Seattle's Pinata Man creates happiness one whack at a time

Aug 28, 2011

In Seattle’s South Park neighborhood, Alex Lopez has carved out a reputation as the go-to-guy for making unique piñatas.

Case in point: a 26-foot-long, 7-feet-tall, 6-feet-wide pinata in the shape of a bridge. It dumped 450 pounds of candy.

"It was a huge challenge and I was not going to fail," he said.

Becoming Pinata Man

King County officials had asked him to construct something memorable for Cinco De Mayo, an event also marking the construction of a new bridge in this largely-Latino neighborhood in South Seattle.

It took Lopez six weeks. He had scores of volunteers. And he had faith that he could pull off the job.

That pinata cemented his nickname in these parts: Pinata Man.

His "real job" is doing tax prep work as an area manager for H&R Block, but Lopez believes in doing things that make him happy, especially when business is slow. So, he makes pinatas, donating many of them to groups for community functions.

Pinata style

Pinatas are mostly associated with Mexico but their origins have also been traced back to China and Europe.

In Mexico, children learn pinata making by going to local cultural arts centers, says Lorena Ramirez Obregon, who runs a travel agency in South Park.

Lopez grew up in Pasco and he learned how to make a pinata from a book. His first attempts failed.

"You don’t want them to knock it in one hit and the candy’s out. You don’t want to do that," he says.

So he figured out how to fix the problem by collecting and examining the carcasses of used pinatas. And came up with what he says is his secret design that makes his pinatas extra strong. He guesses they take about 30 whacks to break open.

Community focus

They’re also cute, especially the ones shaped like whales or the ninja he’s finishing up. Inside the South Park food bank where he's a frequent volunteer, Lopez was attaching black crepe paper fringe all over one of his creations.

Pinata making quickly attracts children and adults who happen to be in the building.

"He's an artiste. What he's doing is providing a great deal of joy and laughter and fun to the community and the kids who get to whack the pinatas," says Ann Boyce, who wandered in from the business next door.

People are asking Lopez to make mini-pinatas – enough to hold one Skittel – and he's considering it. And that giant Cinco De Mayo pinata?

It's to be resurrected next year – with lights and a stereo system. Lopez also plans to make it even bigger.

Artscape” is a weekly KPLU feature covering Northwest art, performances and artists. The feature is published here on Sundays and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Monday during Morning Edition, All Things Considered and on Weekend Saturday Edition.