HOUSTON -- The Houston piñata controversy started with a few signs.
At parks in the northwestern reaches of Houston's Harris County, alongside the "Leash law will be enforced" and "No littering" warnings, authorities have posted signs saying, "No piñatas allowed" and "No confetti eggs."
Recently, Latino activists took issue with the signs, which they insist unfairly target Mexican Americans, because piñatas and confetti eggs, or cascarones, are popular Mexican party favors.
" ‘Piñatas prohibited' is not a synonym for ‘Do not litter’; it’s a synonym for ‘No Mexicans allowed,’ " Tony Diaz, founder of Houston-based El Librotraficante, told KHOU-TV News. "It’s almost as if all the signs that talk about the speed limit were to say ‘20 mph for your low-riders.’"
"If you condone this, it’s condoning a lot of negative stereotypes about Mexican Americans," Diaz said.
The county adopted the piñata policy six years ago, and officials noted that it covers a wide variety of party accessories. It reads: "All party favors containing paper, confetti, rice, silly string, glitter, or other filling which is designed to pop/break/shatter or otherwise burst and litter our parks are prohibited. This shall include but is not limited to: poppers, piñatas, confetti eggs, and silly string."
The policy only applies to Precinct 4, the largest precinct in the county -- one that includes more than two dozen parks and is at least 26% Latino.
After Diaz complained about the piñata ban on social media, on local radio stations and in the Houston Chronicle, the latter published an editorial last Friday calling for the signs to be removed "inmediatemente."
County officials agreed.
They ordered all of the signs removed, although piñatas are still banned from parks in Precinct 4 while county commissioners decide how to handle the potentially explosive issue.
"We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings," Mark Seegars, a spokesman for Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle, who represents the area, told KHOU. "The signs are coming down while we review the best way to put the message out to people that we need their help in keeping litter out of the parks."