Q&A: SAJE’s South LA loteria


What images come to mind when you think of South L.A.? That’s the question Strategic Actions for a Just Economy took on for its “SAJE Loteria South LA Style” project – a creation of 55 hand-drawn images assembled as a game set to sell as a fundraiser for the South L.A.-based organization.

Some of the artworks are on display at Nature’s Brew Café in West Adams through the end of May. SAJE is hosting a reception to celebrate the project on Sunday from 7 to 10 p.m.

We spoke with Teresa Eilers from SAJE to learn about the inspiration behind the project.

Intersections South LA: Can you describe the SAJE loteria project?

Teresa Eilers: We created 60 pieces of original art about South LA and converted them into a loteria game set as well as stand-alone posters, to sell as a fundraiser for SAJE. We are a non-profit in South Central and do community organizing, tenants’ rights work, and equitable development work.

What is the traditional loteria game?

I describe it as Mexican bingo. Everyone gets a card with 16 images, and a handful of beans. When the facilitator holds up a card, if you have that image on your board, you put a bean on the image. You can win by filling an entire board with beans, or just a whole row or a whole column.

What kinds of images are on the Mexican loteria?

There are standard images from Mexican culture – different types of people, different types of images from the natural environment, like the sun and the moon, or specific objects, like the ketchup bottle.

Tell us about the images in the SAJE loteria set. May appear to comment on touchy topics.

Some of the images depict the difficulties that many South L.A. residents have to deal with. One card is “El Desalojo,” meaning “the displaced person.” Frequently South Central residents are illegally evicted, or priced out of their units, and they’re forced to leave and go elsewhere.

Also there’s “El Pozo Petroleo,” meaning “oil well.” There are several oil wells in SAJE’s proximity that could be causing health problems.

There’s also “La Palma,” showing the common palm tree, but with a liquor store in the background.

You’ll also find “La Cucaracha.” Many South L.A. residents live in sub-standard or slum housing conditions, and a frequent complaint is the prevalence of cockroaches. I‘ve heard stories where families can’t sleep throughout the night because of the amount of cockroaches crawling in their home.

There’s also “La Trabajadora.” There was a lady working as a construction worker at the new Lorenzo apartment building, and she got her job through the Unidad Coalition created with developer G.H. Palmer as he sought to develop the Lorenzo. So that represented a solution to employment issues in South L.A. for local residents.

SAJE staff including Teresa Eilers (lower right) with the local paletero | SAJE

SAJE staff including Teresa Eilers (lower right) with the local paletero | SAJE

There are also a lot of positive representations, like “Los Esudiantes” (the students), and depictions of daily life, like “El Pitbull.”

Right. The card for “El Sol,” the sun, shows freeways in the foreground of the picture. There is “La Chancla,” or sandal, which we joke is the historically-Mexican parenting tool.  There’s “El Paletero,” representing the street vendors everywhere in South L.A. that sell ice cream and popsicles out of push carts. There’s one guy that comes by the SAJE office everyday selling popsicles and yells “Paletas, paletas!” There are also big South L.A. landmarks – USC, the Felix the cat sign, and of course, SAJE.

How did you decide which images to include?

We told people: Draw something that comes to mind when you think of South L.A. or SAJE, or draw what you would like people to think about when they think of South L.A.

Sets of loteria cards. | SAJE

Sets of loteria cards. | SAJE

Who did the drawings?

They were some SAJE staff, and activist friends of SAJE staffers, for 23 people altogether. Every artist chose their own medium, but watercolor, pen and pencil were the most used.

What was your inspiration for creating this project as a SAJE fundraiser?

I am very critical of the nonprofit industrial complex. In many nonprofits, major sources of funding come from foundations that are related to very wealthy tiers in society. And I’ve always been interested in finding sustainable alternatives for nonprofits rather than grants. So it was a small attempt to start a social enterprise wing of SAJE.

And how did you come up with the loteria concept?

One of our coworkers had a loteria night at her house. It was after that time that a few staff members were talking about what we could possibly do as a social enterprise. So we just thought, let’s make our own loteria set! It wasn’t really over-thought — it just came up as we were talking and joking around at the office.

What is available for purchase?

You can buy a game, which consists of ten boards and 55 cards, for $25. We’re also selling posters that are 16 by 24 inches at $20, and posters that are 11 by 17 inches at $15. For the posters you can get blown-up individual images from cards, or medleys of favorite cards with 16 images. We have the most popular posters already printed – El Gallo, El Nopal, La Mujer, El Sol, El Jardin, La Cucaracha, El Paletero and El Puno. Or you can request an image.

What will happen at the Nature’s Brew event on Sunday?

We are going to play the game with our actual set. It’s one dollar to purchase a board, and the winner will receive one half of the pot of winnings, and SAJE will get the other half.  There will be beer, coffee, pastries, fruits… and mingling where people can discuss social justice work that’s happening in South Los Angeles.

To learn more about this project or purchase a loteria game set or print, contact Teresa Eilers at (213) 745-9961 or [email protected]. The loteria art is on display at Nature’s Brew café in West Adams through the end of May, with a reception happening this Sunday from 7 to 10 p.m. You can also view the loteria art at the next Caracol marketplace on May 4 and at the upcoming Art Tunnel in Cypress Park on May 10.

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