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Mexican Loteria Is A Great Summertime Game For The Whole Family


When I was little, my family lived in Mexico. Even though we are Cuban, we absorbed a lot of the Mexican culture that surrounded us. When I was 5, my favorite game was the Mexican loteria. This was in the days before XBox, so we had to amuse ourselves in ways that didn’t involve blowing people up. My mother would get home after doing a 16 hour shift as a medical resident, and I’d want to play loteria. Kids are selfish a-holes. Still, it is pretty fun. It’s like bingo, except a million times cooler.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with loteria, it is indeed very similar to bingo. Only, loteria is played by people of all ages and socioeconomic levels, and not just by old people killing time until death arrives. Everyone gets a board with 16 squares. Instead of boring old numbers, loteria is played using 54 weird/cryptic/goofy images. El Alacran, El Gallo, El Boracho, La Sandilla and other images from everyday Mexican life are represented. The “griton” or screamer, calls out the cards from a shuffled deck. Traditionally he does this by saying a small riddle or phrase, such as “Pórtate bien cuatito, si no te lleva el coloradito, El Diablito” or “¡Ah, Chihuahua! Cuánto apache con pantalón y huarache, El Apache”. If you have one of these on your board you mark it with a pinto bean, a penny, a shell, a Dorito, or whatever. If you get four across in any direction you win, and get to yell “Loteria!” or as my cousins and I would say in our teens, “Loteria bitches!”. In another variant, you need to fill up your whole board.

The cards aren’t exactly PC. One is called El Negrito, and has a stereotypically drawn black dude from Havana. El Catrin is a “dandy” which is code for “gay dude with a monocle”. El Apache is a Native American if all Native Americans looked like a cigar store Indian or the logo on a Washington Redskins jersey. Some newer version of the cards have tried to clean up these images to make them more palatable. Still, the question remains: What do these images mean? The game is thought to be a descendant of the Italian Tarot cards that came over with the Spanish in the 1500’s. Because Mexican peasants don’t know what a Hierophant or a pentacle was, they changed to more familiar images. If you go to a fortune teller or bruja, they may read your fortune using the loteria cards. Whether you use the game to tell the future, play with your family, or have a spirited drunken game with your cousins, loteria is a fun and culturally rich way to spend an afternoon. Who wouldn’t want to play a game involving a severed hand? “La mano de el criminal, la mano.”

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