Rasti are the Argentine equivalent of Lego blocks (“Just the same, only better,” Leo explained). They were manufactured in the 70s and 80s, until the one-to-one parity between the Argentine Peso and the US Dollar left imported building blocks cheaper than domestically manufactured ones, and Rasti shut down its factories. Meanwhile, Rasti aficionados like Leo grew up: they ditched their toys, dawned teenage angst, survived puberty, got jobs, and started families. Enter: the next generation, potential heirs to the Rasti legacy.
For those kids who grew up veritable Rasti fanatics, nostalgia for the golden age of Rasti never faded. Leo’s son Pedro was a few years old when Leo ran into an unopened box of original Rasti blocks in a flea market in 2005. Remembering his childhood fascination with the toys, and thinking them a perfect way to spend time with his son, Leo bought the box and found several others online or at secondhand shops. “The idea of Rasti is to build something together—not to fight against each other, like on Playstation,” Leo explained.
Eventually, one Rasti seller informed Leo that there were others out there working to keep the Rasti tradition alive. He directed Leo the Rasti Republic forum, a Yahoo! Group of about ten members who shared pictures and ideas of Rasti creations (think: motor-operated ships, models of Buenos Aires, statues of famous figures).
His first message was shy. “I didn’t know what other guys would think about a guy my age still playing with Rasti,” he said; but almost everyone in the group had a similar story: they were men in their thirties and forties who had grown up during the golden age of Rasti, and—after having kids of their own—had rekindled their penchant for building elaborate structures out of plastic toy blocks.
In July of 2007, the forum received an email from Rasti owner Antonio Demari explaining that, thanks to extensive market research—including planting a mole in the Rasti Republic forum—the company had decided to resume production later that year. Contrary to the groups’ initial suspicions, it was not a joke. Demari even invited the Rasti Republic to the factory, where they were all presented with certificates of authenticity.The press picked up on the return of Rasti immediately, and interviews with the Rasti Republic appeared in all the major publications. Leo, his father, and his son even appeared on a news feature on Canal 9: three generations of Rasti.
Though it had a ways to go before reaching the prominence of Legoland’s toy block empire, by August of 2007 the Rasti Republic had reached over 500 members, replete with an online television program called Rasti-TV and a special section of the official Rasti website (which includes a disclaimer: “As a fair Republic, the doors are open to brothers and sisters from Mecano, Lego, Mis Ladrillos, and BLOCKY.”).
Inspired by the Republic’s success, Leo decided to plan an exhibition where Rasti fans could come together to show off creations and share the philosophy of the Rasti Republic: “Turn off the TV and sit with your kid and play. Do something creative instead of consuming.” Leo explained. The first Expo was a huge success, drawing in between six and eight hundred adults and kids, who crowded around tables with creations like Rasti airplanes, Rasti Spidermen, and a fully functional Rasti catapult (created by Leo and his son).
Leo expects a high turnout again for this year’s Expo, which will be split into two days to make room for more people and more Rasti.