A man wears a face mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Night guard Felix Ortiz wears a mask with the logo of Jurassic World as he poses for a photo in front of a closed store at Market 4 during a lockdown and the spread of the new coronavirus, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Ortiz also sells masks like the one he is wearing. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
A youth wears a homemade face mask made of sequenced fabric amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Old Havana, Cuba, Friday, March 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa )
A woman wears a mask with printed lips, amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Julio Morales, 72, wearing a self-made face mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus, winces from arthritic pain as he waits to sign up for a place to sleep outside the Plaza de Toros de Acho bullfighting ring in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Emiliana Quispe poses for a portrait wearing a face mask that reads in Spanish: "Stay home. It's not the same as 'shut up at home,'" at the headquarters of the local feminist organization "Mujeres Creando," or Women Creating, where members are making the masks to sell amid the spread of the new coronavirus in La Paz, Bolivia, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A woman holds paper in her mouth, her alternative to a face mask, as she waits in line for a free lunch from a charity that helps the homeless, amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Lima, Peru, Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A motorcycle taxi driver wears marijuana motiff mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Idania Espanola, 63, poses for a photo showing a bra that she will adapt into two face masks, amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Cojimar, Cuba, east of Havana, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A woman wears a scuba and surgical mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus while shopping at a market in Lima, Peru, Monday, March 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Adm. Remigio Ceballos wears a camouflage face mask as he supervises the unloading of humanitarian aid from China at Maiquetia International Airport amid the spread of the new coronavirus in La Guaira, Venezuela, Saturday, March 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
A clown in a face mask protests restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 which bar clowns from working on the streets outside the National Palace in Mexico City, Thursday, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
A woman wears a home made mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus as she walks outside in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 17, 2020.(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
A woman wearing a face mask decorated with an animal face waits in line for a rapid coronavirus test at a train station in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A boy wears a Spiderman face mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Bogota, Colombia, Thursday, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
A woman wears a face shield made from a plastic bottle container, amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, April 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
John Sanchez wears a face mask with the Spanish message "Resist Peru" as he waits in line to be tested for COVID-19 at Almenara Hospital in Lima, Peru, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A mannequin wears a protective face mask outside a shop amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Lima, Peru, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A man whose mask features U.S. dollar bills stands in line for free food from residents helping others facing economic hardship amid the lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the financial district of Montevideo, Uruguay, Saturday, April 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)
An elderly woman wearing a protective face mask and disposable gloves adjusts her headscarf as she takes a walk outside at a nursing home amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, May 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
A man wears a piece of cloth as a face mask amid the spread of the new coronavirus at a street market in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, April 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
A man wears a mask featuring the smile of comic book character The Joker, amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
HAVANA (AP) — Rarely used in Latin America outside hospitals before the coronavirus pandemic, face masks are now compulsory for subway riders, supermarket shoppers and even joggers in some countries — and they’re becoming a colorful part of the region’s daily life.
Motifs showing up on masks are varied, often reflecting local cultures. There are lucha libre-themed masks in Mexico, logos of soccer clubs in Argentina, Batman characters in Peru and colorful swimsuit prints in Colombia.
Some activists sport masks with political statements.
“It’s a garment that has a strong visual impact,” says Lauren Fajardo, one of the owners of Cuban fashion brand Dador. “It is also a way to express yourself. I don’t even have to talk for someone to see what I’m trying to say with my face mask.”
When the virus first started to spread in Latin America, pharmacies quickly ran out of conventional face masks, pushing up prices and even forcing medical personnel to go without them. But with lockdowns putting the brakes on business activity, local manufacturers reacted quickly, and grassroots producers also jumped in.
In Havana, women working at home on their sewing machines used leftover fabric to make free face masks for neighbors. In Rio de Janeiro, samba schools suspended production of flashy Carnival costumes and began churning out colorful masks.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei appeared on television wearing a mask emblazoned with the country’s name, and his government commissioned the production of 4 million of the masks that were handed out for free.
In Peru’s capital, designer John Sanchez stopped printing designs on mugs and T-shirts, and used his equipment to make face masks with patriotic slogans like “Resist Peru” or with the logos of institutions like the national police force.
“My previous production ground to a halt,” Sanchez said. “So I started to make face masks that had an added value — like messages that keep people positive.”
More than 40 fashion companies in Colombia are producing masks, including several swimwear brands whose bikinis usually sell for $100 through U.S. retailers like Nordstrom’s, Bloomingdales and Amazon. The masks are made with the same colorful prints of toucans, jaguars, hummingbirds and other tropical motifs as the swimsuits.
“We wanted to be part of what is happening in the world right now” said Carolina Ordoñez, chief designer at Palo Rosa beachwear, a Bogota company with 15 seamstresses. “We also needed to find work for the people who sew for us, so we are reinventing ourselves.”
In Bolivia, the Mujeres Creando feminist association is making masks that emphasize womens’ rights. “Staying at home is not the same as staying quiet,” says one message.
Many entrepreneurs think masks will be popular for some time.
“They’re here to stay,” said designer Leon Campa, who runs Benik, a Mexican company that makes colorful wallets, pencil cases and backpacks inspired by the country’s cultural motifs. The company, based in the central state of Guanajuato, now makes 500 face masks each day that feature similar prints.
Campa expects masks to continue evolving.
“Shoes would be a good comparison,” he said. “You can live without them, but using them provides benefits, and they’ve evolved in all kinds of sizes, styles, colors and materials.”