Mayra Hinojosa
Mayra Hinojosa
“More and more often, when Halloween approaches, people are seen disguised as La Catrina with a skeleton painted on their faces,” said Father Julio Torres, parochial vicar at St. Henry Parish in Gresham. “Many of these people, especially youth, associate Halloween with the Day of the Dead, but these two holidays are very different, and it is paramount that people know the meaning of our cultural traditions.”

Father Torres explained that it’s important to preserve Mexican traditions and customs because there is a risk of extinction. He added that, according to research conducted by the Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico, “this is the result of marketing that promotes sumptuousness, glamour, lavishness, even if it is not traditional. Also, the influence of Anglo-Saxon Halloween celebration undermines the existence of these traditions.”

The priest said that as communities encounter other cultures, the phenomenon of acculturation also occurs, and traditions change or are transformed. This is not necessarily negative.

“In this way we see that the altars, skeletons, and skulls can coexist with candles, religious images, Catrinas, flowers and photos of the deceased,” he said. “An example of this is the sugar skull” — a sugar skeleton made in a mold and decorated with frosting, colors, frost and much more — “which has become an essential element in the altars of the Day of the Dead.”

Origin of La Catrina

“To talk about the Catrina, we must reference José Guadalupe Posada and Diego Rivera. These two great artists made ‘La calavera garbancera’ famous worldwide, as it was originally called,” reads a document on the website of the Ministry of Culture of the government of Mexico.

Posada worked in the press to support peasants. He criticized the inequality and social injustice of Mexican president Porfirio Díaz, who governed Mexico from 1876 to 1880 and then again from 1884 until 1911.

Through drawings, illustrations and caricatures, Posada portrayed the beliefs and ways of daily life for popular groups while criticizing government abuse with humor and drama.

Between 1910-1913, he created “La Calavera Garbancera,” named in allusion to the chickpea producers who denied or felt ashamed of their Indigenous origin and pretended to appear as European aristocrats. In the time of these haughty ‘Porfiriato,’ a well-dressed and elegant character with a skull for a face — named “Catrín” — emerged in Posada’s satiric art, usually accompanied by a lady with the same gloomy characteristics. “Death is democratic, since, at the end of the day, rich or poor, all people end up being skulls,” the artist wrote.

This social criticism was recognized by Diego Rivera after Posada's death. From that moment on, the famous muralist coupled “La Calavera Garbancera,” dressing it elegantly in “La Catrina” and reflected it in his work “Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda Central.”

The idea of death making a folly of worldly pursuits comes right out of the Gospels. Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool who hoards crops instead of developing a relationship with God, only to die. The parable of the wealthy man and Lazarus makes the challenging point that, after death, the poor may fare better than the rich who have enjoyed themselves on earth.

Catrina makeup, an artistic option

Death generates traditions, customs and identities. This is how skulls, zombies and Catrinas have become classic makeup during Halloween.

Mayra Hinojosa, a member of St. Matthew Parish in Hillsboro, has been a facial makeup artist for seven years.

“Artistic makeup in recent years has gained a lot of strength,” said Hinojosa. “I feel happy and proud to be an ambassador for my culture.”

La Catrina is one of the most popular makeups requested on Halloween in Hinojosa’s business. “The combination of shapes, colors and decorations achieve a striking effect. They have unparalleled trends in styles and shades that are very attractive,” she said.

Her clients are usually women between their teens and 40s. Seven in 10 are Latina the rest Anglos. Many don’t know the origin and meaning of La Catrina.

“While I make them up, I answer their questions. I'm glad to have the opportunity to pass on the culture and keep tradition alive,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa learned professional makeup technique from Mexican experts Pepe Gutiérrez, Vicon Guadarrama and Josué Luquin.

Hinojosa suggested that before applying makeup, it is necessary to have a clean face to prevent running or cracking.

She explained that sometimes she follows her clients’ specific design requests, but many times her creativity is inspired by her culture and faith. “The landscape and decoration patterns of Michoacán where I grow up come to my mind,” she said. “I am also inspired by flowers, plants, the Monarch butterfly, among others.”

To highlight the makeup, Hinojosa said she includes pieces of rhinestones and flowers. She thinks accessories such as flower crowns or hats are essential.

Hinojosa expressed gratitude to God for her talent. She hopes to continue developing her creativity to proudly represent her culture.