Oct 1, 2016

La Catrina: Lady of the Dead

Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC)

A Smithsonian Latino Center Day of the Dead Featured Digital Collection 

Catrina/ Mictecacíhuatl
An elegant figure, Catrina is a work of art, a woodcut, created by artist José Guadalupe Posada as a satire of the social situation in Mexico in 1910.  Catrina was one of multiple characters that Posada wisely created with his talent to demonstrate the challenges of life and at the same time allow us to laugh at difficult situations.  Posada’s approach lent itself to making Catrina extremely popular, and gradually Catrina transformed into one of the most widely recognizeable symbols of Día de muertos, Day of the Dead.  
Originally, as Catrina was a pre-Hispanic, indigenous representation of Mictecacíhuatl, or the woman from Mictlán, she made fun of those who denied their indigenous roots.  As for her clothing, Catrina’s outfit is European, and she, aside from being a skeleton, is beautiful.

Read the Poem "Catrina" by Xánath Caraza.

Spanish version of the poem available here.

Mictecacíhuatl, it was.
As an elegant Catrina,
the one in the wide-brimmed hat
transforms herself.

Behold. Orange
Fluttering, fill her
with your vital life-force.
Spirits of the ancestors,
cover her heart.

Monarch's Journey
People of Mesoamerica believed that the Monarch butterfly symbolized the return of their ancestors' souls as the Monarch's return migration to Mexico coincidences with Dia de Los Muertos. 

Papel picado rustles
announcing Catrina.
Opulent, she emerges with a procession
of orange butterflies.

She dances with her wide-brimmed hat.
The wind dances with her, and
shrouds her in the smoke of copal.
It bathes her in yellow flowers.

Fragrance of copal and sugar
calaveras comfort the souls.
Steaming chocolate on one’s palate.
Pink papel picado flitters.

Only on this evening, the living and the deceased
are hand in hand. Hot chocolate
and amber light bathe our gait
among flowers, papel picado, and smiles.

Smoke arising from the copal guides us.
Zempasúchiles greet us
Catrina dances on.

As the Monarch, la Catrina dances, worships, and celebrates the return of the spirits. Celebrating the journey of the souls assures the continuity of life. 
These are the native Pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico such as the American Indian cultures of the United States.  This Mexican indigenous concept of death in the Day of the Dead celebration represents just another stage of the cycle of life.  It can be viewed as a very healthful approach to death many times avoided in our everyday conversations.
La Catrina: Lady of the Dead
Credits: Story

Smithsonian Latino Center, Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos

Xánath Caraza, Poet/Writer
Dr. Xóchitl Chávez, Cultural Anthropologist

"Catrina" poem courtesy of Xánath Caraza

Co-curated by:
Melissa Carrillo, Creative Director, Smithsonian Latino Center.
Paola Ramirez, Digital Media Specialist, Smithsonian Latino Center

SLC Image Collections courtesy of:
Xánath Caraza, Poet/Writer
Dr. Xóchitl Chávez, Cultural Anthropologist

Monarch butterfly animation still courtesy of:
Stacey Fox, Transmedia Artist

Visit the Smithsonian Latino Center Mobile Outreach Channel to learn more about the Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos traditions.

Generous support for this program is provided by Target, an Education Sponsor of the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Credits: All media
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