition of the piñata for the use of evangelical purposes in Mexico, incorporating the use of blindfolding from the Mayans, to symbolize the importance of faith amidst the confusion caused by being spun in circles meant to indicate the temptations of sin. In these traditions the monks used seven pointed piñata stars for the reason of acknowledging the seven cardinal sins. When the piñata broke, the treats that spilled out of them symbolized the reward of remaining faithful to God.

Nowadays Mexican piñatas lack the religious significance they once had. Not only do they acknowledge a national art form, but also rather than maintain the form of clay pots, they now appear mostly as papier-mâché sculptures. Mainstream scholarship on the subject appears to overlook the possible connection between the return to the use of paper in the creation of piñatas and the influence of Chinese culture upon Mexico brought about by the opening of trade relations between China and Spain in the early years of Spain’s conquest of the territory.

The current state of the evolution of the Mexican piñata betrays a marked appreciation for American Cartoon Characters and Comic book heroes. In the Guerras’ store, American characters proliferate beyond simple nameless figures (such as burros, clowns, or stars). The couple claims to sell more Mickey Mouse piñatas than any other figure, although Minnie Mouse does not go unnoticed by the piñata store’s patrons.

The Guerras claim prior unfamiliarity with the law in regards to selling piñatas based on copyrighted characters without first obtaining a license from the manufacturer for such sales. Their dealer, they claim, comes from Laredo Texas, and they are uncertain as to the origin of each individual piñata sold at their store. The piñata industry pervades to such a degree in Mexico, that entire towns are dedicated to their craftsmanship and construction. Despite the publicized reported raids on piñata stores in Mexico, and border patrol seizures at the US-Mexico Border, the Guerras claim no contact from Disney officials, DC Comics, Sanrio, or Marvel. Should this ever happen, they claim to be prepared to modify the repertoire of piñata characters sold at their store, and to sell only piñatas compliant with the US copyright law.