LA CATRINA DAY OF THE DEAD PART TWO
Looking up on French manners and culture was something built up over the 30 year administration period called the Porfiriato...
The political context of the engravings
Looking up on French manners and culture was something built up over the 30 year
administration period called the Porfiriato, during Mexico’s president General Porfirio Diaz
administration. The general loved french culture, although he had active and notably served the
Mexican army in fighting against the French invasion in 1862 when President Benito Juárez
declared the nation bankrupt and stopped servicing the debt with United States, England and
As a result Napoleon III sent over 35,000 frenchmen and orchestrated Mexico to become an
Empire and had the Hapsburg member Maximilian I be offered the title of Emperor of Mexico
by a group of catholic church clergymen and wealthy Mexicans in 1863. 1 That did not work
well. Maximilian I was captured and supposedly shot in 1867. The army commander that
made this possible was Porfirio Diaz who had escaped French prison a year earlier. The
republican president Benito Juárez had the backing of the United States as these in turn came
out of their civil war and looked south of the border to see the French were already there
(Monroe doctrine). The French army left Mexico.
Years later Porfirio Diaz became president and stayed in charge for thirty years, except a brief
corruption-laden four year stint by Manuel González colleague of arms to Porfirio Diaz.
It was the modernisation period of Mexico, that leveraged upon the industrial revolution and
the impulse of art and literature in the society. Much of Mexico’s infrastructure was laid down
then, specially the railways.
But modernisation came at a very high social cost. Mexico's economic success during the
Porfiriato had negative social consequences. The rural peasantry bore most of the cost of
modernisation. The program was also brought about at the expense of personal and political
freedom; the army and the “rurales” became the forces of repression for the maintenance of
the Porfirian peace during the Porfiriato.
The wealth that flowed into urban areas during the Porfiriato fostered the growth of an urban
middle class of white-collar workers, artisans, and entrepreneurs. The role of women in the
economically active population went down significantly though, as the industrial revolution
displaced work at fields and estates, into factories and families moved to urban areas.
The middle class had little use for anything Mexican, but instead identified strongly with the
European manners and tastes adopted by the urban upper class. The emulation of Europe was
especially evident in the arts and in architecture, to the detriment of indigenous forms of
cultural expression. The identification of the urban middle class with the European values
promoted by Díaz further aggravated the schism between urban and rural Mexico. These led
to increasing protests and social unrest.
Porfirio Diaz had several of today’s most iconic monuments of Mexico City built to the
Neoclassical, Art Noveau and Art Deco styles (The Angel of Independence inaugurated in
1910 and the Palace of Fine Arts started in 1904, both projected by italian architects though).
Ironically, Porfirio Diaz went into exile in France in 1911 and died there in 1915.
The “Calaverita” verses
During the administration of General Porfirio Diaz that led to the 1910 Mexican Revolution,
political and social protest relied in printed verses that emulated epitaphs of existing politicians
and their accompanying drawings inspired in skeletons and skulls. The verses were made
public on prior to the Day of the Dead celebrations. These eight-syllable verses of irony
depicted those actions or traits of a political character that common people would not be
able to mock or criticise about in an open fashion. The tradition continues till these days in
Mexico, both for political reasons as well as a prank to friends and family or to common
characters in society such as a butcher, a merchant, and other trades.
The verses tradition was already in use for this same task in the colony last years and were
banned by the Viceroy at the time. They were known as “panteones or
calaveritas” (cementeries or tiny skeletons) and reappeared in the mid 19th century . The first
printed calaveritas appeared back in a 1849 edition of the Guadalajara city newspaper called
El Socialista property and italian. and reappeared. They kept banned by the political class in
the first decades of independent Mexico with the enforcement of the rurales military and
other political police, such as the French itself during the invasion years.
The Mexican Day of the Dead Celebration
The Day of the Dead celebration focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and
remember friends and family members who have died. In Mexico it is customary to see these
gatherings happening at the cemeteries where the relative lies, specially in small towns and villages. Otherwise, it takes place in family homes. The photo 1 celebration takes place on November 1st. and 2nd, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.
The syncretism of the Spanish catholic celebrations and the pre-hispanic cultures 2,500–3,000 years old, gave way to our very special mexican celebration.photo 2 Rituals to death deities were performed n the regions of central Mexico and Oaxaca by Aztec, Mixtec and Zapotec cultures -, and dedicated to Mictlantecuhtli lord of Mictlan and the goddess Mictecacihuatl or the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the photo 3 modern Catrina. In the Mesoamerican region, - they were dedicated to Ah Puch lord of the Xibalba on the Cimi day (day of the dead). Both Mictlan and Xibalba underworlds had nine reigns or underwater rivers. In the pre-Hispanic era skulls were commonly kept as trophies and displayed during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.
The tradition today includes building altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds (or cempaxóchitl which is believed to trap the sunlight and thus guide the deceased in its journey to the underworld reigns), and the favorite foods and beverages of photo 5 the departed, called “ofrendas” (offerings) and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of
the deceased. The symbolism of the altar elements is ample and of both pre-hispanic and Spanish catholic photo 6 traditions.
In 2003, UNESCO inscribed the Mexican “Día del Muerto” celebration into the Representative List
of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a World’ Intangible Heritage for considering this one of photo 7 the most important live symbols of Mexican culture and also one the oldest and strongly intertwined beliefs and practices of our indigenous culture.
La Catrina part three