Origins of La Catrina
While Día de los Muertos is a celebration of life and life after death while honoring deceased loved ones, it does have some political and social commentary aspects that date back to the 1800s, especially with the imagery and representation of La Catrina.
Famous printer cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) lived during a time in Mexican society that looked up to the “European bourgeoisie,” during a time when many Mexican people “despised their own Mexican-ness” (Dia De Los Muertos). Posada was known for his caricature work and satirical imagery of politics during his lifetime, showing much of his work through skull drawings and etching. One such work, originally called Calavera Garbancera and now as La Calavera Catrina (Elegant Skull), became an equally famous and well-known symbol of Día de los Muertos after he passed in 1913. La Calavera Catrina was a female skeleton that wore beautifully fancy, European styled fashion and makeup reflecting some of the people of Posada’s time who wished to mimic wealthy and high-class European aristocrats. “The satirical work was meant to portray a woman covering up her indigenous cultural heritage with a French dress, a fancy hat, and lots of makeup to make her skin look whiter” (Román). He then went on to write in the La Catrina leaflet that “Those garbanceras who today are coated with makeup will end up as deformed skulls.” The La Calavera Catrina or Catrina went on to feature in many political commentaries aside from becoming a symbol of Día de los Muertos. It is said that her “elegant clothes of a “dandy” denote a mocking celebration, while her smile emerging through her pompous appearance reminds revelers to accept the common destiny of morality” regardless of wealth or class (Román). One of Posada’s most famous sayings was that “death is democratic.” Another famous work featuring a Catrina was finished in 1947 by famous Mexican painter and husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, which centered a Catrina in his mural (”Dreams of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park”) that portrayed nearly 400 years of Mexican history.