A Closer Look at La Catrina


My coworker Alfredo stands with a few of the many Catrinas he created this year for a Day of the Dead exhibit earlier this month.

Alfredo is a coworker of mine who appears to be an unassuming maintenance man but also happens to be an extraordinarily talented artist.

In early November he put together an exhibit of Catrina figures that he had created. La Catrina is the elegantly-dressed skeleton-figure that we associate with Mexican Day of the Dead artwork. She is basically a made-up skeleton combined with the frilly dress and accessories of 18th-century colonial aristocracy. She is a legendary figure in Mexican culture.

As the Spanish version of Catherine, “Catrina” somehow became a derisive shorthand term for the upper-class ladies of colonial Mexico. The name was applied to this figure of death to poke fun at the emptiness of wealth and all its expressions. La Catrina reflects the realization that death is the great equalizer; she’s the ultimate you-can’t-take-it-with-you statement.

On November 4 my coworker Alfredo  put his Catrina creations on display and invited the community to visit. He kindly agreed to let me take photos, which I present here.

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8 November 2016: A Tale of Two Days

ashlandOn Tuesday morning I was walking the last block to my office and reflecting on how it was both election day and the anniversary of Dorothy Day’s birth – and trying to find some connection between the two – when I saw this guy lying in the middle of Ashland Avenue, a major four-lane, north-south street that traverses the entire length of the west side of Chicago.

I recognized the guy immediately and realized that he wasn’t an accident victim – he was there on purpose. I may have audibly groaned.

My first gut reaction, I’m ashamed to say, was to walk away. A driver had stopped to help him. I’m sure someone else has called the police. They don’t need me.

But I shut off my brain and dragged my feet out into the middle of the street. I had seen this guy before doing this same thing. I was later reminded that his name is Antwan. He lies down in the street and asks for money. He says he won’t leave until someone gives it to him. That morning he was asking for “$20 so I can go to Joliet.” He repeated the request over and over and over.

The driver and I asked Antwan to get up, he was going to get hurt or killed. He repeated his request for money. I told him I wasn’t going to give him money but I could suggest some places where he could get other kinds of help. He refused to budge. Meanwhile cars and vans and semis were speeding around us, furious at the traffic tie-up during morning rush hour.

Antwan is a young man, not even thirty. He has the face of a child. His eyes have a look of fear and innocence and confusion. Finally I told him I was calling 911 because his safety and the safety of others were at risk. I grimaced, remembering Dorothy Day’s birthday and realizing that the last thing she would have done was call the authorities to “fix” this “problem.”

But the police did arrive and I finally did walk away. Fortunately, the officer was patient and kind and helpful. He convinced Antwan to get up and offered him a ride somewhere to get help. Antwan refused and walked away.