Lately I’ve been mentioning La China Poblana too much, and people have been asking who was her, why was she so important, and why do I keep bringing her on? Well, all those questions have answers, and quite interesting ones, by the way.
The legend of this emblematic woman was born between the XVI and XVII in Puebla, in New Spain. Mirrha was a child from Mongolia, formerly in China, who was she was sold to a merchant who then took her to New Spain to be the Viceroy’s personal servant. But as soon as they arrived to Acapulco, a wealthy man from Puebla, called Miguel de Sosa, offered a big amount of money for her, almost ten times more than the Viceroy, so the merchant sold her to him instead.
Miguel de Sosa taught Mirrha to read, to pray and to behave like an European lady. She became a Catholic, changed her name to Catarina de San Juan and created a mix of her typical dressing and the skirts she saw on the indigenous women. This dress became famous and soon everybody in Puebla have heard about the young woman who came from China and wore the most beautiful dresses, she came to be known as La China Poblana (Poblano/a is the name of the people from Puebla, Chino/a of the people from China).
When Miguel de Sosa died, he provided Catarina’s manumission in his will, and she decided to enter a convent. As a member of the Poor Clares of Saint Augustine Catarina studied philosophy, theology and law; she made her main priority con coexist and convert indigenous people by teaching them catechism, a work she realized until she died in 1688.
Today she’s remembered not only for her dress, that became part of the identity of Puebla, but also because of her life devoted to helping, educating and teaching others. She is also a symbol of unity, of Puebla’s community. It’s amazing that 322 years after she died, this woman is still recognized and remembered for all the good work and love she gave to this city. Her tomb is in La Compañía de Jesus Temple, and is still one of the most visited in Puebla.
Her legend was born with that dress, the colorful, bright and highly ornamented dress that has been a symbol of Mexico all over the world. But her story was real and is still an inspirational one. And walking around Puebla you’ll find many reminders of this woman, the China Poblana Fountain is a classic landmark of the city. The Casona de la China Poblana is a hotel in what used to be her house before she entered the convent. The Museo Regional de Antropologia e Historia has some examples of the China Poblana dress, as well as its story. So, as you can see, this woman’s story is unequivocally liked to Puebla’s story, so come and get immerse in this amazing tale of love, faith and destiny.
(photos courtesy of jrsnchzhrs, Karen Apricot New Orleans and LaBellaVida / Flickr)