La Calavera Catrina, "The elegant skull" or "dapper skeleton," with its elegant, French-style, wide-brimmed hat, first appeared in satirical prints by the famous Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada between 1910 and his death on January 20th, 1913. He wanted to make fun of those who claimed to be of a higher social class, even if, in order to live that lifestyle, they could not afford to buy food and became painfully thin, or simply ghastly. The "skull" became Posada's most famous illustration, with further sketches wearing an elegant Victorian high-collared dress.
Posada's illustrations were created to make fun of Mexicans pretending to be European. Most Mexicans are of indigeneous descent, but due to lingering racism, many people tried to make themselves look superior to the common people by become "Frenchified" and wearing the latest European fashions. The skull that Posada created is a concept still used by Mexicans today to refer to those who wear fancy clothes when they do not even have enough money for the basic things in life. Although he mocked pretentious people, Posada said the skull was a symbol he used to reject economic and social division. "Death is democratic," Posada said, "because, after all, blond, brown, rich or poor, everyone ends up as a skull. Death gets even (agarra parejo)."
In the mid 1940's, as an act of rebellion, the Mexican artist Diego Rivera painted the elegant skull and Posada in the center of his mural "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park". The mural depicts iconic art and history of Mexico. It was Rivera who gave the character the name "Catrina". Catrin is a word used for someone who is very elegantly dressed.
Today, many Mexicans live far from their homeland, but they want to keep this important tradition alive to retain its social and cultural message.