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U.S. Postal Service honors National Hispanic Heritage Month with colorful piñata stamps

The USPS released new stamps this month depicting colorful piñatas to coincide with the national heritage month, but also the beginning of a New Mexico festival where children are able to exploit the event for treats and candy

USPS celebratory piñata stamps
USPS celebratory piñata stamps | U.S. Postal Service

September 13, 2023 8:53am

Updated: September 13, 2023 8:53am

The U.S. Postal Service is honoring national Hispanic heritage month in its very own special way: with stamps that feature colorful piñatas, the centuries old, universal symbol of Latino celebration.

The USPS released new stamps this month depicting colorful piñatas to coincide with the national heritage month, but also the beginning of a New Mexico festival where children are able to exploit the event for treats and candy.

But that’s to be expected since piñatas are meant to be a part of parties, a tradition that dates back to 16th century trade routes between Latin America and Asia – when Spanish missionaries tried to convert Indigenous communities to Christianity.

While the objective was religious conversion, some of the missionaries were able to achieve their goals by introducing Western cultural practices such as music and the arts.

It was through dance, music and the arts — including the making of piñatas — that biblical stories were spread throughout the New World.

In 1975, the subject of the West using Christianity as a way to indoctrinate the Japanese became the subject of “Shogun,” a world famous best-selling historical novel by renowned author James Clavell.

Piñatas became a central hallmark of celebrating Las Posadas, festivities held every year in December in Mexico and other Latin American nations to honor the birth of Christ.

The holiday’s religious roots come out in various piñata designs, particularly the burro, donkey and seven-point star, Cesáreo Moreno, chief curator at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago told the Associated Press.

“Those early missionaries really were creative in the ways in which they wanted to teach the biblical stories to the Indigenous people,” Moreno said. “Nativity scenes, piñatas, posadas — all those things really worked well. They worked so well that they became a part of the popular culture of Mexico.”

Those symbols are still celebrated in many Hispanic communities throughout the nation, he said.

“Culture has no borders. Wherever community gathers, they have their culture with them. They bring it with them and so the piñata is no different,” he told the AP.

Today, most piñatas are imported from Mexico. While they are celebrated on the streets Los Angeles, they can be seen in Arizona, Chicago, New Mexico, and Nevada. In some cases people make their own piñatas at home, creating custom versions for celebrations and parties.

One shop owner in Albuquerque, New Mexico uses the celebratory icons for decorations, adorning the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Francisco Rodríguez told the AP that his shop, Casa de Piñatas creates piñatas resembling everything from animals with strips of old newspaper to dinosaurs, sea creatures and super heroes.

The American made piñatas are so popular they draw people from neighboring Texas and even as far as the northern Midwest.

“Rodríguez stared out the window, watching traffic zip by as he waited for his work to dry. With residue still on his apron and the fans blowing, he contemplated the future of the industry, hoping the next generation will take an interest in the craft,” the Associated Press reported.

According to the New Mexico shop owner, most older piñata artists have retired and he’s worried the supplies they help him build his creations will become scarce or even digital, like newspapers.

“It’s likely piñatas will keep evolving as they have over the centuries. No longer are they made from clay ollas — used for hauling water or storing food — that would make a loud pop when cracked. Gone are the shards that would litter the ground as children scrambled for the tangerines, pieces of sugar cane and candy that poured out.”

The new USPS stamps were reportedly the inspiration of its graphic designer’s child memories.

Victor Meléndez, who was raised in Mexico City said he has fond memories of spending time with his family making piñatas to celebrate Las Posadas. His mother also made piñatas to celebrate family birthdays.

“That’s a dear, dear memory of just fun and happiness,” he told The Associated Press in Seattle where he also paints murals. “And I wanted to show a little bit of that and pay homage to some of those traditions.”

Meléndez’s artwork also is influenced by the colors of homes in Mexico, bright pinks and deep blues, yellows and oranges.

This year marks the third consecutive year the U.S. Postal Service has printed a stamp set honoring Hispanic culture.

Previous Hispanic related sets highlighted mariachi music and Mexico’s famous Day of the Dead.

Meléndez, known mostly for his murals and design work for Starbucks said designing the stamps was like a dream come true. A longtime admirer of the postal service’s stamp art, he’s been a collector throughout his life just because he likes the art.

The Mexico City native said hopes the new U.S. stamps will inspire people to ask questions about other cultures, making them realize they have more in common than they thought.

“In the end, I feel that there must be a connection and there must be some sort of mutual understanding,” he said. “That eventually leads to better relations and more people being happy without fighting.”

The U.S. Postal Service was founded by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, and Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General. Today’s version of the agency was created in 1971, and the first adhesive postage stamps were issued in 1847.