Sharing the cultural traditions and diverse voices of Southeast Baltimore
On a dark December evening in the Baltimore neighborhood of Highlandtown, a procession makes its way through the streets, carrying at its head a brightly decorated piñata. They are re-enacting the journey of Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus. After the procession there is a big party where the piñata is battered until it breaks, releasing the candy and treats inside. The whole ritual is symbolic of the battle against the seven deadly sins, represented by the seven arms of the piñata. In Mexico, this ritual is 400 years old. Here in east Baltmore, it signals a new economic opportunity for the Spanish speaking community of Baltimore.
Maria Gabriela Aldana, education director of the Creative Alliance, founded Artesanas Mexicanas in 2013 as a response to the immediate need for employment to Latina women in Southeast Baltimore. The project unfolded in two phases: development of seven master piñata makers in the community, and training workshops for apprentices who were also drawn from the neighborhood. Over the course of a year, piñata workshops were held at Creative Alliance as well as area schools. In Mexico, the piñata tradition also includes making piñatasand selling them, so the Baltimore project also featured training in entrepreneurial skills in addition to the craft of piñata-making.
A native Nicaraguan and MICA graduate, Maria Aldana also cofounded and directs a community-leadership task force, Neighborhood Voices. This group organizes ongoing workshops that recognize important Baltimore activists and artists against racism. With these efforts, she helps to share the cultural traditions and diverse voices of Southeast Baltimore.