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P.S.: Loteria (Paperback)

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In Lotería, the spellbinding literary debut by Mario Alberto Zambrano, a young girl tells the story of her family’s tragic demise using a deck of cards of the eponymous Latin American game of chance.

With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, she retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of lotería cards. Each of the cards’ colorful images–mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars–sparks a random memory.

Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

Beautiful full-color images of lotería cards are featured throughout this intricate and haunting novel.

• Author: Mario Alberto Zambrano • ISBN:9780062268556 • Format:Paperback • Publication Date:2014-07-01


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This is a powerful lit.

This is a powerful little book. I must admit that I think it was a bit over my head – it involves the slowly revealed tale of young Luz Castillo, currently in the custody of child protective services. Why? The reader doesn’t know yet – Luz refuses to talk. The bits and pieces of her life with her father, mother, sister and aunt are slowly told through her journal entries with the use of Loteria cards – a Mexican bingo type game. Each chapter (and I use that term very loosely as some are mere paragraphs long) is introduced with one of the cards and Luz writes a bit about her life. The story is told through the eyes and thoughts of this 11 year old girl and the reader soon learns the horror of her life in a very abusive household. Her parents came to the US from Mexico to find a better life but they did not find it. The story Luz writes is rife with alcohol, tradition and her Catholic upbringing. There is a fair bit of Spanish used within the story – some can be gleaned from context but without a knowledge of the language (mine is minimal – I took it in college) there is some googling to do to try and maintain the storyline. The reader does feel a touch lost at first – at least I did as you just don’t know what is going on. You are given bits of information that you need remember as each card is revealed. It all comes together in a very troubling story with an ending that I didn’t see coming. Despite my feeling that a lot of things were over my head it was a book that caused me much thought and one I’ll keep to perhaps read again. I suspect that I might sort more out upon a second reading when I’m knowledgeable of the outcome and I can then better understand the beginnings. It’s not a long read by any stretch of the imagination but it is most assuredly a thought provoking one.

With her older sister .

With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, she retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of lotería cards. Each of the cards’ colorful images-mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars-sparks a random memory. Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything. This book was stippled with Spanish aphorisms and phrases, and included an impressive amount of vocabulary in-context, to help teach Spanish to non-speakers. A full deck of Lotería cards is presented back-to-front, to mark the chapters, as if the reader is flipping a card when turning the page, reminiscent of Isabelle Allende and Salvador Plascencia’s magical realism. Image result for loteria el nopal “I didn’t feel like remembering today so I laid out the cards close to each other so that they were touching like tiles, like El Nopal.” (175). Luz associates her memories with the Lotería cards, using them to prompt her, to spark her memories. Than she writes about it in her journal. As we read her diary – addressed to “You”, always capitalized, in reference to the reader, or in reference to a higher power – we understand the trauma she is trying to run from. The Arañas, the spiders, represent the memories that haunt Luz. Ghosts. They “creep around in the dark when you’re not looking” (2). And she wants to “smash this spider” (6), she wants to forget. “But when I raise my hand and close my eyes I hear her scream.” (6). Image result for loteria cards la aranaImage result for loteria cards chalupa In La Chalupa, Luz recalls the riddle to La Rosa (“Ven que te quiero ahora.”) and philosophically reasons with her journal and the reader. She emphasizes the dual meaning in the use of the word quiero, which can mean either want or love, and how neither could truly be love: And because quiero can mean either want or love, I asked if it meant “I want you” or “I love you.” Come here, because I love you, or, come here, because I want you? If you were saying to someone, come to me, then the person you love’d wasn’t there, and if you had to tell someone to come to you then maybe he didn’t love you. And to want someone to come to you is like an order. If you have to order someone to come to you, how much love is that anyway? (13). The entire novel raises questions on important issues, like gender, sexuality, and the complications that arise for Mexican Americans who grow up caught between two cultures. Image result for loteria cards la mano They’d pinch me if I called something a boy instead of a girl, or the other way around. Why is it La mano instead of El mano? I can think of Papi’s hands and think they’re masculine, then think of Mom’s and think they’re feminine. If we were talking about the hands of a clock it could go either way. The hands of a clock could be bi. (85-86). Rather than integrating the traditional riddles into her memories, Luz writes her own riddles, and begins to associate her life to the 54 Lotería cards. By writing in her journal and using the cards to prompt her memories, the reader relives the ‘accident’ with Luz; as the deck of cards is flipped, the story unfolds, piece-by-piece. In this way, she allows herself to remember, allows herself to feel the pain she is blocking out. Image result for loteria cards barril “No te olvides de dónde vienes.” Like if I would forget.” (62). Memory is a large theme in the novel: remembering, forgetting, knowing and not knowing. There is a difference between not knowing and forgetting, and forgetting something on purpose. Luz is not too proud to admit when she did not know something. In fact, the novel is littered with her asserting what she did not know, at the time. (“I didn’t know,” (11)) She often writes her regrets: “Because if I didn’t have fingers or hands maybe none of this would’ve ever happened.” (51). It is obvious that she is remorseful, sorry for whatever it is that happened, but it remains unclear until the end of the novel what she has to be sorry for. Zambrano’s writing remains mysterious and full of twists, until the very last chapter. “She used to say , forgive and forget, but I don’t think she believed it, because how can you forget about the things you feel?” (157). By the end of the novel, the reader can work out themes of domestic violence and sexuality, but more than anything this novel is about working through pain, memory, and forgiveness. Not only must the characters forgive each other – they must forgive themselves. I could not put it down, and finished it in less than 24 hours.

The book is narrated b.

The book is narrated by a young girl and the style of writing seems appropriate to that point of view. It is told in a short story format, looking back on past events and slowly unfolding the story of the narrators situation in the present. The book follows themes of family and Mexican-American culture, while delving into some heavy topics. It is a very fast read with some Spanglish sprinkled throughout. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

With her older sister .

With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, the young girl retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of Lotería cards-a Mexican version of bingo featuring bright, colorful images. What follows are 53 chapters, each corresponding to a pictograph-beginning with “La Araña” (the spider) and ending with “La Rana” (the frog). The accompanying sketches assemble Luz’s fractious family life in equally jagged fragments, some tender as “La Dama” (the lady), others deadly as “El Alacán” (the scorpion). The two central figures in Luz’s recollections are her Papí, a tortured alcoholic who terrorizes his family, and her older sister Estrella, who pays a steep price for defying her father. Beautiful, haunting, titillating, tantalizing – all perfect descriptors for ‘Loteria.’ I honestly do not have one complaint about this book. It is well thought out and very interesting. A very well written novel with suspenseful dark and twisty turns. Brings a whole new light to an old favorite childhood game. Overall, Loteria is creative and provides a glimpse into a world not often explored. It’s a good read, a rather quick read, and that cover is just gorgeous. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.

Lotería are picture ca.

Lotería are picture cards that are laid out and often played as a sort of Bingo. In this book though the lotería cards are used by an eleven year old girl who’s been sent to some sort of institution and who refuses to speak. She has managed to sneak in a deck of lotería cards and writes surreptitiously in her journal about random memories of her sister Estrella, her parents and some of her relatives that live in Reynosa, just across the Mexican border. Her memories are triggered with each picture card. These memories don’t follow any sort sequence, some memories are short or have no seeming relevance to her current state, but her journal entries share her experiences with us and how she felt about her parents’ violent relationship, their challenge assimilating in the US, her sister’s injury, her sexual abuse and her relationship with her aunt. This YA book ended with an interesting and unexpected twist.

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How the Mexican Game Lotería Is Providing Comfort During a Pandemic

The traditional game of chance is uniquely suited for this uncertain time.

  • La Lotería, or Mexican bingo, is one of the games people are turning to while practicing social distancing.
  • Artists are reimagining traditional cards to better represent modern day.
  • Lotería can offer both a distraction and a sense of comfort.

In this time of quarantine and social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, puzzles and board games have become a way to pass the time with loved ones (virtually and not), while offering a creative outlet. There is, however, one game in particular that feels uniquely suited for this uncertain time: La Lotería.

A traditional game of chance, lotería—the Spanish word for lottery—is often referred to as Mexican bingo, where illustrated cards depicting the Mexican aesthetic replace bingo balls. Latinx and Hispanic communities have been playing this game for hundreds of years, but in the past decade, it has become increasingly visible in the United States, according to Google Trends.

At present, artists like Rafael Gonzales, Jr., and Millennial Lotería creator Mike Alfaro are reimagining lotería cards to capture our “new normal,” including versions that represent hand sanitizer, working from home, and other coping mechanisms. Elsewhere, Latinx creators, brands, and even former presidential candidate Julián Castro, have created their own cards or merchandise inspired by the game. And just this past December, Google invited Mexican and Mexican-American artists to reimagine and reinvent the cards for an interactive Google Doodle to celebrate the 106th anniversary of its copyright in Mexico.

Brooklyn-based author and illustrator Cecilia Ruiz, 37, was one of the guest artists invited to work on the Google Doodle—and to her, part of the game’s persistent appeal is purely nostalgic. The cards themselves are retro and charming, she tells, and the game reminds her of growing up in Mexico City. “It was one of the few games that we could all play,” she says. “My grandparents, my parents, my cousins. it’s amazing in that way.”

The pandemic has certainly triggered a similar sense of nostalgia, as more people physically isolate themselves in an effort to flatten the curve. It’s not surprising, then, that lotería is among the games people have turned to. In fact, nostalgia can be a powerful coping mechanism, studies posit.

And yet, nostalgia is just one reason why Ruiz thinks there’s been an increase in visibility. She notes that today, there is also a greater Latinx and Hispanic population in the U.S., many of whom grew up playing the game. (Census data estimates that the U.S. Hispanic population reached a record 59.9 million in 2018.) The game is still sold at mercados in the U.S. and Mexico, and there is also this little thing called the internet.

You could say a combination of all three is how Alfaro ended up making Millennial Lotería. In 2017, the 31-year-old creative director found his old lotería games while visiting his family in Guatemala. He told that he felt nostalgic, yes, but he also thought some of the traditional card concepts were outdated. This was around the time the #MeToo movement was starting to gain traction, and a card like “La Dama” (“The Lady” or “The Lady in Waiting”) felt “so reductive for the time that we were going through.” Since then he’s reimagined that card to be “La Feminist,” plus several others to illustrate concepts and issues that millennials can better relate to.

“Tinder dates? That’s a card,” Alfaro said. “Technology is a big one, like hashtags. I think a lot about issues that affect me as an immigrant, too; coming to America and how hard it was to navigate the system.”

One such card was “La Border Wall.” He didn’t want people to think that he was supporting it, so he drew a ladder to show that he was overcoming it. It’s important to him to be as authentic and honest as possible, he said, especially when targeting millennials, who he believes are good at detecting bull.

So far, it’s been a huge success: Millennial Lotería has sold over 60,000 copies and is currently a number one best-seller on Amazon. An Instagram filter that randomly selects cards in Alfaro’s game has received 1.3 million impressions so far. And in addition to the pandemic-related cards he’s been posting on Instagram (as well as hosting live lotería games), he has plans to release a new version, the Shiny AF edition. It will introduce some cards while phasing out others, and each one will look more holographic and glitter-y. “It’s like if Lotería and Lady Gaga had a baby,” he says.

You can see the enthusiasm for Alfaro’s game in his Instagram comments, especially among young people who are frequently tagging their friends, asking for prints and even more variations of the cards. But under a recent post for “El TikTok,” there was a comment that asked him why he was ruining the game. Alfaro said he’s gotten this kind of pushback from “boomers” before, but, as was the case with the border wall, he meets these situations with humor. “If it makes them upset, it’s going to make Latino millennials more excited. It’s not just my abuelo’s game. It’s mine.”

It’s not just that lotería has become more visible in the U.S., but it’s also become more accessible—across platforms and generations. It’s a game, but the fact that the cards are in Spanish also makes it a learning tool. The cards are typically presented with a short verse or riddle while playing, so it promotes philosophical thinking and perspective, too. As artists like Ruiz and Alfaro continue to reimagine the decks that they grew up with, it will make that intellectual social commentary more relevant and impactful. Lotería checks a lot of boxes, and, as Yvette Benavides wrote in her Creative Nonfiction: Issue #72 last year, it’s life-giving.

Here is a little more about the history of the game, and how you can play yourself.

Who invented lotería?

As Amherst college professor Ilan Stavans explains in his 2003 paper, “¡Lotería! or, The Ritual of Chance,” the game has a complex history. It originated in Italy during the 15th century—the Italian word is “lotto”before it made its way to “New Spain,” the name for modern Mexico at the time, in 1769. King Charles III of Spain established “la lotería nacional,” which started out as a hobby for the elite before traveling “ferias” or fairs were introduced for the masses to come and play.

In 1887, French entrepreneur Don Clemente Jacques published the “Don Clemente Gallo” version of the game with ten boards and 80 cards, including “un naipe” or a joker, according to Stavans. These games would be included in care packages for soldiers at the time, but it wasn’t until they returned home and played the game with their families that it really become popular.

Modern decks now include Spanish names for each illustration, plus fewer cards, but Jacques’ version still remains one of the most recognizable to date.

What do lotería cards mean?

There is a randomness to the cards, but traditionally, each has been a window into Mexican history and culture: “El Bandolón” (“The Mandolin”), “El Nopal” (“Prickly Pear Cactus”), and “La Muerte” (“The Death”), the latter of which is among Ruiz’s favorites. For the Google Doodle, she reimagined some other classic cards, like “El Sol” (“The Sun”), “La Luna (“The Moon”), and “El Pajaro” (The Bird). She was inspired by the traditional illustration, but she did take some liberties when drawing (including a new card for “El Guacamole”), especially for the sun and moon. “The original look more serious and kind of scary, so the ones I did were happier,” she said. “More joyful.”

More than 100 years after the game came to Mexico, la lotería is reaching new audiences in the U.S. and providing both distraction and comfort in trying times.