A Piñata Craftsman From Piedras Negras, Coahuila

Samuel Rodriguez

A Craftsman Whose Work Goes To Pieces

Imagine you spend hours blowing, cutting, gluing, and finally creating something ornately colorful and beautiful that brings joy to children and adults alike, only to have it smashed to pieces later. Welcome to the life of a piñata craftsman! And such is the path Samuel Rodriguez chose to pursue upon taking over his father’s business in 1980.

His father first began making bird cages and piñatas out of “carrizo”, or river reeds, in the tiny Mercado Zaragoza, only a few blocks from the international border crossing in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Upon his passing, Samuel took over the business, named “Curios Rodriguez”, and has been at it since, except he’s remained focused strictly on piñatas. Today, he employs the more popular technique of paper-mâché and no longer uses “carrizo” as in the past. “Those old methods are crude! And besides, I have a three year supply of newspaper thanks to donations from people I know”, he proudly states.

He explains, “I begin by blowing all the balloons myself! The other guys use air pumps to blow the larger balloons. Not me, I put my lungs to the test! I then use cooked glue which I make out of a flour and water combination to apply cut newspaper over the balloon. I finish off each one with hand-cut tissue paper that comes in all colors.”

Samuel makes anywhere from 10-12 of the colorful creations per day, all from a five-gallon bucket he uses as a “working station” on which to prop them on at his space in the Mercado. He comes up with several designs, but the more common ones include animal figures, fruit shapes, cartoon characters and the ever-popular, “Estrella”, or star. The “Estrella” is one of the largest ones he makes and a personal favorite because it’s the most neutral and, even fitting for adults. It sells for 15US Dollars. They are used for all occasions from birthdays, weddings and quinceañeras to Mexican holidays and even to “Mexicanize” a place as he says. “I get so many requests from restaurant owners who just want them to help make a place feel more ‘Mexican’. I guess the colors really draw people in and give it that festive vibe we’re known for”, he shares with a chuckle.

Over the years several requests have come his way, but the one he recalls being difficult to make was a fighting rooster which took him a week to complete. This was for a truck driver from Chicago who came in one day and asked if he could have one made. Samuel wasn’t too sure he could come up with the design, but he forged ahead, completed the piece and sent the happy customer on his way. When asked what piñata has been the most difficult one for him, he quickly replied, “La de los Dallas Cowboys!” He was referring to the Dallas Cowboy helmet that he often makes for fans of the team. This is a popular one he mentioned because of the proximity to the neighboring city of Eagle Pass, Texas.

So, does a man who works on his craft ever long to take a break and do something different, even for a day? “Por supuesto! Of course”, Samuel says. “I like to go catch catfish along the Rio Grande from time to time. It’s a really nice break from home and work. I would really love to take a longer vacation someday though, possibly to places like Guadalajara and the state of Michoacán. I’m drawn to both for their crafts, especially Michoacán. I understand they make some great guitars there. Maybe someday, who knows?”

For a person who’s lived in the city of Piedras Negras his whole life, he remains passionate about it and maintains that people would find plenty of things to do there. He shares that one of his favorite events is the annual bullfights held during Fourth of July. He says, “That event is one that shouldn’t be missed, plus our city is a perfect place to come and unwind and relax with total confidence that you’re amongst friends. We also have a lot of urban improvements that are currently in the works and soon to be completed. These will make our city that much more attractive to tourists from all parts. At least, we hope so!”

When asked if any of his children would follow in his footsteps, he mentioned, “No creo! I don’t think so! All of my children have their own careers and really don’t have any interest in the craft. I took over the business after my father passed away and haven’t looked back since. I do this because I have a passion for working with my hands and take great pride in my finished product.”

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