The artist and activist Giovanni Valderas, pictured here with a casita from his Casita Triste project, credits Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants' Union, for inspiring him to act. Chris Plavidal

Visual Arts

With Casita Triste, Dallas’ Affordable Housing Problem Hits Close to Home

Giovanni Valderas' Sad Little Houses, those forlorn piñata sculptures popping up all over Oak Cliff, are colorful calls to action in the gentrifying neighborhood.

Giovanni Valderas wants to get City Hall’s attention—and to bring awareness to the downside of gentrification in Dallas. After the local artist learned that some of his friends and family were having a difficult time finding a place to rent, he launched the Casita Triste (Sad Little House) project about two months ago. He places colorful house-shaped piñata sculptures with forlorn-looking faces around his native Oak Cliff—on sidewalks, on empty lots next to new upscale apartments, on land where affordable housing and predominantly Latino families have been displaced. Empathy and reflection are what he aims to cultivate.

The casitas appear to be real piñatas, but Valderas fashions them more durably to withstand the outdoor elements, while maintaining their anthropomorphic features. The shell of the structure is a cardboard box, with pieces hot-glued together to create the pitch of the roof. He then glues layers of fringed tissue paper—think lime green, hot pink, or canary yellow—to the outside and uses cardstock for the eyes and mouth.

So far, he’s released more than a dozen 2-foot-tall casitas into the neighborhood, but some of them have disappeared, which, he says, is a metaphor for the Latino community. “The project will exist as long as the city continues to neglect its community,” Valderas says. “My hope is that Casita Triste will resonate with individuals and create a dialogue that will lead to advocacy and action.” All with a little cardboard and tissue paper.


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