Who’s That Lady In The Hat?

She’s more than just a well-dressed skeleton

The fancy dressed skeleton lady sculptures and statues you see around Mexico has become an iconic image for the Day of the Dead, but her history goes deeper than just one holiday.

Her full names is “La Calavera Catrina” ('Dapper Skeleton' or 'Elegant Skull'). She was first introduced between 1910–1913 by a famous Mexican printmaker, and cartoon illustrator named Guadalupe Posada. The image depicts a female skeleton dressed in an outfit common for an upper class European at the time.

catrina.JPGShe was offered as a satirical portrait of those Mexican natives who, Posada felt, were aspiring to adopt European aristocratic traditions, encouraged by President Díaz, whose accomplishments in modernizing and bringing financial stability to Mexico pale against his government's repression, corruption, extravagance and obsession with all things European. Concentration of wealth in the hands of the privileged few brewed discontent in the hearts of the many suffering, leading to the 1910 rebellion that toppled Diaz in 1911 and came to be known as the Mexican Revolution.

Porfirio Diaz had a fascination with France. Posada thought that it was ironic that lots of people in Mexico were dressing as if they were wealthy, when the reality was that the people were starving, (hence the skeleton dressed to the nines), because of the eccentricities of Porfirio Diaz, who spent lots and lots of money on things like building theaters, like the Fine Arts Palace, instead of the agriculture, mining and other industries that would have helped the country.

The Catrina also symbolizes the contrasts between the upper and lower classes. The social classes were extremely segmented and the highest class was the most fortunate, enjoying many privileges. In contrast, the lower classes were nearly invisible.

The Catrina has also become an icon and the referential image for the Mexican Day of the Dead. She is known all around the world, and even Disney tried to trademark her, so they could use her in movies and in merchandising, but the Mexican people and government fought that and won.