Foreigners’ Fondness for a Skinny Mexican
Day of the Dead has once again exploded this week with tourists from the US and Canada anxious to experience events they’ve seen in the movie, Coco, with all those skeleton folks.
Foreigners’ desire to dress up like a Catrina (Catrins, or dandy man, for the male version) has left the town exploding with make-up artists, Victorian era dresses and an endless array of skeleton based art. Folks on tour constantly ask me where to go to witness Day of the Dead missing the point that Day of the Dead is a highly personal, versus a public, event.
The point to Day of the Dead is to build an altar to your deceased loved ones reminding you that life actually begins at death as then is when you go home to Heaven. On the altar you place items that would entice the deceased to come back and visit. For my mother I place champagne and Maeve Binchy books. Dad prefers images of Angie Dickinson. Whatever it takes is fine as you review their life as a whole.
Catrinas started out as political cartoon at the turn of the last century making fun of the wealthy Spanish in Mexico City. Skeletons in Victorian era dresses reminded folks we are all the same underneath it all. Catrinas were based on the Aztec goddess of death that was a skeleton that lived underground in her bone castle. Today the image of a Catrina is the folk art representation of Day of the Dead and whom foreigners want to dress up as.
Mexicans are a bit baffled by Catrina’s recent popularity and foreigners’ fascination with the bone-thin Mexican. Yes, school children dress as Catrins in honor of children that have come and gone before them, but school based parades lack the resources or desire to visually compete with other parades featuring foreigners with movie star levels make up and costumes.
However, I think the reasons why foreigners are fixated on Catrinas are somewhat obvious. Mexicans, throughout their lives, have opportunities every month to get dressed up, put on their hair and make-up and perform though song or dance (indigenous, salsa, folk, danzon, etc. each style with their own “look”). Plus don’t forget the massive Dia de Locos where anything goes in terms of makeup and dress to forget your normal existence and experience an alternative one in praise of St. Anthony, patron of lost things (“Tony, Tony come around. Something is lost and can’t be found.”)
With the exception of Burning Man, folks from the US and Canada are limited to Halloween to explore alternative realities through role play and costumes. On Halloween men can become women while women can become sexy nurses, or even sexy nuns. Whatever catches your interest you can become for a couple hours at a Halloween party.
So to come to San Miguel and become bone thin, stylish, well made up and elegantly dressed has an immense allure to we foreigners.
My advice? Have at it! Enjoy dressing up and exploring town. Then, later in evening, go home to your hotel room, or wherever, and light candles on the altar you build earlier to welcome your loved ones back. It’s the best of both worlds, living and dead.