10/27/2017 21 Comments
Like most ideas and traditions that cross the border into the U.S., they start getting washed-out. Here is one more misappropriation to add to the list; La Calavera Catrina originating from Mexico and what’s happening with her origins through the usage as a Halloween costume in the U.S. is cultural erasure, one of many ways a group of humans subjugate another group. For people of Mexican heritage in the U.S. other ways include but not limited to lynching, farm workers suffering from labor abuse, women being involuntarily sterilized by Federal funded programs throughout the U.S., wealthy people traveling to Latin America and capitalizing on the craft of economic suffering natives (as if 500 years of rape and massacre was not enough) and paying them crap or nothing at all, taking from the pre and post colonial Mexican culture what is economically beneficial and appropriating it down to monetary concepts benefiting everyone but where and whom the inspiration was taken from; think inventive economic concepts like ‘Taco Tuesday’ and ‘Cinco de Mayo’, not giving Mexican heritage workers at U.S. grocery stores, restaurants and construction sites their fair wages and on top mistreating them, sexually abusing domestic and commercial workers, and luxury fashion houses taking natives craftsmanship without acknowledging them.
Again, Halloween approaches and people are shopping ‘Lady of The Dead’ costumes(not even the right translation was given) and pretty white-painted skull face kits referencing aspects to modern day La Calavera Catrina(or short La Catrina)—-a white-painted and decorated face skull in a fancy French style hat or flowers whose roots are a political symbol warrior-ing against classism and neglecting native roots. She was originally called La Calavera Garbancera. At some stores the rightful name for this figure is not credited in the costume while others like Target use ridiculous names such as ‘Day of The Dead Senorita Costume’ under a category called ‘Women’s Day of The Dead Costume’. Really? Women’s Day of The Dead??? When was that added to the calendar? It truly is unsettling to see something so meaningful to a culture boil down to something monetized, misappropriated, not made in Mexico, portrayed scary and then discarded without any meaning. The only thing these costumes and China-made decorations sold at big chain stores like Target, Party City, Walmart and so on are; wrongly appropriated Mexican heritage objects.
La Catrina is NOT a costume and has NOTHING to do with Halloween and is far from meaning anything scary. In present times, these fancy dressed and white flesh painted decorated skulls reference to a post-colonial Mexico celebration called Día De Muertos(roughly translated to Day of The Dead). It is celebrated November 1st and 2nd of every year. This celebratory day roots in two parts. The first part derives from the Aztecs, the last major native civilization before the Spanish invasion; natives that came before them include Mayans, Incas, and Olmecs. Aztecs honored and remembered their dead on the ninth month of the Aztec calendar(around August on the Gregorian calendar). They celebrated death as a part of life, as a natural phenomenon NOT a scary one.
There’s a whole historical context on the relationship between Aztecs and skulls that needs its own post. The image of the skull became popular again in Mexico in the early 1900’s around the time of the Mexican Revolution by political printmaker and artist Jose Guadalupe Posada as a political satire. His inspiration draws specifically from a character of Aztec mythology; Mictecacihuatl, deity and co-ruler with her husband of the afterlife. It is said she watches over the bones and celebration of the dead. Posada called his satire La Calavera Garbancera and intended to poke at the elite of Mexico by depicting natives washing-out or negating their native roots for that of a European one. The white face painting is said to be the act of trying to be white. Get it? Regardless of what you wear or how white you try to dress and be, your bones are native.
The French hat skull satirical character appears again in the work of Mexican painter Diego Rivera in 1947. He gave it a body and dressed it in fancy clothing. From this point forward it became known as La Calavera Catrina. One interpretation of the depiction is the notion towards classism and how death makes us all equal when stripped of our fancies. She stands between a younger Diego and its original creator, Posada in a mural painted by Diego called ‘Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park’. The mural reads like a history book of pre and post colonial history of Mexico.
La Catrina is now commonly associated as a symbol with Día de Muertos(Day of The Dead)—-a day to celebrate death as a natural phenomenon and remember loved ones that have past on. As stated above, the first part of this celebration is rooted to the Aztecs and their predecessors. The second part roots in the Catholic faith and their celebration of All Saints Days (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day(Nov. 2). Combining the celebrations from the Aztecs and the Catholic faith is how the Día de Muertos came about, and La Catrina a political satire was injected in the celebratory yearly tradition. She’s a revolutionist against classism and negating native roots. She’s a warrior reminding us to take ownership of the self and where we come from, that death is a natural phenomenon and part of life, not to cry death, to live our best in this life, that there’s an afterlife, and regardless our society class, skin color, and garbs, death will level us equal.
Written by Mariana Aguilera
‘Los’ was edited out of last paragraph to reflect third paragraph ‘Día de Muertos’--the most common usage of the celebratory name in Mexico. In the U.S. due to linguistics it translates to Día de los Muertos in English. 10/29/17.