Rebecca Blaesing thinks her new piñata emoji might just help make the world a better place, one text at a time.

A year after the graphic designer from Cumberland submitted a proposal to Unicode, the nonprofit consortium that governs emojis used by most makers of cellphones and other devices, Blaesing’s idea was approved in January. The piñata was one of 117 new emojis accepted by Unicode this year, along with a polar bear, a fondue pot and a transgender flag. Piñata emojis will be available for use on phones and other devices beginning in the fall.

Usually when new emojis are approved, most major operating systems include them in their updates that year, said Jennifer 8. Lee, a co-founder of Emojination, a nonprofit that helps people get their emoji ideas approved. So it is likely the piñata emoji will be easy to find. More than 3,300 emojis have been approved for use across multiple devices by Unicode since 2009.

Blaesing got the idea to propose an emoji after hearing a podcast that explained how anybody could. Then she started thinking about the power of emojis, how they transcend language and can say a lot about how we think and feel about one another and ourselves. In light of the current politically divisive climate, she thought she’d like to create an emoji that was about diversity and inclusiveness. So she came up with the piñata, those festive containers of candy smashed at celebrations. They’re strongly identified with Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries but are a birthday party staple in this country too.

“I think emojis can be a powerful way for people to feel respected and represented. They can be about how you look, what you eat or anything that’s important to you in your culture,” said Blaesing, 52, who is of German and English heritage. “I wanted something that would promote multiculturalism.”

The fact that Blaesing herself is not Hispanic would likely not be a big deal to people who are, said Felipe Korzenny, founder and director of the Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University. Korzenny said that the Hispanic community is a “very diverse” cultural group, and not a single race. As a cultural group, it’s open to whoever chooses to participate in it, he said.

“I don’t think anyone really cares who created it as long as it is aesthetic and representative of what it stands for,” Korzenny wrote in an email to the Press Herald.

Blaesing had help compiling her application for the piñata emoji from Gabriella Gomez-Mont, founder of a Mexico City think tank called Laboratorio para La Ciudad. Gomez-Mont was one of five people Blaesing connected with through Emojination who contributed statistics, citations and research to the application.

Emojination, which includes people from a wide variety of backgrounds, has helped to get approvals for several emojis with cultural significance, including a hijab, a dumpling, and one in cooperation with Finland that shows someone taking a sauna.

Blaesing joins Luke Holden, of Luke’s Lobster in Portland, as Mainers who’ve helped expand the emoji universe. Holden started a petition drive to create a lobster emoji. It was approved in early 2018 and soon displayed the kind of emotional power Blaesing thinks emojis can have. The lobster emoji was adopted in August 2018 by a group of British transgender advocates who were frustrated by the lack, at that time, of a transgender flag emoji. The group picked the lobster emoji because lobsters can display male and female characteristics.

Portland illustrator Scott Nash in 2015 created a series of Bernie Sanders emojis, depicting various facial expressions by the presidential candidate. But those emojis were available as an app, not on devices, as the Unicode-approved emojis are.

FROM IDEA TO ICON

After listening to the podcast, Blaesing started researching the process of how an idea becomes an emoji, about two years ago. She found that the required application is pretty lengthy. The proposal, which she submitted in December 2018, had to include documentation to show that the piñata is popular enough to be an emoji people would use. So she had to research things like how often the word piñata is searched on Google, YouTube and other online platforms.

A spokesperson for Unicode referred questions about the proposal process to various sections of its website. The website tells people to first start by making sure their emoji doesn’t already exist or hasn’t been proposed already. Then it directs people to sample proposals, to see what needs to be included, including images.

Blaesing works as a graphic designer for Wex and has her own company, Rebecca Blaesing Design. She created a bright, multi-colored donkey piñata for her submission. But her design won’t be the one people will use. Unicode approves the object or idea, plus all the needed technical specs. But it will be up to individual tech companies, like Google or Apple, to come up with their own piñata design. Unicode included a star-shaped piñata when it announced the new emojis online.

Rebecca Blaesing’s original emoji design, part of her application to get a piñata emoji approved. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Blaesing’s written submission ended up with more than two dozen pages detailing the piñata’s history, cultural and popular significance and graphs and charts showing its use online. The application also had pictures of piñatas in pop culture, including in a Miley Cyrus video, at the birthday party of actress Emma Watson and in the Jennifer Garner movie “Valentine’s Day,” as well as a piñata decorated with the face of celebrity Kim Kardashian.

“The guidelines were pretty strict. To be an emoji, it has to be something that is widely known but isn’t overly specific,” Blaesing said.

Whether the piñata becomes an instant hit with texters is hard to say. People seem to love emojis that show emotion, as the name implies. As of October 2019, the most-used emojis were: a face with tears of joy, a red heart, a smiling face with heart eyes, a face rolling on the floor with laughter and a smiling face with smiling eyes, according to Unicode.

Blaesing and the others will not get paid for submitting the piñata proposal. But Blaesing is not worried about that.

“My reward is that I helped get more representation for people with emojis,” she said.


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