Victor Chavarria makes pinatas for a living. Over the weekend he hung up a few new ones to dry on the front porch of his home in north Minneapolis.
But when people saw the pinatas — human figures he had created for a multiracial wedding — they thought they were looking at a mock lynching. And they got angry.
A photo of Chavarria's porch and the pinatas popped up in a Facebook post, now deleted, where it stirred up outrage and horror. One Twitter user tweeted a photo and added Chavarria's home address.
Chavarria told Minnesota Public Radio people from as far away as Kentucky threatened him, his family and his house.
He was mortified, and scared.
He hung the wet, papier-mache pinatas up to dry in the sun, not realizing what they looked like.
"I deeply apologize. Effectively immediately, I changed my processes. I wouldn't do anything to offend anybody, they gave me my feedback and of course, I listen," he told MPR News on Monday. "I'm here to serve the community, not the opposite, and I am deeply sorry."
With a master's degree in business from the University of St. Thomas, Chavarria runs the pinata business out of his home, which he and his wife bought about three years ago, according to MPR.
Bothered by the lack of high-quality pinatas available locally, he and his wife made some for family and friends, then decided to start a business, Chavarria told City Pages alternative weekly in Minneapolis.
They make pinatas for any occasion — gender reveals, birthdays, even to mark milestones like the end of potty training, Chavarria said.
They've hung their colorful creations up to dry on the porch before, City Pages noted, eye candy for kids passing by on school buses.
When he saw in photos that it looked like there were three black men hanging on his porch, he was shocked, he told City Pages.
“It looks horrifying,” he told the weekly. “I realized right away how horrible it looked without any context."
He immediately took them down..
On Saturday, Chavarria posted a lengthy apology on the Facebook page of his business, called Happy Kids Pinatas.
"I deeply care about the concern out there. if you allow me, I could try to respectfully share with you how we, Hispanics, interpret pinatas in celebrations: We want to teach our children to reach for the goodness inside, regardless of the shape," he wrote.
He explained that kids having birthday parties usually want a pinata shaped like a favorite character, like a Disney princess. In this case, he was sculpting custom pinatas for a big wedding celebration. The groom was black, the bride Latina and the bridesmaids were white, Latina and black.
"It is unfortunate that many were offended with something unfamiliar to them. However, I liked that you openly stated your frustration. This gave me the opportunity to share instead of assume everyone understands pinatas," he wrote.
The apology wasn't enough at first for one woman, though, who challenged Chavarria: "OK put those up on your professional page if you are proud of the product."
So he did.
"Dear Adrieanna," he wrote back to her. "I’m not proud of the misunderstanding caused by my ignorance/lack of sensitivity. I would not dry any human shape on my front porch anymore. I assure you that.
"On the other hand, I am very proud of the finished pinata. Please see image and let me know."
Adrieanna replied: "Thanks for the finished pic. I don't judge people off of just post. I hope that the backlash dies down. I have Latino God children and I understand the culture and now I am sure people have tried to give you a crash course in black history. I will pass on the great pics."
The wedding order he was working on was reportedly canceled.