The Lotería de la Migración reimagines the traditional “Mexican Lottery” card game as a lens through which to view issues surrounding Central American and Mexican migration north to the United States. While working in San Salvador, and Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala, I was struck by the way in which people’s desperate effort to escape El Salvador and Honduras morbidly resembled the children’s board game Chutes and Ladders, or a video game, one in which migrant refugees battle innumerable logistical, political and criminal obstacles, only to be bounced back to square one to start over. It is a journey that has become increasingly dangerous and inhumane, one that showcases the brutal hypocrisy of US policy and leaves thousands of dead literally littering the trail north. Although I began this project when there were still more than a dozen white men vying for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election, the rise of Trump and his xenophobic and racist immigration and refugee policies continues to inspire and add urgency to it.
A game that has been played throughout the region for more than one-hundred and fifty years, Mexican Lottery is quite similar to our Bingo: cards are drawn at random from an iconic deck of 54 images, but rather than announcing their numbers, the master of ceremonies calls out their names or alludes to them with either improvisational or well-established, traditional snippets of verse: El Valiente, the Courageous, with knife and serape in arm; El Nopal, the culinary cactus of Mexico; the Watermelon; the Hand; the Skull. Each player has before them a 4 x 4 grid of the pictures, know as a tabla; games are won by matching a row of four, filling in all the corners of the card, or completing some other pre-determined pattern.
The most famous version of this game is the Don Clemente deck, mass-produced by Pasatiempos Gallo, but there is a long tradition of variations and alternate imagery, including one created by the great Mexican graphic artist José Guadalupe Posada. The images are cultural touchstones, a kind of regional Tarot of Mexican and Central American iconography, and in fact various systems have been devised to use lotería cards for divination. The Lotería de la Migración takes the bold, posterized colors of the historic deck as a point of departure for confronting various heinous aspects of the migration question. Some of the cards directly reference the Don Clemente deck; others do not. Once complete, the project will be published as a deck of playing cards.
(Mouse over the large images below to read their “back of card” text; this works much better on a desktop or laptop than on a mobile phone. Apologies. The smaller images are examples from the Don Clemente deck, reproduced here without permission under the principal of “fair use.”)