Even with vaccines, boosters and all the precautions we’ve learned to practice, live music continues to struggle during COVID times. As venues attempt to maintain their music calendars, especially smaller ones which host local acts, a boost is needed, something that reminds us of the celebratory nature of live music.
Enter Lisette Guerra. A native Houstonian who grew up in southeast Houston and Pasadena area communities, Guerra is an artist whose work is gaining a following from live, local shows. She creates custom piñatas and lately her work has been a welcomed part of some Houston shows.
“I was making them for my kids’ birthdays and then that graduated to I needed some kind of income, so I had to sell piñatas out of my home,” said Guerra, who also dabbles in other mediums, like painting and sketching.
She said her side gig got a boost through her boyfriend, Ricky Dee, front man for the veteran Houston rock trio Ganesha. The band is part of a stacked lineup scheduled for Saturday, January 15, at Satellite Bar
. The all-ages show will also include Austin psych act Naga Brujo and Houston’s Lagrimas, The Poserz and Bozos, which commissioned a Ronald Reagan piñata for the night.
“People that Rick knew started asking for piñatas and then it just so happened that somebody was like, ‘Can you do one for a show that’s a birthday?’ And everybody thought that was cool. But, it didn’t really pick up until Piñata Protest reached out to me,” Guerra said.
Rather appropriately, the San Antonio Tex-Mex punk act with a huge following helped boost the profile of Guerra’s art when they played Trip Six HTX in November 2021.
Guerra, right, with Houston rapper Ishgenius
Photo by Ben White, courtesy of Lisette Guerra
“They reached out to me. They had a show with the Casualties and I made a piñata for them,” Guerra said, and added that the band’s leader Àlvaro Del Norte “requested that I fill it, so we did the usual stuff that we do, candy, of course, but then toiletries, adult things, you know? Everybody loved it and it was great. And the next week after that I just had so many people coming up asking can you do a piñata for my show?”
“It’s just become a thing. People look forward to it now and it’s just great. It’s kind of changed the dynamics of things,” she said. “It’s just really great to see all of these grown people, their inner kid is just excited and scrambling on the floor for all these goodies."
Guerra said she made a luchador mask boasting a mohawk and in the colors of the Mexican flag for the Piñata Protest show. She said she kept it under wraps until show night to build excitement for the band.
“They ended up pulling it out in the middle of their set and they played the traditional ‘Dale, Dale,’ piñata song and called me onstage,” she said. “I was up there and they threw it into the crowd and everybody just tore it apart.”
Guerra said she’s kept her work “personal and homey” for her kids’ birthdays. The concert work allows her to expand and do new things with an art she first encountered long ago.
“When I was a kid, I spent every summer and winter break in Mexico. On the side there next to where my abuelita’s house was there was a piñata shop where my mom would work for her side money when we were there in Mexico. She would go help in the piñata shop and I would go with her and just sit on the ground and I would just see all these piñatas hanging above me. That was my daily thing, to just sit and watch my mother make these piñatas. That was something I grew up watching, that was a big part of my culture and my upbringing.
Guerra onstage with Piñata Protest
Photo by H. Salinas, courtesy of Lisette Guerra
“I do make them, I guess you would say, standard, old-school Mexican style. The glue I hold everything together with is the same way they do it in Mexico, just flour and water and newspaper.”
Guerra said the piñatas range from $20 to about $50. She acknowledges the materials are inexpensive so buyers are paying for her time and expertise, the same as one might pay for a sculpture or a painting. Anyone interested in her work can message her through her Instagram page, @lisespieces138
. She said buyers have the option to fill them or she’ll do it for a surcharge.
“So, I give people the option. I think what really picked it up was the Piñata Protest show. After they saw the piñata get busted open and there were lighters, there were rolling papers, there was not just candy, there were condoms, there were feminine hygiene products.”
She said in May 2020, right when lockdown was taking effect, House of J held a house show for the stir crazy. Guerra filled a piñata that night with hand sanitizer, gloves and masks.
“People still were scrambling and stuffing them in their pockets and purses because it’s useful things,” she said. “After the one at Piñata Protest, people were like, ‘You fill it. I’ll pay you extra to fill it, you know what you’re doing, you put the good stuff in it.”
Just like a piñata needs filling, Guerra said creating them has filled a void for her, in a sense.
Fans empty the piñata mid-set at Trip Six HTX.
Photo by Ben White, courtesy of Lisette Guerra
“People need a little pick me up,” she recognized. “It’s especially great to me because as a child growing up in southeast (Houston), in a single-income, Latino household, there wasn’t really ever any money, I never had a birthday party and I never had my own piñata. We’d go to other birthday parties and I’d see other kids get to smash open their piñatas. So, it’s sort of a vicarious thing for me to see everybody else smashing open these piñatas and having fun. It makes me feel good because that’s what I was missing, and I don’t need it now because I get to see other people have that joy. And it makes me feel good and I don’t feel like I missed out on that anymore because I get to share that feeling with other people now and bring that smile to people’s faces.”
Guerra is a member of area Facebook and Pinterest pages for piñata artists. She said she’s done Thomas the Tank Engine and other characters, but if someone is looking for Elmo or Blue’s Clues in papier-mâché, she’ll direct them to others who build them for a living. That allows her to not encroach on others’ livelihoods since she has a day job. And, it frees her time to focus on specialized work like the Viking ship she was asked to create for a client last February.
Guerra said the buyer’s friend had passed away. He and his friends wanted to honor him with a Viking memorial.
“He ended up handing me ashes of his deceased friend and was like 'Can you find a way to incorporate his ashes into this Viking ship because we want to burn it at sundown, like a Viking memorial?' So, I mean, I did that,” she said. “I mixed his ashes into the flour and he was the glue that held this whole Viking ship piñata together.
Guerra's Viking ship piñata helped some folks grieve the loss of a loved one last year.
Photo by Lisette Guerra
“I ended up meeting the mother of the deceased person that night and when I told her the story, as soon as I said he was the glue that held it all together, she just started sobbing. She said, ‘I love that you said that because between our family, me and his sister, he was the glue that held us all together.’ With these piñatas, there’s a very sentimental, personal element, too.”
We note that this is the whole point of art, whatever the medium. If it’s music or a mural or a piñata, it’s meant to connect deeply with those who enjoy it. Guerra said she’s seen that connection at shows. She’s dubbed that sort of event — pun perhaps intended — a “piñata bash,” and it’s the smashing success that’s helping local shows get a foothold in these Omicron days.
“It really lightens up the mood, I feel like it really does, to have an extra sort of comfort. I think that might be the right term. It’s just another comfort that’s added to it because there’s this time of uncertainty and people are unsure where they stand or what’s gonna happen with the next show,” Guerra concluded. “It’s almost sort of like an icebreaker. Okay, well, there’s a piñata here, everyone can relax a little bit and break open this piñata and have a good time and kind of forget what’s going on for a little bit. At least for a few moments, let’s just all be kids and scramble for candy and forget. Even if it’s just for a few minutes.”