Tag Archives: Loteria

The Unlucky Loteria Tab

Informant: CS ; Interviewer’s best friend

“So when you play loteria, early on you start to pick your favorite tabla.”

Interviewer asks: “why do you think that is?”

“Oohh I’m not entirely sure. Like if I like had to take a guess, I think it’s because of um… repetition. Like you form a routine on one single playing card, so you begin to associate it with like good vibes.”

Interviewer asks: “can you elaborate?”

“Yeah so, there are certain like superstitions that go with playing loteria. The main one is that if you switch your playing card after losing, you’ll never win while you play that round. It’s only until you like, form a relationship with one of the 10 playing cards that you’ll win.”

Interviewer asks: “So what’s your lucky tab?”

“It’s 3.”

Interviewer asks: “Do you believe in that superstition?”

“I do! The saying we have in Spanish is ‘te salaste’. Loosely translated, it means ‘you salted yourself’. As in like, you cursed yourself for that round. Almost like you jinxed your own winning. It like gets serious when you’re like playing with older folk and they start betting on the game, like gambling almost. And like the unspoken rules are taken really seriously.”

interviewer asks: “do you think the unspoken rules are meant to be taken seriously?”

“I do. I think that when you switch your playing card to another, you’ll start pulling cards that match the one you switched out. Almost like the game is taunting you.”

my interpretation: This superstition runs deep. I remember the elders in my family yelling at me everything I even hinted at switching my playing card. They would often say that I would jinx myself. In hindsight, I think that the idea of having to stick with the same card could be a metaphor for monogamy. In theory, you build a relationship with this card and you start almost bonding and memorizing the playing card. If you “cheat” on the playing tab/card or toss that tab out, the cards that are pulled in the next round will almost always be matching your old playing tab. Almost as if the game reminds you of how good you could’ve had it if you stayed put.


R is 31. His family is from Mexico, he was born in Sanger, California. He was very excited and happy to tell me about how his family played the game Loteria.

“We were big on Loteria, Loteria is like Mexican bingo… we played as a family with beans or rocks or pasta shells… so Loteria is pretty much like, like bingo but with cards… so there’s a deck of cards that has different pictures of things… like la sirena, la musica, el apache, la ranaand the pictures that go with them… stuff like that and pretty much you buy the game and it comes with these preset boards, they’re 5 by 4 or 4 by 4… something like that… and they have some of the different card pictures on them… but we would cut them up and rearrange them to like… make our own luck… so pretty much everybody gets their boards ready and then we shuffle the deck and the middle square on the board is a free play… and you win by… as you draw cards, you put like a bean or pasta shell… my mom liked glass rocks… the shiny ones that people use for like aquariums or flower arrangements… everyone in my family had their own pieces… my tia liked pasta, my other tia used dry pinto beans, my grandma used coins, like dimes, nickels, or quarters because she liked money (laughs) I like rocks, like smooth river rocks I would find at Avocado lake… we would go there swimming in the summer… so you draw cards and if you have the card on your board you put a piece over it and so… basically when you start the game, there’s two pots, there’s a game pot and a jack pot and there’s money in ‘em, quarters, nickels, dimes, you know cuz grandma… so the first to match the four corners wins the jack pot, then if you matched across horizontally or diagonally you would get the smaller game pot. We would play this all the time… bar-b-q’s, holidays… my family got together a lot, like weekly, for family dinners or whatever… everyone calls it Loteria but my family calls it cholupa, after one of the cards… it’s a lady in a canoe wearing like a folklorico dress… I didn’t find out it was called Loteria until like 5 years ago, we always called it cholupa after that card. We all kind of had our own cards that were also like our nicknames… like my tia was la dama because she thought she was fancy and my uncle was el boracho because he liked to drink and I was el apache because my skin is darker.”

Loteria came to Mexico by way of Italy and Spain, for a brief history of Loteria see, https://teresavillegas.com/history-of-la-loteria/ for variations on game play, see http://www.maravillasoftware.com/loteriamexicana.html. The customizations R’s family members added, such as individual game pieces and nicknames associated with the cards show folklore’s role in identity formation and cultural pride passed along in family tradition.