Clues, cards and beans: Loteria is a game that teaches

Posted 9/6/18

Michelle Hawkins thinks the first time she played Loteria was as a kid growing up in California. “I played with a lot of the kids I grew up around,” she said. “I grew up around a lot of …

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Clues, cards and beans: Loteria is a game that teaches

Posted

Michelle Hawkins thinks the first time she played Loteria was as a kid growing up in California.

“I played with a lot of the kids I grew up around,” she said. “I grew up around a lot of Hispanic families and people who moved in from Mexico, and they’d play it at their houses.”

But as a guide at Anythink’s York Street branch in Thornton, she thought it might be a way to introduce a fun cultural element to the library’s patrons.

“It’s turned into a great night of sharing for everyone, English speakers and people just learning the language,” she said. “I tell the native Spanish speakers `Help me, if I say this wrong, please correct me.’ Or I might have them read the riddle.”

Loteria is also called Mexican bingo. Like bingo, loteria features a caller and players racing to match spaces on their card.

But instead of calling a coordinates on a square — “B8” — the caller speaks a name and shows a picture — and perhaps a riddle or a bit of poetry that describes one of 54 different images on a deck of cards.

And each player has a card, or a tabla, with 16 decorated spaces that might match the card in the caller’s hand.

The player who matches four in a row wins. And the game starts again.

“In Mexico, the callers go very fast,” she said. “So, you’re racing to match the cards. I don’t go nearly as fast, especially in the beginning. But I do speed up as I go along.”

It’s a fun bit of culture, she said, but it’s also educational. She figures it helps both English and Spanish speakers polish their skills and maybe stretch a bit.

“I’ve studied Spanish a lot, but it’s possible that my ability to pronounce what I can comes from playing loteria when I was young,” she said.

Waiting list

Hawkins hosted two loteria sessions this summer at the York Street branch, on July 25 and Aug. 28. By the Aug. 28 session, the word had spread that she easily filled up the 20 available seats — with waiting list of more than 200 names.

It will be back again, she said.

“I do a lot of programs, but I don’t don’t bring them back unless they ask me too,” she said. “There are things that people ask for that I keep going. And based on the response we got, people joined

Prizes were toys or books or marzipan candy. The library also served a taco dinner for the players to enjoy. But the fun comes from playing the game and matching pictures.

“People were coming by, saying they wanted to play,” she said. “It was really neat because it gave people who know the game, who grew up playing, to share with people who were trying it for the first time.”

Hawkins warned the crowd at the Aug. 28 session that Spanish was not her native tongue, but she would try to not the mess up clues.

“You have to listen and look and mark it, or you’ll miss it,” she said. “And then, when you get a row, you want to yell out `Loteria!’”

Kayleen Deherrera, 16, said it’s just Bingo. She plays at family gatherings.

“It’s pretty fun,” she said.

For Tigist Adamsc, a native of Ethiopia, it’s fun way to learn about a different culture. She brought six-year-old Rakeb Asfaw to play

“I do love to learn new things, and about new cultures,” she said.

Clues

The clues themselves can range from the straightforward to the obscure.

The poem for the La Corona card, or the crown, is traditionally “El sombrero de los reyes: The hat of Kings.” The poem for la estrella, the star, is simply “La guia de los marineros: The Sailor’s guide.”

More challenging is the clue for the el pescado card, or the fish: “The one who dies by its mouth, even if it were mute.”

And clue for the El Sol card, the sun, is pure poetry: “La cobija de los pobres: The blanket of the poor.”

And some make no sense in English. The translated clue for la pera, the pear, is “He who waits, despairs.”

That pun only comes across in Spanish; “El que espera, desespera.” Espera, to wait and es pera, to be a pear, are pronounced the same.

“I had to look that one up,” Hawkins said. “It took me a while to figure that out. And sometimes they are different depending on the game and who is the caller.”

For example, one traditional riddle for the Brave Man card, el valiente, is “Por que le corrs cobarde? Trayendo tan buen punal: Why do you run, coward? You have such a good blade.”

“But I always heard the riddle as `Every man thinks he’s this man,’” Hawkins said. “I don’t know which version is better.”

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