Many Mexican families can recall playing at some point in their lives La Lotería. It wasn’t until recently that I began to see some alternative Lotería cards that changed the imagery. For example, Teresa Villegas’s La Lotería: An Exploration of México or the the Selena themed Lotería cards or Star Wars themed cards Star Wars + Mexican Lotería Cards = Space Lotería and even one of my favorites Crisol’s Lotería de La Mujer. I have even found running races that use La Lotería theme to encourage folks to do two things one dress up as a Lotería card and two to run – Lotería Run, bridging health and a culture in a fun manner. I have also found Lotería themed books like Playing Lotería/El juego de La Lotería by René Colato Laínez that introduces little children to the game while also teaching them about reading. Another Lotería inspired book is from Lil Libros Lotería that introduces babies to their first English/Spanish words.
This past May I met Nestor Torres at Sonoma State University’s Raza Grad under the assumption that he was the photographer that one of the participants had contacted to take pictures at Raza Grad. I soon learned that he was there to support someone else, but we were so lucky to have him. He took some of the best photographs that I had ever seen, including a group photo of all of the Raza Grad graduates in the magnificent Weill Hall at Sonoma State. I was floored because the photos were so amazing. I began to invite him to other events.
Throughout the development of our friendship, I began to learn of a big project that he was interested in making a reality, the Lotería Project. This project would be recreating Lotería cards through photos, bringing people from all walks of life from the community together highlighting its diversity. So far, the majority of the participants are Latinx and live in Sonoma County. What is inspiring about this project is that he is helping disrupt some of our notions of even the traditional cards for example La Dama is now Las Damas, two women who are partners in life, or La Muerte that is now a Catrina-like Llorona walking through the cemetery. Other cards/photos are that of El Enfermero, El Jardinero, El Carnicero, and La Poeta, and for some of the cards he even includes a biography or words from the person photographed like El Paletero, Jorge, who continues the family tradition with a local mexican style ice cream shop located in the heart of Santa Rosa.
I got to take part in this project because I had just finished my dissertation and wanted to show off the regalia (kidding), I was genuinely interested in disrupting the images of Latinas and education. I wanted to show what we could do as educated Latinx and that there are other types of doctors in the world. My mother tells me that I do not cure the sick/ill but that I cure the ignorant, and I believe it. In my particular photoshoot, I am in front of a mural that depicts the farmworkers struggle and the United Farm Workers’ eagle is visible, with the words, “It gives pride… when people see it, they know it means dignity.” I also hold an eagle feather, a gift that signifies blessings. I fully embraced my brown girl and showing that we can make it in academia because we have ancestral knowledge, that we can make space for that as well.
Nestor has printed the photographs as Lotería looking cards, with the same blue and white diamond like design in the back as the original cards and has even printed one big long Lotería card, which is now on exhibit at a local library. He has also posted some of the images at schools and led workshops on both the history of La Lotería and most importantly his vision of the project. At this point, Nestor is still working on completing the set of 54 cards and hopes that this will become a bigger project that will reach a wider audience. His work is important because it shows how the game’s iconic imagery can reflect where we are as a community.
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