On May 4, social media was blowing up. People driving past a house in the Jordan neighborhood of Minneapolis had seen something disturbing.
It was three figures, sculpted out of paper mache and painted to look like they were black men. They appeared to be hanging by their necks from the porch. People started circulating the photo on social media.
Dear Minneapolis WTF is this?!?!? pic.twitter.com/4M1iE6JKOU— Ian (@ian_s7) May 4, 2018
The good news: It’s not what it looked like.
The house, it turns out, belongs to Victor Chavarria and his family. He and his wife, who preferred not to be named in this story, operate a startup business out of their home: Happy Kids Piñatas.
They started doing this a few years ago when they saw a lack of high quality piñatas on the local market. They made a few for themselves and for friends, then decided to have a go at running a handmade piñata business.
Chavarria and his wife would hang up the piñatas on the porch to let the paper mache dry in the air, and kids in school buses would get all excited when they would drive by and see the colorful shapes on display. Birthdays, weddings, gender reveals, childhood accomplishments like toilet training -- they could make a piñata for anything.
The trouble began when they got an order of piñatas for a wedding. They were going to sculpt the members of the wedding party. That wedding party happened to include people who were white, Latino and African American.
So what people saw when they passed by the Chavarria house over the weekend were the first batch, still in progress and left out to dry. What it looked like was three paper mache black men hanging from a porch.
“It looks horrifying,” Chavarria says of the photo. “I realized right away how horrible it looked without any context.”
Chavarria took the piñatas down and started meeting with community members about the misunderstanding. If he thought people would walk by and see a lynching, he never would have hung them out there in the first place, he says.
If there’s a silver lining to any of this, Chavarria says, it’s that he’s now making connections with the African American community in his neighborhood, who he says have been the most receptive about clearing all this up. His door is open to anyone who wants to have a conversation about it, he says.
“I’ve been asked several times by local media if I’m going to continue doing it, and that depends on how the meetings go,” he says.
On Monday afternoon, Chavarria sent City Pages a photo of what the finished bridal party piñatas look like.
Chavarria posted a this statement on Happy Kids' Facebook page on May 5:
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