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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Sonia "Sonnie" Maria Perez with her pinatas
Photo by Al Kamuda

Photo of Sonia "Sonnie" Maria Perez's pinatas
Photo by Al Kamuda

Photo of Sonia "Sonnie" Maria Perez making a pinata

Photo of Sonia "Sonnie" Maria Perez with her pinata

Sonia "Sonnie" Maria Perez
1990 awardee, Livonia (Wayne County), pinata maker

Sonia "Sonnie" Maria Perez, the "pinata lady" of Livonia, is recognized within the Detroit community for her exceptional artistry, skill, and humor. Born of Mexican parents in 1918, she and her family came to Detroit in 1922 and settled in the southwest Detroit Mexican community near the Ambassador Bridge and St. Anne's Catholic Church. Although she did not begin making pinatas until she had children of her own, she inherited the considerable artistic skills of her mother, who made paper flowers for the church altar and was renowned for her nacimientos, or elaborate Christmas creches.

Although many people make pinatas for family birthday parties and other festive events, few achieve Sonnie's creativity and care for detail. She began with simple round shapes and the traditional estrella, or star. Over the years, however, she experimented with additional balloon shells and paper-towel tubing to create her own distinctive papier-mache sculptures. She fashions figures such as Santa, snowmen, leprechauns, raisins, Miss Piggy, Darth Vader, doves, charros, and clowns, many with her trademark eyes and curly lashes. While most people decorate pinatas with curled paper "fiesta strips," Sonnie also uses paints, especially to create smooth and realistic faces for her figures.

Sonnie has made pinatas for her family and for various community events, but most of her customers are non-Latinos. She has made her skills available to the community-at-large by teaching pinata-making, including workshops for the Detroit Children's Museum and the Girl Scouts in southwest Detroit.
Sonnie is also a community activist. In addition to her pinata-making activities, she and her husband have been active in promoting Mexican heritage for more than 50 years. Her first pinata, in fact, was for a party of the Mexican-American World War II Veterans Post 505 of the American Legion; her fundraising activities also were instrumental in the founding of the post. In 1952 she instigated what may have been Michigan's first Mexican pageant, as well as the Mexican-American Auxiliary to Post 505. She also has a well-known collection of papier-mache dolls that chronicles the history of Mexico. This doll collection has been used as part of numerous presentations of Mexican history to community groups and school children.

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