What is a fandango? In Veracruz, Mexico, it is a community party that celebrates dance and music. Musicians perform Son Jarocho music, and people dance zapateado atop a large wooden platform called a tarima.

In this painting titled Fandango, a central figure is dressed in a China Poblana ensemble. Just who and what was this?

From Life in Mexico by Fanny Calderon de la Barca, (Berkley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1982). Letter dated December 25, 1840.

The dress of the Poblana peasants is pretty, especially on fête-days. It is comprised of a white muslin chemise, trimmed with lace around the skirt, neck, and sleeves, which are plaited neatly; a petticoat that is shorter than the chemise and divided into two colors, the lower part generally scarlet and black materials that are products of the country; and the upper part of yellow satin, with a satin vest of some bright color that is covered with gold or silver, open in front and turned back. This vest, which has straps, may be worn or omitted, as suits the taste of the wearer. The hair is plaited in two behind, and the plaits are turned up and fastened together by a diamond ring. Long earrings and all sorts of chains and medals and tinkling things are worn around the neck. A long, broad, colored sash, something like an officer’s belt, is tied behind and then wrapped twice or thrice around the waist. A silver cigar case is stuck into the sash. A small colored handkerchief like a broad ribbon crosses over the neck and is fastened in front with a brooch. The ends are trimmed with silver and go through the sash. Over all is thrown a reboso, not over the head, but like a scarf. They wear silk stockings, or more commonly, no stockings, and white satin shoes trimmed with silver. This is on holidays. On common occasions, the dress is the same, but the materials are more common. The vest is never worn, but the chemise is still trimmed with lace, and the shoes are satin.

The myth of the China Poblana is shrouded in mystery, and some claim this woman never existed. The translation of the name by which she is known “the Chinese Pueblan,” which is not technically correct. Most likely, she was not Chinese, but in the seventeenth century, “China” was a term used for all Asians, so it does not conflict with the recorded story. In this story, the girl’s name was Mirra, and she was born in India to a noble family. She was kidnapped by Portuguese pirates as a child. Mirra later escaped, took refuge in the Jesuit Mission of Father Francisco Javier, and converted to Catholicism. At her baptism, Mirra took the Spanish name “Catarina de San Juan.”

Many years later, at the age of twelve to fourteen, she was recognized and captured by the same pirates and taken to Manila to be sold as a slave. On returning home, the merchant captain gave the girl freely to his friend, Don Miguel de Sosa of Puebla, and his wife, Doña Margarita. The childless couple were delighted to have the young girl. Although they loved her and treated her as their own daughter, it was not until 1624, when Don Miguel died and manumitted her in his will, that she gained her freedom.