The Mexican lotería is one of the most well-known games of chance in the Spanish-speaking world. The game originated in Italy, and it arrived in Spain in the 14th century. It was then brought to Mexico in the late 18th century (Lewis, 2004; Stavans, 2003). After its arrival in Mexico, lotería became a popular source of entertainment among the aristocratic classes. However, in the 19th century (though it is not known exactly when), it became a fixture at popular events such as traveling shows, town fairs, and religious celebrations, like those organized to honor saints (Núñez y Domínguez, 1932). Lotería is played in a similar way to bingo, but unlike this one, the cards (las cartas) and boards (los cartones) that are used portray images of objects, animals, and people directly connected to Mexico’s historical, social, and cultural past.
Lewis (2004) offers an in-depth analysis of lotería’s historical roots. She has traced the origin of many of its images to those that appeared in the 18th century "casta" paintings (like the one shown in this image), which reflected contemporary Mexican society and religious symbols, as well as local objects, nature, and landscapes. (Text from Zapata, in press; copyrighted)
[Image source: Public domain]
This lotería version was first developed by Don Clemente Jacques in 1887 to advertise the products his new businesses were producing. According to Stavans (2003), Jacques had established two different commercial branches in the Mexican city of Querétaro: one that produced canned food, and another that manufactured ammunition. In 1912, during the Mexican Revolution, Jacques began including small lotería sets with products that were sent to soldiers, and in 1913, the Don Clemente Gallo edition was born. The set created by Jacques included 54 cards and 10 boards with 16 images distributed in a 4x4 grid. Jacques's work still remains the most popular version to date. (Text from Zapata, in press; copyrighted)
Don Clemente Gallo Lotería Set: Cards and Numbers
1. El gallo; 2. El diablito; 3. La dama; 4. El catrín; 5. El paraguas; 6. La sirena; 7. La escalera; 8. La botella; 9. El barril; 10. El árbol; 11. El melón; 12. El valiente; 13. El gorrito; 14. La muerte; 15. La pera; 16. La bandera; 17. El bandolón; 18. El violoncello; 19. La garza; 20. El pájaro; 21. La mano; 22. La bota; 23. La luna; 24. El cotorro; 25. El borracho; 26. El negrito; 27. El corazón; 28. La sandía; 29. El tambor; 30. El camarón; 31. Las jaras; 32. El músico; 33. La araña; 34. El soldado; 35. La estrella; 36. El cazo; 37. El mundo; 38. El apache; 39. El nopal; 40. El alacrán; 41. La rosa; 42. La calavera; 43. La campana; 44. El cantarito; 45. El venado; 46. El sol; 47. La corona; 48. La chalupa; 49. El pino; 50. El pescado; 51. La palma; 52. La maceta; 53. El arpa; 54. La rana
[Image source: Public domain]
Carmen Lomas Garza
Lotería Works: Lotería Tablas (1972)--Interpretations of lotería images by the artist:
[Image Source: Carmen Lomas Garza, Lotería-Tabla Llena, 1972, hand-colored etching and aquatint on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, 1995.50.59, © 1972, Carmen Lomas Garza. Available at https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/loteria-tabla-llena-34739. Copyrighted material.]
Lotería images have also been used by artists to represent the hardships of undocumented immigration and the discrimination faced by Mexican Americans. An example of such work is the art of California-based Mexican-American artist and activist Victor Ochoa. In his 1985 and 1987 versions of Border Bingo/Lotería Fronteriza, Ochoa rendered lotería images in connection to the experience of immigration to provide crude representations of the hardships undocumented immigrants go through when trying to cross the border. For example, in his 1985 mural, the artist combined the traditional cards la muerte and la calavera to show death as a skeleton with a cruel smile holding a green card, symbolizing the cruelty and difficulties behind the immigration process and its possible result. (Zapata, 2020; copyrighted)
- Border Bingo/Lotería Fronteriza Mural (1985)
- Border Bingo/Lotería Fronteriza (1985; detail; image shown)
- Border Bingo/Lotería Fronteriza (1987)
[Image Source: Title: Border Bingo/Lotería Fronteriza (detail). Creator/Contributor: Ochoa, Victor, Artist. Date: 1985. UC Santa Barbara, Special Research Collections. Available at https://oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb6489p4d4/?docId=hb6489p4d4&brand=oac4&layout=printable-details.Copyrighted material.]
José Antonio Burciaga
José Antonio Burciaga’s book, Spilling the Beans: Lotería Chicana, was published in 1995. It consists of a series of essays that address political and cultural topics connected to his native Texas and to California, where he moved when he was 34 years old. Each essay is introduced by a lotería card. (Text from Zapata, in press; copyrighted).
[Image source: Burciaga, J. A. (1995). Spilling the beans: Lotería chicana (cover). Santa Barbara: Joshua Odell Editions. Copyrighted material.]
Artemio Rodríguez and Juan Felipe Herrera
Lotería cards and fortune poems: A book of lives (1999) is a wonderful volume that combines the art of Mexican artist Artemio Rodríguez and poems by Mexican-American writer Juan Felipe Herrera to reinterpret lotería images. Together, they "have resourcefully blended the concepts and iconography of both mexicanidad and chicanidad into their respective contributions to this hybrid effort" (García, 1999, p. ix).
The image shown is accompanied by the poem La migra:
"This is your twin without the other-half, the child-eye dipped in soldier oil, on the side of the night-scanner wheel. Listen to his guitar-tongue, his lobo spirit, how he howls along the border-wire, how the moon falls over his terrible lips, so much desire, his borderlands so infinite." (p. 94)
[Image and text source: Rodríguez, A. & Herrera, J. F. (1999). Lotería cards and fortune poems: A book of lives (pp. 94-95). San Francisco: City Lights Books. Copyrighted material.]
Teresa Villegas and Ilan Stavans
¡Lotería! (2004) is a collection of lotería representations and short poems by artist Teresa Villegas and author Ilan Stavans. Their work reinterprets lotería cards, establishing connections to contemporary Mexican culture. Villegas has also created a comprehensive artistic installation titled La Lotería: An Exploration of Mexico.
[Image source: Villegas, T. & Stavans, I. (2004). ¡Lotería! (pp. 26-27). Tucson: The University of Arizona Press. Copyrighted material.]
René Colato Laínez and Jill Arena
The collaborative bilingual children's book Playing lotería /El juego de la lotería (2005) centers around the story of an English-dominant boy who connects with his Spanish-speaking grandmother through lotería. "The author’s personal experience as an immigrant to the United States... lends weight to the issues of language, immigration, and ethnicity showcased in this charming story. The boy... learns through his visit to value his linguistic heritage as he gains knowledge and confidence in the speaking of Spanish" (Schall, n.d., https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/reviewi3/6/).
[Image Source: Colato Laínez, R. & Arena, J. (2005). Playing lotería/El juego de la lotería (cover). Flagstaff: Luna Rising. Copyrighted material.]
Mario Alberto Zambrano
Zambrano’s (2013) work is titled Lotería: A novel. The main character is an 11-year-old Mexican girl, Luz María Castillo, who is alone in a room waiting for her custody arrangements to be decided, and uses a deck of lotería cards to tell her family’s tragic story. The titles of each chapter correspond to the lotería card Luz uses to remember particular events or experiences. (Text from Zapata, in press; copyrighted).
[Image source: Zambrano, M. A. (2013). Lotería: A novel (cover). New York: HarperCollins. Copyrighted material.]
Votería: El Paso Equal Voice Network
Community organizations with civic purposes have resorted to lotería to encourage Mexican Americans and other Hispanic/Latinx communities to participate in elections, to organize, and register to vote. For example, through a project titled Voteria, since 2016, the Texas group Equal Voice Network has organized different events throughout the state (e.g., in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley), during which they invite members of the local communities to play lotería with specially-created sets. (Text from Zapata, in press; copyrighted).
[Image source: Provided by El Paso Equal Voice Network. (2020). www.elpasoequalvoice.org. Copyrighted material.]
Created by San Antonio-based artist Pinche Raf (Rafael Gonzales Jr.). The set includes 37 unnumbered lotería cards and ten boards. This work has been highlighted in a variety of media outlets.
[Image Source: Used with artist's permission. Pandemic Loteria is available at https://www.felizmodern.com/collections/quarantine-care-grown-ups-edition/products/rgjr-pandemic-loteria. Copyrighted material.]
This lotería set consists of 48 cards and eight 16-image boards, and was created by Southern California artist Ernesto Quiñonez Curiel (EQC). Ernesto's work has also been featured in various media outlets.
[Image Source: Used with artist's permission. Lotería COVID-19 is available at https://www.etsy.com/listing/785333032/loteria-covid-19-the-game?ref=shop_home_active_1&crt=1. Copyrighted material.]